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Aphantasia is the suggested name for a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind's eye and cannot visualize imagery.

Everyone's a bit different. I have a cubics cube on my desk, and then trying to visualise it after closing my eyes, at my best, I see something like the two picture on the right below (and that's really pushing it). At my worst I cannot visualise anything at all.

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The images I see are certainly of zero use for any calculation. I can play tic tac toe in my head, but without visualising it. Same goes for a 4x4 chess board and a Knight hopping all over it. I just intuitively "feel" where the squares are in relationship to each other, but I don't "see" anything really.

On the other hand I am very good at manipulating 3D objects inside of my head. If I think of a church, I can rotate it, skew and stretch it and adjust for perspective (Perhaps because I'm a 3D modelling veteran) but it has no color, it isn't an "image", it's just 3D data. Hard to put into words.

Is there any chance, a guy like me could ever learn to play blind chess?

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    This looks like a question you'd better ask to an aphantasia specialist than to chess players. From my personal exp, blind chess had decreasingly less to do with visualizing, the more I 'knew' stuff; but that knowledge, which is mostly pattern recognition, is itself highly dependent on mental representations.
    – Pit
    Jan 21, 2023 at 17:05
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    From me: definitively yes - I can't really visualize a board or two moves, it works all abstractly-mathematically. But of course it helps I'm a FIDE master. Jan 21, 2023 at 18:41

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Yes, you can learn how to play blindfold chess! It's not easy, so you'll have to put in the effort and train your visualization. "Visualization" in this context means your ability to have a mental representation of the board enabling you to calculate and make moves. A common misconception is, that you need to have a graphic view of the board as if you were seeing the board on a computer screen.

This is not the case. More important is to have the memory and "feeling" for where the pieces are and what squares they control. Therefore, your Rubik's cube analogy is not appropriate to determine your blindfold chess ability. As long as there is no problem with your memory in general, you should be able to play blindfold chess. The placement of and relationship between the pieces (including controlled squares) is what most blindfold players/masters have in their minds. It is absolutely crucial to know each and every diagonal and what squares lie on that diagonal without thinking. The same goes for the colour and name of a square. You should also be able to maneuver knights blindfolded. When I play blindfold chess, I find it helpful to keep mental notes in mind, such as "White's bishop on g2 is attacking my knight on c6".

Being a strong chess player helps a lot because many patterns and pawn structures are known / easy to remember and to play ("Karlsbad, both sides castled kingside" is far easier to remember than "White pawns on d4, e3, ..."). It can also help to always vocalize moves ("knight e4") even when playing online alone because it serves as a memory aid ("the knight is on e4, isn't it").

There are a lot of resources describing how to train your visualization and blindfold ability, as well as websites and training apps. When you want to test your blindfold ability, you can play while disabling pieces in the settings (or as a first step choose lichess' "disguised" piece style).

As a side note: expect a massive reduction in playing strength (I'm talking about hundreds of points). The stronger you are, the smaller the expected rating loss. This is why this is one of the only cases where lichess allows a second account, so that you can play blindfold while maintaining accurate ratings.

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I have aphantasia and if somebody says you can play blindfold chess, don't believe them, they probably don't have aphantasia and have no idea what it means. My blitz rating in lichess is ~2100 (without any training). If I had started chess training as a child, I would probably have reached Grandmaster level. But I would never have reached the level of the top grandmasters because I think it's impossible with aphantasia.

Blindfold chess can be played to some extent, through great difficulty, great practice, perhaps being able to play one game at a time without making mistakes. IMO it's not worth the effort.

In short, it is possible to play chess at a high level, whether you have aphantasia or not. But certainly not blindfold chess.

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  • This question itself is very interesting.. I loving these answers as well.. This is called Dhyan yog... Difficult to master..
    – ShadYantra
    May 18, 2023 at 18:05
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I just figured out that I have aphantasia. I figured it was normal not to be able to see anything when you close your eyes, but apparently not. While it might be a disadvantage, I can play blindfolded chess! When I play it, I have an intuitive sense of where everything is and pattern recognition takes me the rest of the way. Keep in mind I am 2150 Rapid Chess.com, but after working on calculation exercises, I found I was able to play blindfolded. It isn't easy, but it certainly is doable, you just need to train the correct skills.

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  • Does memorizing the squares and all the diagonals etc by heart help? What calculation exercises did you do? I am 500 rating points below you, my username on Chess.com is the same as here if you want to add me.
    – AzulShiva
    Jul 15, 2023 at 8:51

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