Visualisation in Chess
Each and every one of us wants to improve as a player. What are the best ways of doing this?
- Learning Openings Deeply!?
- Practicing Tactics!?
- Improving your endgame skills!?
Of course the list goes on and on. There is one area of chess development that I believe is seriously neglected, as you may have guessed by the title of this blog post, that area is visualisation.
Let me ask you a very basic question to do with this. Without looking at a board, tell me what colour square f6 is? Ok, now what about c7? If you have good visualisation then you should be able to answer these questions in a second.
This is a key component of becoming a strong chess player. If you are unable to visualise, then you will never progress. It often amazes amateurs the speed at which a Grandmaster will be able to re-construct a position from a game on a board, or how they are able to talk in depth about a game without having a board in sight. Again this is due to visualisation.
One of the most amazing stories I heard was told to me by Grandmaster Joe Gallagher. Let me paraphrase that story now, in roughly Joe's own words (to be said in a South London accent );
'When I was about 12, I played Mikhail Tal in a 30 board simultaneous, I lost the game but it was very interesting. Then 20 years later I bumped into Tal in a lift, when we were playing the same tournament. I could not resist the temptation to speak to him. 'Hi Tal, I played you 20 years ago in a simultaneous display in London.' 'Hello, you played me, arr ok. How did you do against me?' - 'I lost a tough game in a sharp poisoned pawn variation of the Najdorf Sicilian.' - 'Arr ok' (then Tal looks at the ceiling for 10 seconds...) 'Oh yes I remember! You should have played ...Bxf6 on move 23 leading to a winning attack!'
Let's just put that conversation into context. Tal remembered a variation of a game he played twenty years ago, in a thirty board simultaneous display! Simply amazing! What a genius!
Do not worry, there is hope for all of us. I do not have a special brain, sometimes I forget where I parked my car - Yet, I have become a Grandmaster. So what tips, can I give to you, to help you improve your visualisation? I should note that most of the exercises below require no board!
- Tactics, tactics, tactics - Solving tactics is a key way to improve your chess visualisation. Chess.com have a great interactive way of helping you to do this. I personally improved from about 2200 to 2400 by simply taking a tactics book into the bath with me every day. I would spend 30 minutes sitting in the bath trying to solve as many tactics as I could. In the course of 3-4 months this had greatly improved my visualisation.
- Colour of the Square - As discussed above, ask yourself what colour a random square on the board is. This will improve the way that you see the board. Obviously it is better to work with a friend to do this. You can take it in turns to test each other.
- Knight Tour - What is the quickest way to get a knight from a1 to h8? Picture the knight's route in your head and play out the moves. Then try another route and another route, until you have worked out as many quickest routes as possible!
- Knight Tour part 2 - Start with the knight on a1, what is the quickest route to a8, then h8 and finally h1. All without a board!
- Practise Blindfold Chess - This is tough and best to do with a friend. You might find that you can only do a couple of moves to start with, but after a while this will improve.
- Follow Games without a board - Get yourself subscribed to a chess magazine and play over the moves in your head. Trying to picture them move on the board as you see the description (Ng4 etc) This is also great as it is a lazy way to learn.
- Guess the move/the piece - This is one of my favourite teckniques, and is best done with a friend. Take it in turns to set up puzzle positions on a chess board (yes this time only you do use a chess board and pieces!). Then after a period of time (depending on how hard you want to make the exercise!) Quickly remove all the pieces from the board! (I normally do this in a big sweeping motion!). Your friend must then, first set up the puzzle position in its correct position. Once he has done this, you remove the pieces again from the board! This time your friend must solve the puzzle. This time though, he only has an empty board to look at!
The list could go on and on, but hopefully some of these ideas could improve your standard as a player. Good luck and let me know how you get on!