Ah, chess. The battle of tactics and wit. A game which tests your patience, as well as your determination. Along with Go and Shogi, it is my favorite game, even though I haven’t played the latter two.
It also helps that, unlike other physical sports, chess does not require me to use my reflexes. As a result, I do have better chances of playing to my full capabilities.
But how do you play chess while being blind?
So, the board has to be modified. The normal chess board, although very cheap and easily found in the local shops, is completely useless for a blind player like me. Instead, special boards, with tactile designs are made for us, so we can differentiate between black and white squares just by our fingers, and the same goes for the pieces.
The tops of the black pieces are plain. But the top side of the white pieces have a dot, akin to a braille dot.
Rules are the same, no changes are made to them, apart from telling your opponent what piece you’ve moved, if you’re playing with another blind person. (Though to be honest, I do end up telling sighted players that as well.)
Having said that, you might think, “Aren’t you complaining about nothing? It’s not like you can’t play the game.”
While you’re right, there are still certain challenges which do end up hampering me. And here, I will talk about them.
Challenge: chess books are not accessible to me.
In late 2017, I discovered how wonderful electronic books are for a person like me. Let those snobs praise the dead tree books. These digital books were sent by the heavens to me.
Naturally, I thought of getting some chess books, and learning from them, improving my game through them. I thought that after I get a chess puzzle book, as well as the book on tactics and end games, I’ll be pretty hard to beat.
Then, the dreams came crashing down. The books were not accessible to me at all. Much like the math books I talk about in this article, I found that instead of using algebraic notation for describing positions, these books used images and diagrams for that. in short, totally useless for me.
My dream of setting up the position on the board, and solving the puzzles that way was crushed.
Naturally, I looked for other solutions.
Challenge: computer programs are not accessible, and those which are accessible, are horribly outdated.
I thought that I could use these programs for not only just playing and improving my game that way, but to analyze the positions, and learn that way.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that most of these rather great looking programs, (And expensive too!) were totally unworkable with a screen reader. Good thing I only used the trial version. I saved a lot of potentially wasted money that way.
Having been disappointed by the chess programs, I looked at the internet. Surely there are sites I can play which are accessible? And hopefully there will be some additional functionality I can take advantage of while playing there.
Challenge: the internet sites don’t work, (Most of them.)
chess.com, the biggest chess platform on the internet, offering not only the functionality to play games online, but other features like puzzles and exercises, the platform which actually sponsors several world tournaments, partners with the YouTube channels and streamers, is totally inaccessible to me.
At first, I thought of writing a letter of sorts to them. (an online email, basically), to please reconsider. But when I dug up old forum posts where players discussed how the people in charge of the platform are unwilling to work at this, I realized that I probably would be just talking to the void.
Challenge: blind tournaments are hard to find.
The challenges above can be solved to some extent. But this one, it is hard to solve.
A little background. When I lived in the boarding blind school, teams were often sent on the tournaments across India to participate. I remember how the students would work hard to prepare, while having no assistance from the school. I mean, one would think they might hire some coaches or something. But no. They did not do any such thing.
And when these kids won, the school took the credit. “We worked hard with them.” While they did nothing. “We provided them with everything for their preparations.” While providing nothing, while other teachers disparaged them for missing classes for preparing for the tournaments, while these same teachers would disparage the kids for losing.
In my case, the boarding school hated me because I was a “Difficult” kid. As such, I was never offered any such chances. But in hindsight, I’m happy. At least they couldn’t take the credit for my hard work.
In short, it is very hard to participate in a tournament independently, without getting in contact with a blind organization, which would just take the credit for your work, as I just mentioned above.
This problem is out of my control to solve. But what about the ones which I can?
Solution: learn openings from Wikipedia.
This might not be the perfect solution. But since I can’t use the books for learning openings, (or indeed anything), I can just use the Wikipedia. On the individual articles of the chess openings, there is a huge amount of theory available for free. It is not complete, but after noting the lines, I can experiment with them on the board.
So I think it is a partial solution.
Solution: online site, lichess.
Now this site has almost every functionality you could think of. Want to play with people online? You can do that. Want to solve puzzles? Do that. Want to analyze your games? That is available too.
Now, granted, no one seems to want to play with me. The problem is further exasperated by the fact that I only play on Sundays, since I’m writing the rest of the days.
But I can still solve puzzles, and improve my games somewhat that way. By no means is it a perfect solution. But it is good enough for what it does.
Hopefully you enjoyed reading about the challenges which players like me face. Please follow me on twitter:
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