Earlier this month, chess world champion Magnus Carlsen sat down with artificial intelligence expert Lex Fridman to record an episode of Lex's incredibly popular podcast. They touched on all sorts of topics, from soccer, to poker, to loneliness, but as you might imagine, the main focus of the episode was chess. All sorts of different types of chess were discussed, including chess with various time controls, and even various levels of sobriety, but they also took the time to briefly discuss our favourite topic here at this blog: blindfold chess.
Early on in the conversation, Lex quizzed Magnus on how he visualizes long variations in his mind. Magnus explained that he simply visualizes the board and imagines the moves he plans to make. Lex then went on to ask what size and color the board is, and how many dimensions it occupies. Magnus explained rather disappointingly that "there aren't a lot of colors", and the board is just 2 dimensions.
Lex then went on to ask how Magnus manages to store multiple boards in his head at once, and magnus clarified that he really only has one board in his mind at a time. He explained that this is how he manages to play multiple opponents simultaneously while blindfolded: he only has one board in his head at a time, and the others are "stored away somewhere."
This was a fascinating insight into how Magnus Carlsen's mind works. It's clear that he has an incredible memory, and is able to store vast amounts of information in his head. This allows him to play blindfold chess at the highest level, something that most of us could never even dream of doing.
Of course, that just raises questions about how he manages to store multiple games away in his head while playing. Unfortunately he never addresses what memory techniques, if any, he uses to accomplish this feat. It's clear that he has an incredible memory, and is able to store vast amounts of information in his head. This allows him to play blindfold chess at the highest level, something that most of us could never even dream of doing.
He did however show some signs of being a mere mortal when he explained that he "frequently" forgets lines that he calculates during games, and only recalls them once his opponent plays a move that he had considered and then forgotten. He explained that this generally only happens when he has to calculate a move for around 30 minutes. Lex then asked what he is doing in his head during those 30 minutes, and Magnus replied "30 minutes usually means that I don't know what to do... If I haven't seen it in 10 minutes, I'm probably not going to see it at all."
It's reassuring to know that even Magnus Carlsen is not immune to the human frailty of forgetting lines during chess games.
If you want to hear the full conversation between Magnus and Lex, you can find it here:
Blindfold chess is a fascinating topic, and we're always keen to hear the perspectives of those who have mastered this elusive skill. Hopefully Lex will continue to interview great chess players in the future, and we can all learn a little bit more about how the best in the world think about this great game.
If you want to work on your ability to visualize the board, or your ability to play blindfold chess, you can check out some of our games, such as blindfold chess tactics or our chess vision trainer. And if you're just getting started in your blindfold chess journey, you can check out our blindfold chess minigames.