Milad Fakurian (Unsplash)
How do you visualise chess positions?
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how chess players actually ‘visualise’ positions when calculating variations or playing blindfold chess.
I use quotation marks because it’s not a given that a chess player literally visualises a position P, that is, without looking at an actual board set up with P, conjures up an image of P in their mind (I'll refer to this approach as 'V' for short).
The alternative is, I'd argue, some sort of memory-based approach, where facts about the position are stored in memory and constantly remembered/processed (approach 'M').
These facts need not necessarily be atomic as in expressing absolute locations of a single piece on the board, e.g. ‘the White king is on g1’, but can express relational knowledge, e.g. ‘in front of my king, there is a pawn', among probably many other types of fact, including perhaps even threats and motives.
I would imagine that approach V, if developed and trained to proficiency, should be the more efficient/powerful one, as M requires high focus, constantly processing and remembering information and relating facts to each other. This leads to a significant speed difference I would assume: while V allows for an instant whole-board 'view', when employing M, a sort of board-scan appears to be needed, that is, scanning over the board and remembering for the different squares or square-complexes by which pieces they are occupied, tapping into the relevant stored information.
However, not everyone has the potential to even try out employing the V-approach: keyword aphantasia.
This topic is fascinating to me for many reasons, among them the following: I know chess players around 2100 Elo who report to be capable of visualising entire positions without any problems, while some considerably stronger players (around 2300-2400) appear to be comparatively bad at blindfold chess, even though they are very decent chess players, clearly capable of calculating very well.
While this is anectodal, it seems to be the case that better at visualising does not necessarily imply better calculator. Other sub-skills of calculation (intuition, evaluation) certainly are very imporant as well.
Also, I wonder if having aphantasia limits the strength level a chess player can achieve considerably. Are there any strong grandmasters with aphantasia?
There are many questions and sub-topics to be explored under the umbrella of visualisation in chess I believe.
In this upcoming post, I want to expand on these topics and describe as best as I can how I personally visualise when e.g. playing blindfold, but most importantly, I want to include many informative/detailed answers from you, the readers.
So, how do you visualise/calculate? I realise that any task involving thinking about how you think is far from simple, but I would be grateful if you posted your answer in the forum. It'd be even better if a lively discussion sprung from this, of course.
Some questions that could be considered: do you employ approach V or M? Is it some mixture of both? Or something else entirely?
If it is V: how does the picture of the position in your mind look like? Is it lively/detailed or rather abstract / does it only contain the necessary information?
If it is M: describe what kind of facts you store in your memory, how you recall them, etc. And if you don't have aphantasia, why do you think you gravitate towards this approach? Is a chess position simply a too complex/detailed scene to visualise fully?
Looking forward to reading your answers! I would obviously also be very interested in how strong chess players would describe their visualisation/calculation processes, so if e.g. any GM is reading this and willing to contribute to the discussion, that would be greatly appreciated.
Also, if you have any reading recommendations (whether it be an article, a study, a book etc) that might be of interest, please let me know.
PS: The 'Challenge 2500'-series is far from over. New entry this Sunday, I know it's been a while. If you are a regular reader: thanks for following along.
EDIT: for the forum discussion feel free to check out:
...since the automatically generated topic discussion appears to not be findable through the forum itself, but only through this blog post. Thanks for your input!