My Biggest Chess Secret

My Biggest Chess Secret

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Hello everyone! This blog is going to be a bit different than most of my other blogs. But this is something that I am super interested in and find fascinating. Let's dive in! Alright, I am going to tell you all about my biggest chess secret that I did not even know existed until recently. I have something that is known as Aphantasia. So first of all... 

What is Aphantasia?

Aphantasia is the inability to voluntarily create mental images in one's mind. The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 but has since remained relatively unstudied. It was not even known it existed until recently. That is Wikipedia's definition of Aphantasia. In layman's terms, it means that I cannot visualize things. For this blog, I am going to focus on Aphantasia through the lens of chess because it is something we all know and love. The majority of you who are reading this article most likely do not have this. So I am going to do my best to try and explain it so you can understand it. And if you have Aphantasia and you are reading this blog then I will hopefully help you see that you are not the only one who has this. It is possible to be just as strong in chess and other areas with or without Aphantasia. 

How Aphantasia Affects Me

Alright. Let's go back in time a few years to 2020. I was about 1600 rated and was beginning to understand chess a bit better, and was reading books such as Silman's Guide To Chess Endings, and Bobby Fischer's 60 Memorable Games. One book I was going through was about visualization in chess. Studying Chess Made Easy by Andrew Soltis   So this book was all about how to improve the way you see the board in your mind more or less. For someone like me who cannot see the board in my head, to hear about how players should be able to see the board, was super discouraging. It truly made me feel like a failure and I got to the point I was considering quitting chess. I continued playing and improving but I was still worried about not being able to see the board in my head. Now we enter the legendary @Typewriter44. At that time I knew him from a club CHT and I hated playing against him in chesskid tournaments because he always crushed me. Anyway, I started messaging him and after a while, he asked me how I read chess books. I was trying to explain that I don't use a board but I also cannot see it in my head. He realized what I was trying to describe and he told me about Aphantasia. He also has it so when he described how he sees the board it made perfect sense to me. We just kind of know where the pieces end up and use our memory. So I started looking into it because I was super curious. Here is something a great article said about it. "If you were to ask a person with aphantasia to imagine something, they could likely describe the object, explain the concept, and rattle off facts that they know about the object. But they would not be able to experience any sort of mental image to accompany this knowledge".

This is very true in my experience. I can tell you what let's say a tree looks like. It has bark, it is usually very tall, it has different leaves depending on the type of tree, they get its food through the leaves, and they give off oxygen from carbon dioxide. But I cannot see that tree in my mind as I am explaining it. Everything I know is from memory. I look at chess in a very similar way. I can tell you where certain pieces are in a position of let's say blindfold. I can even (sometimes) tell you what the best move in the position is. But in no way can I "see" the board. 

What Causes Aphantasia

The brain is a fascinating thing God made. The way it works is incredible, and it is really sensitive. My Grandfather about 2 years back had a Stroke. A Stroke is caused by a blood clot in the brain. The particular Stroke he had, caused Aphasia. It affected him being able to speak and later caused severe Dementia. All of that happened overnight. One night he was fine and the next morning he was a different person. All of this is from a small blood clot. One of my idols growing up was Grant Imahara. You might know him from MythBusters. He was one of the coolest and smartest guys I have ever seen. He died back in 2020 due to a brain Intracranial aneurysm. RIP. 

These examples might seem kind of random but they are there for a reason. These show how crucial our brains are. If something happens to it we could be radically changed in a bad way or even die. It is quite literally the motherboard that controls everything. Now what does that have to do with Aphantasia? The brain has a specific part used for memory. There is also a part for visualization. Some studies have shown that a person with Aphantasia has less action the part that controls visualization, but more action in other parts! The person with Aphantasia's brain had adapted to the inability to visualize and made different strategies to get around this. This is done without our knowledge. How amazing is that? Our brains are capable of doing so many things without us even knowing about them! I have a fun test for you.

Pretty crazy right? Your brain can even do something as complex as math subconsciously!

Our brains are truly extraordinary


So how do I calculate? Has my mind made its own shortcuts? Well, it has! But so has yours. I am going to tell you about one of the first calculation shortcuts your brain made in chess. 

I can calculate pretty much as well as any other 2000. 

So the way my brain adapted for chess is through memory. I remember where the pieces are even though I cannot see them. The one drawback to this is it takes a lot more work and I tend to make mistakes in longer lines. Often I have to go through a line multiple times to figure out what is happening. This caused 2 distinctly different things for me. 1 I tend to rely on my intuition a lot. 2 I tend to only think on my time because of how much work and how tiring it is to think on my opponent's clock about moves they probably won't even play. If you ever see me at an OTB game you will see that I spend a lot of my opponents think time away from the board. And I tend to first calculate out the first move my intuition sees and go with that as long as I don't find something wrong with it.


So can I play blindfold? If so how? So I can play blindfold decently well. I am probably about 1300 blindfolded. But one of the weird things about blindfold for me is unless I hear the move and have an actual blindfold on I cannot remember the position at all. I cannot just play a game online with the blindfold piece setting in the same way. I tend to lose the position much faster. I have a very hard time calculating Bishop's moves in blindfold. It takes me the longest to figure out the diagonal. Again I cannot see the pieces but I remember where they are and use math to figure out the patterns of the pieces and stuff.


I think people with Aphantasia can become just as strong as anyone without it. It may just take more work in some ways. Our brains are good enough to work through any disability. Take my good friend @BoraBoy. He is a great chess player and has won a bunch of events even though he is disabled. Look at all the Dyslexic people who became great writers. Nothing is truly a disability. I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13. Just don't give up and keep pushing. If you love chess you can become great no matter what might be in your way. Even if it feels impossible. I hope you enjoyed this and learned some stuff. Make sure to comment below with any questions you might have on this topic! 


Glory to God! Tilting and hating chess as always tongue.png