Blindfold chess scenes in movies and TV shows
18 May 2022 | by Peter Wong
In popular culture and films in particular, chess has become a shorthand for “a battle of wits between two intelligent characters.” As such, chess-playing scenes are plentiful and I had no shortage of highlights to choose from for my earlier list, Top 10 greatest chess scenes in movies. Screen depictions of blindfold chess specifically, however, are comparatively rare. My new video compilation of Blindfold chess scenes in movies and TV shows, with eight clips (unordered), incorporates almost all instances that I could find. This is surprising in a way, since playing chess without sight of the board is such a marvellous feat that it serves as an entertaining spectacle, even for people unfamiliar with the game. Probably such portrayals are uncommon for they risk implausibility, in that performing blindfold chess requires more than a “smart” character but someone actually at (or close to) the professional level. Indeed, many of the selected scenes feature top players – fictional or based on real people – whose mastery of the game is well conveyed by how casually they rattle off their moves.
Speaking of how the moves are announced, Descriptive notation is often employed in these clips, rather than the familiar Algebraic type. This is accurate for the periods in which the films or TV shows are set. In English-speaking countries at least, Algebraic notation did not become standard until the 1970s.
About blindfold chess itself, the definitive book on the subject is Eliot Hearst and John Knott’s Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games (2009). Its full text seems to be available from the Internet Archive, and I’ve read only the Introduction so far. Here’s a line that’s a bit amusing as it anticipates the drama series, The Queen’s Gambit: “Even in regular tournaments there are a number of grandmasters who occasionally cover their eyes, stare into space, or look at the ceiling while deciding on their next move.” The authors pick Alexander Alekhine (the fourth World Champion) as the best blindfold-player of all time. Appropriately enough, the video begins with The Queen’s Gambit and finishes with Alekhine giving a blindfold simultaneous exhibition. (Note that you can access individual clips by clicking a title heading below.)