International Braille Chess Association

                  History of the Organization

         Compiled and Equiped with Combinding Texts by

                      Hans-Gerd Schaefer

                  Translated by Julie Leonard


                        C H A P T E R    V

                          The Specifics

As mentioned in previous chapters, children and young people
have a basic desire to explore their surroundings as far as they
are able both intellectually and physically.  Equally, this
exploration is an essential part of preparing them for
adulthood.  In the case of blind and partially sighted people,
card and board games of all types play a vital role in the
mental challenge, which inevitably takes precedence for them
from the time they reach school age.  Given the diverse types of
electronic entertainment that are available nowadays, it is
barely comprehensible that these things could capture the
attention of young people to such a degree, but despite this,
the attraction has not entirely faded away.

Even though chess is not as popular as it was a few decades ago,
it is still played in schools, including those for the blind. 
There are records of chess games, which can be played through
and archived to serve the purposes of instruction and study in
the future.

To record a chess game, the blind generally use a Braille
writing frame.  Using pre-set forms, this writing tool arranges
dots into meaningful symbols, which are based around Louis
Braille's original template in the pattern of the six on a die. 
Admittedly, there are Braille typewriters, which make it much
easier for the blind and partially sighted to record their chess
games, but these take up a lot of room.  The space allotted to
each chess player is usually quite small.  There is room for a
chessboard and, to the right of it, a sheet for each player upon
which to record the moves.  This space is quite sufficient - for
a sighted player at least.  

But if a person cannot see which card his opponent has played or
which piece he has moved on the board, then it has to be
announced.  This resulted in the need to use two boards for
chess matches between blind and partially sighted players as
well as those between blind and sighted players.
The internationalisation of the chess organisation made it
imperative to establish a means of communication so that
Russians and English as well as Spaniards and Germans could
state their moves and understand the moves announced by their
opponents.  To this end it was most important for a standardised
chess set to be agreed upon since the blind chess player needs
to be conversant with his opponent's board as well as his own. 
 Difficulties ensued here, which an onlooker would hardly grasp,
and which are illustrated in the following excerpts from the
minutes of two previous I.B.C.A. congresses.

From the records of the third I.B.C.A. Congress, March 1964 in
Kühlungsborn, East Germany:

During the debate on the standardisation of playing equipment,
it became apparent that there are many different styles of chess
sets for the blind.  The Yugoslavs have very large boards and
the pieces are marked at the bottom.  In Austria, England and
Ireland, the white pieces are marked, in Germany and the Soviet
Union, the black.  Similarly, in some countries, it is the white
squares that are raised, in others it is the black.  It is also
evident that no country wishes to give up its customary design. 
In this respect, however, it is equally obvious that those
countries, which still have no standard version of their own
would like the I.B.C.A. to recommend a style of chess set.  Many
countries suggested the FIDE pieces.  Anton Hartig (the Austrian
representative) advocated the acceptance of an I.B.C.A. approved
Individual delegations also pointed out the psychological aspect
of the problems associated with standardisation.  Large boards
and large pieces appealed to the partially sighted, whereas the
totally blind preferred smaller boards with pieces to match. 
Furthermore, the partially sighted were in favour of having red
pieces instead of black ones as this gives a better contrast for
some players.  Unfortunately, although this is hardly an
unreasonable request, it could not yet be taken into
consideration within the I.B.C.A. regulations.  Finally there
was a vote on whether black squares should be raised and black
figures should be marked at the top.  This motion was carried. 
Individual countries promised to try to persuade their
manufacturers to comply with this decision.  

At the 6th I.B.C.A. congress in Seinajoki-Kuortane, Finland, on
the 14th of August 1976, it was indicated that the design
criteria for the chess set, which is generally recognised today
and is familiar to the blind and partially sighted throughout
the world, were already well established:
Standardisation of playing equipment: The "Playing on two
boards" Appendix to the I.B.C.A. tournament regulations

"The chess board must be at least 20 x 20cm; the colours must be
clearly recognisable and the black squares should be raised. 
The pieces should correspond to the Staunton pattern and the
black pieces should be marked."

Two sighted players do not need to announce their moves.  It is
sufficient for the player who is making a move to start his
opponent's clock in order to invite the latter to contemplate
the move just made and execute one in reply.  Alongside the
general rules of chess, there are special supplementary
regulations that apply to matches between blind players and also
to those between the blind and the sighted.  FIDE recognised the
need for these rules and incorporated them into their rulebook
as early as 1954, i.e. before the I.B.C.A. had been founded. 
These rules then formed the basis for playing on two boards,
which is obligatory for the blind and partially sighted.  A
blind player generally uses a board that is smaller than normal.

The rules for playing on two boards are in a special appendix to
the I.B.C.A. regulations mentioned earlier, and these were
incorporated back into the FIDE handbook with minimal editorial
changes as protocol IV.  Here it is even specified that the
Braille chessboards used by the blind as second boards for them
to touch had to measure at least 20 x 20cm.  However, it is
necessary for the blind and partially sighted to play on two
boards since they are forced to ascertain by touch the position
of the pieces after each move and the ensuing combinatory

Therefore, the I.B.C.A. established an appendix to their
tournament regulations containing the following rules, which
also form part of the FIDE handbook (Protocol IV).  Here it is

"In I.B.C.A. tournaments, it is compulsory to play using two
chess sets, which have been specifically designed for the

"Specifically designed for the blind", means that the pieces had
to have pegs that slot into holes in the board so that they can
be touched without being knocked over and that criteria by which
the blind can differentiate through touch between the two
colours of pieces and squares must be defined and agreed.  It is

"The colours of the squares must be clearly distinguishable, and
to this end the black squares must be raised."

"Raised" means that the black squares must elevated by one or
two millimetres, depending on the size of the board.

The minimum size required for the Braille chessboard was set at
20 x 20 cm for practical reasons, which can perhaps be
summarised as follows:

a)   Whereas the sighted chess player takes it for granted that
the tournament organisers will supply the required boards,
clocks and score sheets on which to record the moves, the blind
player assumes that he himself must bring along all that he
requires in order to play chess.  One reason why Braille
chessboards are small and often hinged so that they can be
folded in two, is to allow for easier transportation.  Even the
I.B.C.A. tournament regulations state:

"Every player must bring his own equipment, a chess clock for
the blind and writing materials or a Dictaphone."

b)   When sighted players play against the blind, two boards
that comply with the I.B.C.A. rules are set up in the same place
designated for the single chess board supplied by the
organisers.  The blind player then still has to find room for
the considerable amount of equipment that he needs in order to
record the moves. 

c)   It is understandable that arbiters have problems in
recognising positions on such a small board, particularly when
they might be partially concealed by the hands.  However, the
problems of space outlined above, in terms of the lack of room
as well as the transportation considerations, make it necessary
for the blind to use small chessboards.  Incidentally, the 20 x
20cm dimensions of the board in no way lessens its effectiveness
as a memory prompt for the blind and partially sighted as they
are accustomed to examining a position by touch.  It should also
be noted that touching the board has a tendency to betray the
thoughts and plans of the blind player, and the larger the
board, the easier it is for the eye to follow the movements of
the hand.   

The black pieces are marked at the top so that the finger can
immediately differentiate between black and white pieces.  In
the appendix of the I.B.C.A. tournament rules it states:

"The pieces should correspond to the Staunton pattern with the
black pieces carrying a distinguishing mark."

"Staunton" refers, of course, to the famous English chess player
whose set of pieces was first introduced in 1848 and is now used
throughout the world.

Obviously, the drawback of playing on two boards is that it
necessitates verbal communication with the opponent.  The
appendix first of all establishes:

"The moves must be clearly stated in the order of being played. 
The opponent should repeat the move and both players should make
the move on their boards immediately."

The actual announcement of the move is then precisely defined in
order to eliminate as far as possible any potential
misunderstanding.  The regulations state:

"The following system should be used when announcing the moves:
a)   The vertical lines, seen from White's left to right, are
named as follows:
     Anna      Bella     Caesar    David
     Eva       Felix     Gustav    Hektor

b)   The horizontal lines from White to Black have the following
     1-Eins    2-Zwei    3-Drei    4-Vier
     5-Fuenf   6-Sechs   7-Sieben  8-Acht
c)   The following names are used for the pieces:
     Koenig         Dame           Turm
     Springer       Laeufer        Bauer"

So, as agreed, German became the official language for naming
the pieces and announcing moves in international I.B.C.A.
competitions, while the organisation itself takes an English
name, the "International Braille Chess Association".

Although these regulations obviously admit no ambiguity, the
necessity of announcing the moves means that a considerable risk
remains, which must be taken into account in the appendix.  With
players of differing nationalities and language groups,
linguistic misunderstandings cannot be entirely eliminated.  The
three points listed below address this issue and its
implications thoroughly. 

"A mistake in announcing a move must be corrected immediately
and before the opponent's clock is started."

Despite great foresight and the use of subtle measures to avoid
problems, the communication of a move and the subsequent act of
playing it on the opponent's board can lead to differences.  In
such situations therefore, arbiters must be equipped with some
rules of conduct, which entail neutral and mutually acceptable
solutions to such discrepancies.  The I.B.C.A. endeavours to
accomplish this. 

"Should there be differing positions on the two boards, the
arbiter must correct this using the records of the game that
have been made by both players.  Once corrected, the player who
wrote down the correct move but played the wrong one must accept
the consequences."

"The time used by each player up until the point when the error
was discovered is to be divided by the number of moves and
reduced accordingly."

It is possible that multiple errors will occur and that as a
result, the match will take an entirely different course.  This
must also be taken into consideration:

"Should it occur that the records are also different, the moves
must be reversed to the point where the two records agree.  The
arbiter must then reset the clocks accordingly."

As blind and partially sighted players can only perceive the
position of their pieces through touch, another version of the
touch-move rule needed to be established.  It states:

"A piece is considered 'touched' when it is lifted out of the

On that basis, the completion of a move is defined thus:

"A move is considered made
a) when the piece is placed on another square.

b)   when the player whose move it is removes from the board a
piece he has captured."

This entire procedure already appears somewhat cumbersome and
when one reads the following rule, which is quite unavoidable,
it makes one realise that the blind and partially sighted have
to accept a large time disadvantage on account of their

"Only when the move has been stated may the opponent's clock be

Next, the Braille chess clock became a mandatory piece of
equipment for official I.B.C.A. tournaments, and it is described

"It is compulsory to use a Braille chess clock with raised dots
at five minute intervals and a line on every quarter of an hour.

The clock must also have a flag and hour and minute hands which
are robust enough to be touched."

In 1994 technical developments necessitated a revision of this
rule when the mechanical clock was rivalled by a speaking
digital version which announced the time used up by both
players.  Apart from the fact that the digital clock is far more
precise, there was the irrefutable argument of the president of
the I.B.C.A. at the time, Delfin Burdio-Gracia, in favour of the
speaking clock:

"We cannot ignore progress."

The digital chess clock has a large display, which is suitable
for the partially sighted and furthermore it is equipped with a
voice output for use by the blind.  Naturally, in order not to
disturb the vital quiet in the playing room, the voice can be
turned off so that it can only be heard using earphones. 
Additionally, to allow for the international nature of the
I.B.C.A., various languages are available.  The minimum language
requirement is for English and German, as these are the official
languages of the I.B.C.A..  An extension to the rules was
phrased as follows:
"A speaking chess clock, which uses English and German, or
languages that both players understand, may be used in I.B.C.A.
tournaments instead of a Braille chess clock.  If the two
opponents cannot agree on which type of clock to use, the
preference of the player with White takes precedence."

Of course, this solution is quite unsatisfactory.  It allows
personal likes and dislikes to play a part and these are not
easily put to one side when an "old habit" is discarded.  It has
taken decades for the blind and partially sighted to become
familiar with the chess clock that, when read by touch informs
them in a split second how much time they have left.  But there
are also some quite serious and justified objections to the
speaking chess clock.  Sergei Wassin, himself an excellent chess
player, totally blind and President of the Ukrainian Association
of Visually Handicapped Chess Players, commented on this: 

"The electronic chess clock has some serious defects, which rule
out the possibility of its use being made compulsory in official
I.B.C.A. tournaments. 

The blind player has to allow fifteen seconds in order to find
out how much time is left because the announcement always wastes
time by needlessly reporting whose move it is, whose time is
being read out and nearly always the hour from which it is
The digital display is unsuitable for the partially sighted, who
complain that it is very difficult to read.  The manufacturer
has paid no attention whatsoever to a very important principle:
"The device should facilitate the use of a person's remaining
sight whilst at the same time protecting it".

In practice, the clock is very complicated to operate and
totally blind people are unable to set it.  It is a fact that
two completely blind players cannot use this clock without
sighted assistance.  When adjusting the time setting the clock
gives no speech or tone signals to the blind person, even though
this is well within the bounds of possibility for the technology
of today.  

By combining various announcements and tones the clock must, on
request, impart the following information to the blind player:

     a)   There are three minutes remaining until the time
          - or else one minute, 54 seconds 

     b)   The flag has just fallen

     c)   The time setting has been changed

     and so on.

The clock is not at all reliable!  To date, I have twice tried
to play with it: once during the 31st FIDE Chess Olympiad in
Moscow in December 1994.  On both occasions problems associated
with the clock arose. 

Additionally, I must mention that the majority of the I.B.C.A.
men's team rejected the electronic chess clock.  Therefore I am
convinced that in this matter the Congress is in danger of
passing a completely arbitrary resolution.  The majority of
blind and partially sighted chess players will reject this model
of the electronic chess clock and will refuse to buy it.  It is
already obsolete and reflects neither today's level of
technology nor the current needs of the blind and partially
sighted.  It is even less in keeping with the anticipated future

The next point in the rules, which is worth addressing, deals
with something that is regarded as a routine requirement by all
chess players.  Once again, one of the special features
necessitated by the emergence of national and international
blind chess organisations is in evidence.  When the I.B.C.A.
first began, games were exclusively recorded in Braille. 
Initially the evolution from the tape recorder to the cassette
recorder and, more crucially, the subsequent miniaturisation of
the recording device enabled it to be used to record a chess
game.  The rule is worded as follows:

"Every player must keep either a written or a taped record of
the game."

In the meantime, modern technology has even been used to develop
a chessboard that has an integrated clock and can record the
game automatically, sending the stored data to a computer if
required. Unfortunately, such a board is not yet available for
the blind and partially sighted.  The manufacturers maintain
that the projected number of sales would not be sufficient to
meet the production costs. 

The next regulation has often been applied already by mutual
agreement between the affected player on the one hand and the
opponent or tournament controller on the other hand and even in
this form it has proved very worthwhile.  

"Players who have only recently lost their sight, or who have
multiple disabilities which make it impossible for them to
perform the usual tasks, may, with the agreement of the
tournament director, ask for an assistant to 
a)   make the moves on the board,
b)   start the clock,
c)   record the game,
d)   tell the player, when requested, how many moves have been
made and how
     much time has been used by both players."

The fact that it was as late as the 10th Congress in Ca'n
Picaforte on Majorca (Spain) 1992, when the next and last point
was added following a proposal from the British Braille Chess
Association, gives a small insight into the difficulties that
can arise even within an organisation like this, as "blind" does
not necessarily always mean totally blind: 

Partially sighted players have the right to request additional
lighting if the light at their board is insufficient.  

Despite all the obstacles listed here, playing chess is the
source of much happiness amongst those who have to examine their
boards by touch.  Moreover, we hope that the "Fédération
Internationale des Echecs" will increase the opportunities
available to the blind and partially sighted to be able to enjoy
playing chess, by incorporating the specific rules that apply to
blind and partially sighted players into their own regulations
and distributing them to the FIDE Arbiters.  There are a few
experienced I.B.C.A. Arbiters, who appear at the larger I.B.C.A.
tournaments time and time again.  The I.B.C.A. is much indebted
to these people.  

Yet unfortunately, one hears from time to time that the blind
and partially sighted are discriminated against in a significant
way.  I am writing this by way of an appeal both to those
responsible and to their instructors, not to focus on
superficial considerations.  Instead, let the importance of
enjoying chess outweigh the small inconvenience of having to use
two boards so that the blind and partially sighted can play
against one another and more particularly against sighted
opponents in an integrated tournament. 

The blind or partially sighted chess player, who has already
paid for his playing equipment himself, has had to carry it with
him to tournaments and has then had to play at a table where
space is often so very restricted, still has other
considerations to bear in mind: 

He is dependent on having a guide for travelling to the
tournaments as well as for all manner of everyday assistance. 
This means that it is necessary for a second person to travel
with him and stay in the same hotel.  Roughly speaking, this
doubles the cost of taking part in a tournament for chess
enthusiasts who are blind or partially sighted.  So alongside
the physical obstacles, there are also significantly higher
financial costs, which must be met by the blind or partially
sighted chess player who wishes to indulge his hobby.  
Nevertheless, there are still chess players who do precisely

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