As a kid, I have always been fascinated by the game of chess, and I played it for quite a while during high school. The thing that I used to find that separated the very high-class GM from a normal amateur chess player, was the amazing preparation the GM used to put in to get his technique and repertoire correct. As an amateur player, I had a faint level of positional chess sense, and I was riding high on attacking chess and tactics. But this thought of how important chess preparation is has always stayed in my mind.
I am always perplexed by Rubik’s Cube, and my perception keeps changing as I grow older. At first, it used to be a great feat just to solve one side, upon which I stayed satisfied for years, then one day I learned how to solve it completely by looking up an online tutorial.
Doing the cube blindfolded was the next challenge that I took up, which took me another four years to get the hang of, and I did it by leapfrogging from the Old Pochmann method to using M2/R2 in my solves. As the years went by, I slowly and steadily replaced each inefficient M2/R2 algorithm with a newer and faster 3-style algorithm.
Another breakthrough in the blind scene came with the US BLDers smashing the blindfold times, by making really fast 3-style algorithms. This was the turning point, as TPS and thinking ahead and better algorithms became the primary thing to invest time into.
It was again in the lockdown induced in the year 2020 due to the COVID pandemic that I understood the parallels between chess and cubing and realized that cubing does not have the intense opening preparation that normal classical chess has.
Even speed chess has a lot of preparation at the titled players' level. Having a lot of cases evaluated beforehand is a very new thing to cubing, as it was new to the chess world in the 1950s when Botvinnik introduced intense chess preparation and methodology that is widely adopted today by all professional chess players.
Cubing is still new and the viability of having such preparation is shrugged off as a waste of time, as cubing records are still optimized on finger tricks, lookahead/pattern recognition, TPS, and lots of practice.
Epiphany to continue Cubing
I was attending Shaastra Open 2014, my second-ever WCA competition. I was 18 years old at that time and had just finished a 4/8 MBLD attempt which felt quite satisfying. The competition went well, and I came second in 3BLD with a time of 2:06, behind Kabyanil Talukdar who got a 1:20.
After the prize distribution ceremony, Arunachaleswarar, an overzealous skewber, who did blindfolded Skewb solves by insane tracking, saw me doing M U M’ U’ on a 3x3. I showed him that these 4 moves are so efficient that they cycle 5 pieces without affecting the rest.
He added to me saying that, you should make a whole system out of this idea. I shrugged it off saying it's just too hard as there are many cases, running into over a million unique cases. The same day, earlier I talked to the MBLD winner Vikram Mada who did 6/6 using only single letter memorization (not even letter pairs), and discussed with him conveying how I wish to go beyond letter pairs and go to letter quads.
I quickly calculated the number and said a quarter million cases. He said that this just looks impossible, saying that he was already having a tough time transitioning to 480 letter pairs and there I was talking about an algorithm set that runs into a hundred thousand cases.
I went back to college and borrowed a big Scrabble book from the library to just see how many 4 letter words exist out there, there was a lot but not enough to cover all the cases of letter quads that can emerge on a 3x3.
Motivation to do Something Unique
I attended my first major competition at the Asian Championships in Beijing in 2016. It was an amazing experience, and the major takeaway I had from the tournament was the impact I got from three cubers, who seemed to be on another level: Shivam Bansal, Kaijun Lin, and Gianfranco Huanqui. Kaijun Lin had already inspired me to take up the Roux method as my main solving method, and he had shown how BLD times are brought to such low and consistent times with practice and focus.
Gianfranco Huanqui is a revolutionary BLDer, who has made new kinds of finger tricks and made many new algorithms which are novel and fluently executable. On the final day of the Asians, Gianfranco Huanqui did over 300 3BLD solves in one day at the venue. I had lost count of the sub-20s, and sub-18s he got and it was spectacular to watch him practice. In every solve, he looked at a point where he thought he could have improved, and continued self-learning in this way.
I also remember Shivam Bansal saying a mind-blowing fact after the prize distribution that, our mind is so powerful that we technically should be able to store petabytes worth of information in it which is even more than a supercomputer or a cluster of computer harnesses. By having such brain power the limits of MBLD are unreachable, he said. After the competition, I headed back to Chennai in India, feeling more driven to create something new. The next month (Nov 2016), I finally thought of taking the plunge into making a new method that I had always thought of but never did. I had decided to list out and memorize all the 5-cycle algorithms for 3x3, for both corners and edges, and also get some 4-cycle comms which come in handy in finishing off edges in most of the cases and new parity algorithms. I wanted to make a memory element for each letter quad that could be retrieved doubly faster than 2 letter pairs, and I wanted a 12ish move count finger trickable 5-cycle algorithm that could solve the case in the fastest time and with very less finger movement.
If I could have mained 3BLD as my main event, I would have never delved into complexities like 5-style. It is only logical to improve your TPS and finger tricks and get more into the flow state when you are maining 3BLD. It was mainly memorizing the dedges on the big cubes on the 4x4 and 5x5, which was becoming a bit difficult, as there are 23 targets, and it was super tough to get the flow with dedge memo and make it stick. I had the idea that if I adopt a system like letter quads, it will help solve the problem of dedge memos not being fluid. My motivation for trying out letter quads in the first place was wings on big cubes. Sometimes there are trash targets, and letter pairs don't stick. If I had been doing only 3BLD, I would have always done letter pairs, and would have found letter quads super unnecessary.
I have completed 9 years as a speedcuber and 14 years as a cuber. The journey has been fruitful and rewarding all along the way. I have learnt a lot and gained a lot of happiness from consistently attending competitions and talking to cubers. I have gained lifelong friends with whom I share many things and close interactions. The puzzle itself still perplexes me, I am to understand the 3x3 fully leave alone other puzzles. My goal in cubing is to ultimately get 100 points in MBLD someday officially.
Abhijeet Ghodgaonkar is the current 4x4 Blindfold (single) National Record holder from Mumbai. He started cubing when he was 13 and he has an overall competitive experience of 8 years. His main events are 5BLD and MBLD. He has been developing concepts like letter quads and 5-style since 2017, to make blind-solving events more structured. He has participated in 50 competitions in a total of 3 countries and won 105 podiums with 51 Gold medals, 2 Asian Continental Records, and 3 National Records. He also has a World Ranking of 29 in 4x4 Blindfolded Single.