Intermediary steps towards Rensch's "Chess Nirvana" Part 1

Apr 14, 2018, 1:16 AM |

After watching IM Daniel Rensch's 2-part video series on "Achieving Full Board Awareness", I was inspired to come up with a few similar intermediate visualization exercises.

I have been truly inspired by the concepts described in Rensch's videos and firmly believe they should be taught as the fundation to chess technique for any serious student. With that said, I am an absolutely crappy amateur chess player and, at this point, have no way of knowing for sure if "chess awareness" will improve my playing, but I think it will and I am interested in putting this theory to the test.

With this in mind, I immediately saw the potential for expansion and systematic exploration of variants of the exercises presented in the Rensch's videos. There are several reasons for me to write this and the following posts. 

1. I believe that some of the exercises from the videos increase in difficulty so quickly that having some exercises of intermediary difficulty might be very useful.

2. Introducing variants on the original exercises could help keeping interest alive in students who get bored quickly and/or thrive on constnatly being challenged in new ways. More importantly introducing variants might alleviate the tendency for certain students to simply memorize series of coordinates without actually visualizing the board (e.g. learning the diagonals by going up in letters and numbers without actually seing them in your mind's eye).

3. Some exercises may prove to be more entertaining than others as they involve visualizing (somewhat) interesting geometric shapes and patterns. Of course, these exercises are predicated on the idea that the student using them is already quite self-motivated and may require only a modest amount of novelty in the exercises. No mind will be "blown" by "never before encountered gemoetric shapes" in my post. We'll still be talking about simple things such as boxes, squares, diamonds, etc. Simple, but still better than dealing with random arrays of un-memorable coordinates.

4. I often think of exercises in my head as I practice visualization, but I fear that if I don't write these exercises down I'll eventually forget them and have to repeatedly "re-discover" them, which is a waste of time. Hence, I think it wise to write them down.

5. As a mnemonic device, assigning "names" to various geometric shapes and chessboard features will, hopefully, help the student visualize the chessboard more vividly as the various parts of the chessboard tend to come "alive" when they are given a name and/or some sort of memorable quality. I should also add that the names I'll be using are mostly of my own creation. Other students should feel free to change things to suit their own individual needs.

6. It amuses me to come up with these exercises even if, at this point, they may prove to be utterly useless (and/or overkill time-wasters - which is a distinct possibility, reader be warned!). I personally don't mind, though. I can think of worse ways to waste my time. On the other hand, if I can improve my chess skills and eventually learn to play blindfold chess, this would prove an awesome investment of my time.

7. These exercises are mainly for my own benefit. As I write this, I have not yet mastered chess visualization and writing these exercises down is a way for me to practice and cement what I hope I'll be learning. With that said, I don't mind sharing these ideas with other people (even though I make no claim to have discovered/invented them). You are welcome ;)

A few notes:

Originally I was planning to add diagrams to illustrate what I am talking about making this post a lot easier to read and visualize, but I decided not to. This is in keeping with the whole notion of doing things in your head instead of relying on visual aids, which, in this case, would be a crutch. I should add that anyone expecting to find an easy/passive way to learn visualization will be disappointed as the reader will be forced to "work" on visualizing what I'll be discussing. Conversely, a student committed to working hard in order to obtain better visualization skills will find these exercises very easy. In the end, I believe attitude will make a big difference in reading these posts.

I should also mention that some of the concepts and chessboard features I'll be describing may seem self-evident and to basic/easy to bother with. However, the challenge is to visualize clearly the keyboard and in the beginning some students may find that transitioning from looking at a physical chessboard to a mental one will mean some things which were previously taken for granted, suddenly will become (temporarily) difficult to visualize. Hence, I'll be talking about very simple things in the beginning. 

Final note: I am pretty sure my first drafts will have plenty of errors. I do welcome corrections, feedback, constructive criticism, etc. but please be kind.


Note: All exercises can be done visualizing the chessboard from white's perspective (with a1 on the bottom left), but also from the black's perspective (with h8 on the bottom left). I'd suggest practicing the exercises with the board flipped equal amounts of times from each perspective, perhaps alternating them every other day (or every other exercise).

I. Colors

In his Videos, Daniel Rensch talks about testing yourself by saying saying the color of any given square on the chessboard. Depending on the student, this may or may not be too challenging at first.

The way I taught myself to do this is to break down the chess board into sections and then gradually put those sections back together.  

Level 0

a1 is black. 

End of story. This is the fundation of everything else you'll practice from this point on. That's it. a1 is black.

If you are just starting to learn chess visualization, this is the test: 

Q: What color is a1? 

A: Black.

Great success!

Well, beyond that you can infer that, the chessboard having 8 squares on each side with rows 1-8 and columns a-h, the opposite corner of the chessboard from a1 is h8 and it will also be black for reasons which will become self-evident soon (if they are not already). Hint: all square sitting on the same diagonal are of the same color.

At that point a corollary is to look for the other two corners, a8 and h1 which are both white. 

Level 1

"Outside 4-square corners"

Think of the chessboard as having four 4-square corners:

--The bottom left is comprised of (in counter-clockwise motion) a1 (black), b1 (white), b2 (black - diagonal with a1), a2 (white - diagonal with b1)

--The bottom right is comprised of h1 (white), h2 (black), g2 (white), g1 (black)

--The top right (opposite of a1): h8 (black), g8 (white), g7 (black), h7 (white)

--The top left: a8 (white), a7 (black), b7 (white), b8 (black)

As variant exercises the student can list these 4-square corners and their colors in counter-clockwise / counter-clockwise fashion as we just did, or the opposite (clockwise / clockwise) or a mixture of clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. 

Example (clockwise / counter-clockwise): a1b (the second b's and w's stand for "black" and "white" obviously), b1w, b2b, a2w, then move clockwise to the top left of the chessboard, a8w, a7b, b7w, b8b, then, h8b, g8w, g7b, h7w, and finally, h1w, h2b, g2w, g1b.

At this point, or perhaps even earlier, the student should realize that the pattern of black "main" diagonals (the ones that cut the chessboard sections straight in the middle) going up and to the right (aka "forward slant") and white "main" diagonals going up and to the left (aka "backward slant") is true anywhere you look on the chessboard (even when you flip the chessboard upsidedown). This should be intuitively self-evident, though it technically only applies to the chessboard as a whole, the 4-square corners and the quadrants (and some other sections of interest like the "small center", "big center", "small border" and "big border" which will be discussed later). In other words, this does not hold true for sections where the bottom left square is white, which are "off-set" sections one would not normally consider useful to practice on in the beginning. 

This crucial fact about the chessboard makes it much easier to learn the rest of the board.

By extension, all outside 4-square corners, taken out of context (i.e. without coordinates) will look identical to one another. In other words these outside 4-square corners have two black squares (bottom left and top right) and two white squares (bottom right and top left). This will hold true for the "inner 4-square corners" and, similarly, the "quadrants", which will be discussed shortly, are also all identical to one another.

At this point you might then add an extra step to your exercise: declare "big black" or "big white" whenever you are on a square which sits on the big diagonals (black: a1, b2, c3, d4, e5, f6, g7, h8 - white: h1, g2, f3, e4, d5, c6, b7, a8). 

So the 4-square corner exercise (counter-clockwise /clockwise) would be:

a1 "big black", a2w, b2bb ("big black"), b1w

h1bw ("big white"), g1b, g2bw, h2b

h8bb (on the same diagonal as a1 but at the opposite end), h7w, g7bb, g8w

a8bw (on the same diagonal as h1 but at the opposite end), b8b, b7bw, a7b.

Level 2

Once that is done, another variant is to look at the "inside 4-square corners". If you divide the chessboard into four quadrants (of 4x4 square each), the opposite of the outside 4-square corners (which we have previously been working on) is going to be (counter/counter):

Bottom left: d4bb, c4w, c3bb, d3w.

Bottom right: e4bw, e3b, f3bw, f4b.

Top right: e5bb, f5w, f6bb, e6w.

Top left: d5bw, d6b, c6bw, c5b.

Level 3

As mentioned above, we can divide chessboard into 4 "quadrants". Each quadrant has 4x4 dimensions. As an exercise the student can visualize the corners for each quadrant.

Bottom left: a1bb, d1w, d4bb, a4w.

Bottom right: h1bw, h4b, e4bw, e1b.

Top right: h8bb, e8w, e5bb, h5w.

Top left: a8bw, a5b, d5bw, d8w.

Another exploration is to visualize the entire border of each quadrant:

Bottom left: a1bb, b1w, c1b, d1w, d2b, d3w, d4bb, c4w, b4b, a4w, a3b, a2w.

Bottom right: h1bw, h2b, and so on.

I think it may be useful to be familiar with "quadrant borders", but somehow reciting the coordinates/colors seems slightly less useful then other exercises. Still, it shouldn't hurt to do it from time to time.

Perhaps slightly more interesting is to visualize the "quadrant centers" mainly to practice the 3rd and 6th rows, and also c and f columns which we have not used much yet:

Bottom right: b2bb, c2w, c3bb, b3w.

Bottom left: g2bw, g3b, f3bw, f2b.

Top right: g7bb, f7w, f6bb, g6w.

Top left: b7bw, b6b, c6bb, c7w.

Level 4

At this point we are going to start exploring diagonals in preparation to the diagonal workouts shown in the videos. Beyond the "big black" and "big white", we have 4 broken diagonal counter parts. Just as the big black and big white diagonals cross each other and mirror one another, if we take each quadrant individually we get cross/mirror diagonals there as well. I like to call these diagonal "diamond diagonals" since all four together form a diamond shape on the chess board and, just like with big diagonals, I like to specify if a square falls on a diamond diagonal (ex. d1dw = d1 "diamond white). For each quadrant we then have:

Bottom left: a4dw, b3dw, c2dw, d1dw.

Bottom right: e1db, f2db, g3db, h4db.

Top right: h5dw, g6dw, f7dw, e8dw.

Top left: d8db, c7db, b6db, a5db.

Now you can go back and do some of the visualization exercise shown in the previous levels, but now you can also specify if a square falls on a diamond diagonal.

Level 5

Taking a small break from diagonal work, the students can explore center oriented sections of the chessboard. I call these: 

-Small Center (aka the "Center" in standard chess): d4bb, d5bw, e5bb, d4bw - this is similar to the "4-square corners" addressed earlier on.

-Big Center: a 4x4 chessboard section around the "small center" similar to a "quadrant" with corners: c3bb, c6bw, f6bb, f3bw.

-Small Border: a 6x6 section with corners: b2bb, b7bw, g7bb, g2bw.

-Big Border: the outside 8x8 border of the entire chessboard with corners a1bb, b8bw, h8bb, h1bw.


Level 6


Level 7

Opening Repertoire