The Vital Importance Of Visual Scan To Tactical Chess Play

| 9 | Tactics

Want to give yourself X-ray vision at the chessboard?  Well, as with achieving any worthwhile result, you may expect to have much work to do – but the task is certainly far from impossible.


This seems to be the common problem when learning chess.  Most people don’t realize what hard work it can be to master it properly.  They’d prefer to believe that if they read a few books and practice a few games they will awaken the chess master in their souls.  They don’t realize that people who have reached this level actually have worked for it.  It hasn’t been all fun and (chess) games.


Most people will never learn to play really strong chess (certainly I never will) but for those who do aspire to a perfect game – it won’t help to go on doing things the same old way.  It is time for a new attitude that takes into account the need to do some measure of suffering.


Of course the student of chess needs to study the game, to play often, to study tactics and strategy.  But somehow – chess enthusiasts have gotten the idea that this is all there is to mastering the game.  Most people think that it is a super intellect that separates their chess game from that of the masters – and while to some degree this is true – it is not the complete answer.  Not everybody can learn to play like a master – but anybody (within reason) can learn to play a dominating game of chess – IF – they have been trained properly.


And THAT – recalls us back to the subject of this article.


Besides being an Engineer by trade – I am also a flight simulator enthusiast.  On day while studying cockpit behavior I came upon a most curious fact;  That airplane pilots have to establish a visual scan of their cockpit which enables them to absorb} the planes’ complicated dashboard of instrumentation.


Absolutely, the pilot needs to know what to do with the information – but he first must have a method to obtain the data first, to obtain the information quickly, dynamically and accurately.  Without a proper scan – a pilot might focus on the too much on the altimeter – while another critical gauge goes unchecked.


This got me thinking about application of this principal to chess (as an engineer, problem solving is my beat).  Why chess?  Why because the problem is the same; to obtain information from a complicated set of indicators, to do it quickly and accurately size up the situation – based on the information received.


If the problem is identical, then we don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  Somebody has already done the leg work to resolve a problem of this kind.  It is called the “visual scan”.  It takes practice – but once it has been mastered this enables one to observe a wide range of phenomena by taking in a group of indicators in a glance.


It’s not done only with airplane pilots either.  Speed readers do it with the words on a page.  Security guards do it with a bank of monitors.  Heck, even YOU do it when you recognize the face of a friend on the street.  There are plenty of faces milling about out there but still - your brain is able to "filter out" the meaningless and to alert you to the intimate.  It would appear that EVERYBODY does this – without even knowing that they do.


I want to impress upon the chess world, that any chess player who wants to play a powerful game of chess has to learn to do this also – but in the context of chess play.  You will never play strong chess if you can’t read the board indicators and understand their message so that you can take action based upon what you see.  You can READ about these indicators but – take it from an engineer – you haven’t learned something until you have DONE it.  Until you actively practice reading the chessboard indicators – your best opportunities will continue to slip past you, right under your nose.


Certainly, it is important to spend time playing chess, that study of the game is critical, and mastering tactics and strategy is paramount – but one must also go straight to the source – and train your scan directly to see what is happening on the chessboard.


Is scan really important?  Consider a chess computer.  Just what makes it such a powerful competitor anyway?  I mean, it doesn’t have any brains.  So what does it have?  The answer is that it possesses a powerful SCAN.  This quality alone gives it the strength to beat a grand master.  The computer has not read any books, has not studied tactics and strategy and has no ability to learn from the games that it played last week – or last year.


BUT, your computer can assess the situation for all pieces on the chessboard, with respect to all other pieces on the chessboard.  It is able to do this quickly but the longer it has to make a scan – the more unbeatable it becomes.  Limit its scan time to a few seconds and you just might beat it.  Give it five minutes to make a scan and you haven’t a chance.


Programmed into it is the ability to read the positional indicators as easily as you would read a first grade primer.  And, since it always understands the positional context at any moment – it ALWAYS knows what to do to gain the strongest advantage.  Somebody simply taught the computer the rules of good chess (how to recognize the indicators) – and from there it proceeds to dominate the chess game at master’s level (if desired) working with nothing but its scan.


Now – if a stone cold machine can do all of that – can’t YOU?


Absolutely.  But you will have to get serious.  Toss aside your notion that you can study a book on tactics, play 1000 games and you will be a chess master.  It was a silly idea from the start.  Is that how you think the masters got where they are?  Anything that we do well – we have to TRAIN ourselves to do it.  Chess is no exception.


To reach the heights you will need to PLAN for your success.  You will have to set a goal and then to drill yourself using exercises specially designed to meet your goals. In time, you will increase your familiarity with the key chess concepts so that when they appear on your chessboard - your brain won't just “toss them out", as garbage.


Join a good chess gym – such as the one at the Chess-Stack website and spend time there and work out.  Do this for an hour every day – even if you don’t feel like it.  You may not see progress overnight – but it’s like studying a language – if you stick with it – want it badly and have some faith – the results will manifest themselves over time.


Good Luck!



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