His name is Lucas de Jong and he has been visually impaired since his birth; at the age of five he completely lost his eyesight but nothing stopped him from having a regular life. He learned chess at the age of eight but started to play more seriously when he turned 15. Now he is the captain of the 5th team of SNB Nijmegen, his hometown in the Netherlands. I should mention that he is the only one with physical disabilities among his teammates.
Lucas at the board with Okie under the table
Lucas is now 21 years old and is playing in the B-group in Dieren, with 3.0/7 so far, hoping to finish on 4.0/9. He speaks perfect English and attends the classes of Faculty of Management in Nijmegen, Business and Administration, regular classes and not special ones designed for him.
To me, Lucas is simply a model of strength, both mentally and physically, and he explained that he doesn't feel any different than others. He confessed it 'helped' a lot that he doesn't remember anything before the age of five, when he could still see a bit... "I don't experience being blind as a major problem, though problem is not the right way to describe something which you don't miss since you don't know it..."
Lucas has his own chess set and a specially trained dog, his faithful Okie, giving him not only the independence he needs to live a happy life, but also the required confidence during the fierce chess battles.
Faithful Okie naps under the table while Lucas plays
True, learning and playing chess given the circumstances is more challenging for him than for most of us, yet he succeeds to compensate for his condition while teaching us that our brain is a powerful tool and we shouldn't become lazy in using it! He loves chess, as it is a very interesting intellectual battle, where luck plays a small role, if any at all. He only feels at times that tactics are not his thing, as he tends to miss some of them when calculating....
If for us blindfold chess is just part of our training, forcing us to visualize the board, for Lucas it is a must, and he learned to excel at it! "It is hard to explain how I see the board, especially since I don't remember ever seeing one! Learning chess, the basics, was not difficult at all. I can visualize the diagonals, the files, no problems with that; I can imagine it. The challenging part comes with the overview, the full picture is difficult to grasp, that's why the more complicated lines, the difficult tactics are giving me a hard time. This is the reason why I train a lot in this particular field."
Lucas explains that learning to play 'blindfold' chess is a must for any blind player. We'll
let you wrap your head around that.
How does he do that, we may wonder...Lucas has special programs which convert the FENs into Braille or speak out loud, giving him the opportunity to set up the position on his chess set.
"What I regret, though, is that many chess websites don't have FEN strings, so I don't have access to their information and examples."
I trust you will agree if I say that, apart from getting to respect Lucas, we also have something to learn from his story.