I'm a decent player and am pretty good at tactics and visualizing series of moves with a board in front of me. However I have an extremely difficult time visualizing positions and moves purely in my head. Are there any tricks that make mentally visualizing easier, or is it just something that comes with lots of practice?
Improving board vision
- When studying on your own, use a book with many diagrams so that you can check your visualisation regularly, e.g. Logical Chess: Move by Move by Irving Chernev
- When studying with a partner, ask them to call out the moves of a variation then test your accuracy with questions like "what colour square is white's knight on?"
Source: Adapted from Studying Chess Made Easy by Andrew Soltis
Notes on board vision
- I like to put a small (often 2 or 3 whole moves) variation into words as a mini-plan. E.g. "Moves 4-6: White gambits a pawn to develop the bishop". It doesn't have to be a deep analysis at all, just a narration to the moves to convert algebraic notation into English
- "Long variation, wrong variation" - attributed to Bent Larsen in The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess, by Andrew Soltis. In other words, visualising a variation 20 moves deep is unlikely to be beneficial
- Don't get side tracked by sub variations
- To make the visualisations easier, study endgames (i.e. fewer pieces to visualise)
- "You can't see 64 squares at the same time" - attributed to Alfred Binet in The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess, by Andrew Soltis. This is a natural limitation to human perception. Even looking at a board, you can only really see 12-16 squares at a time. Try to 'chunk' information together to reduce the strain. E.g. you can condense information into words like "White has a castled king behind a fianchetto"
Example with an opening that you want to learn using White
Suppose you want to visualise the opening 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 e5 4. Nf3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Bxd2+ 6. Nbxd2 exd4 7. Bxc4 Nc6 8. O-O Qf6 9. e5 Qg6 10. Re1 Nge7 11. Nb3 O-O 12. Nfxd4
Let's visualise this step-by-step, checking your visualisation against the board in the spoiler tags below:
- d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4
PS. I've used a screenshot of the position from Ubisoft's Chessmaster, as the replayer can't be hidden in a spoiler tag: How to hide chessboard in a spoiler tag?.
3... e5 4. Nf3
4...Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Bxd2+ 6. Nbxd2
6...exd4 7. Bxc4 Nc6
- O-O Qf6 9. e5 Qg6 10. Re1
10...Nge7 11. Nb3 O-O 12. Nfxd4
Source of variation and abridged analysis: Starting Out: Queen's Gambit Accepted by A. Raetsky and M. Chetverik
Example with an opening that you want to learn using Black
This is slightly harder as the board is now rotated both for practical play and in the spolier tags. Suppose you want to visualise the opening 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. e3 e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 8. O-O Nbd7 9. Qe2 Bg6 10. e4 O-O 11. Bd3 Bh5 12. e5 Nd5 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Qe3 Bg6
- d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3
4...dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. e3 e6 7. Bxc4
7...Bb4 8. O-O
8...Nbd7 9. Qe2 Bg6 10. e4 O-O
- Bd3 Bh5 12. e5 Nd5 13. Nxd5 cxd5
- Qe3 Bg6
Source of variation and abridged analysis: The Slav: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala