# Learning to visualize the board

I have read in several sources, it's a important to be able instantly say what colour a square has or for example, if two pieces are on the same diagonal/rank/file, if their squares are given. And this skill can be learned by specific exercise for visualisation.

Is this true?

Is it important to learn this skill isolated from other chess improvement learning?

## 5 Answers

I suspect that the advise to do exercises visualization in this way is tied to the development of computers/internet as it is easy to program/check your "progress" and it makes for a neat feature on a website.

Still, I don't see what point there is in learning the color of squares independent of any other chess knowledge. No doubt having this knowledge helps, but as with tactics you want to know this subconsciously and in connection with actual game play/analyzing variations, etc.

In my experience knowing what color each square is comes naturally as you play and analyze more games. When replaying games try to visualize variations in your mind without actually moving the pieces on the board. You will pick up the names of squares but what's much more important will for instance learn what squares lie on a diagonal (and are therefore attacked by a queen/bishop on that diagonal).

Learning by just playing/analyzing could for instance go as follows:

You notice that a black light-squared bishop in many games goes from c8 to g4 to pin a white knight on f3 to the white queen on d1. The bishop is often kicked away by h3 and occasionally the game continues with Bh5, g4, Bg6.

From this very common maneuvre you learned that all the squares: c8, g4, f3, d1, h3, g4, h5, g6 are light color.

You will notice many other similar patterns in openings. For instance in the Kings Indian Defense black puts the central pawns on dark squares (d6, e5) that are blocked by white pawns on light squares (c4, d5, e4), etc.

My advise would be: unless you have unlimited time, you will likely get more by spending your chess time doing tactics puzzles or by watching/reading commented/annotated master games than by learning what color the square c6 is....

This is not specifically for diagonals, but this is how I learned to visualize the board. I am not sure that I agree that you should be able to know what color a particular square is. I have been playing tournaments for 40 years this year, more than 30 at the master level, and I still do not think about the color of squares at all with regards to calculation (sure when it comes to making my bishop bad, and other positional elements). I just know where my pieces are, and with experience, where they can go. If I can visualize the former, then the latter is easy.

This is related to tactics, but specifically meant to be different. You can use a different book, but I started with Chernev's "Combinations, the Heart of Chess". The reason I used this book is that many of the examples are longer than normal, but not full game length, and they are interesting and fun. Some get to be 20 moves, or more.

Except maybe on short ones, you are not trying at all to solve them. ALL you are trying to do is keep the position in your head accurately, including sub-variations that are given. When you have visualized it well enough that you think you have it right, put it on a board, and see how well you really did visualize the position, especially, the final position. As you get better at this, you can use full-length games. Again, unlike tactics training, you are just trying to visualize where the pieces are.

Another fun book to do this with is Chernev's "1000 Best Short Games of Chess" since it starts with 4 moves and gradually goes up to 25 max. The only problem is both books I mentioned used descriptive notation, and if that is a problem, you will need to find other interesting shortish games to do this with.

Again, I suggest trying to visualize the whole board. If you do that, you will also see diagonals more clearly.

It is my opinion that knowing off the top of your head whether f4 is a light or dark square is not all that important. During a game, the board is right there in front of you. You can simply look to see its color. And you don't have to know whether the square is named g1 to see that it's on the same file as g8.

However, being able to instantly see that two pieces are (or will be) on the same diagonal/rank/file is important. For example, if two enemy pieces are on the same diagonal, a bishop may be able to fork them, pin them, or skewer them, depending on the position. If your rook is on the same file as the enemy king or queen with another piece in between, you may be able to move that piece for a discovered attack, or, if it's an opposing piece in between, attack it again because it is pinned.

• I disagree. Knowing what color a square is can allow you to see how many moves a knight can take to reach a square in a fraction of a second whereas calculating it out would take much longer. In a deep calculation, that could save several minutes on a single move. Another example would be a B vs P ending where the B can't control the queening square. – Savage47 Oct 28 '19 at 1:57
• Pure B vs P, it doesn't matter whether the bishop controls the queening square, so long as it controls any square the pawn must cross. Yes, it's important in some endgames to know whether the bishop controls the queening square. But if you need to know whether the bishop controls the queening square, you just look at the queening square and look at your bishop. If you need to know whether a square is on the same color as your knight, you look at your knight and look at the square. That takes no time at all. – D M Oct 28 '19 at 2:20
• @DM- Not what I'm talking about at all. Yes there are some situations where a king can block another king in a bishop endgame but what I'm talking about is when you're considering exchanges 20 moves before in the middle-game. Same with the knight. Yes you can look at the board if its one move but what about all the way across the board? If N is on dark and the square you want to move is dark you know automatically that's an even number of moves. If you can rule out 4 then you know its at least 6. A simple glance of the board tells you what some people might take 10 minutes to figure out. – Savage47 Oct 28 '19 at 3:33

I believe that figuring out colors of squares is a good exercise, and it is not so important to know what color a square is per se, but how it is tied to a concept in chess.

For example, what color is `g7`? It is dark right, this is where black dark-squared bishop resides after fianchetto.

What about `b4`? When I think of `b4` I think of the Evan's Gambit, white is sacrificing a pawn to control the center and develop quickly by attacking Black's dark-squared bishop, and therefore, `b4` must be dark as well.

• Black is sacrificing a pawn to attack Black's bishop? Something's not quite right there. – D M Oct 28 '19 at 2:23
• @DM, fixed. Thank You. – Akavall Oct 28 '19 at 3:15

Welcome to stackexchange and thanks for your question. I would love to be able to visualise the board, especially those pesky diagonals, but I don’t seem any closer to that than when I was younger.

I can manage general strategic thinking without a board but the geometrical stuff doesn’t stick. Rows and files are ok, but e.g. sequences of knight moves are tricky. When I have the board in front of me, I can visualize the geometry pretty well, but it’s still hard to see the position several moves ahead.

If I think of a square like f5, I know it’s light because the letter is even while the number is odd. But I had to think about it and got it wrong. I am using numbers rather than visualisation here.

I taught myself in bridge to count the cards. But even after several years it’s not intuitive. I use my auditive memory, but it still requires concentration that perhaps would be better spent analysing the play.

So I would say that visualising the board can be helpful, but not if it requires significant conscious attention. I heard recently that GM John Nunn has a photographic memory which brings effortless visual recall -not just of an empty board but of the game in play.

What exactly are the techniques recommended to you please?

• One example of this training is #7 on this page: chess.com/article/view/… – Msiipola Oct 24 '19 at 12:21
• An another example is: youtube.com/watch?v=FpUrW4Qbl7Y – Msiipola Oct 24 '19 at 12:25
• `f5` is a light square; it is very common for Black light-squared bishop to go there. – Akavall Oct 24 '19 at 20:02
• Thanks @Akavall. I suffer also from chess notation dyslexia, due perhaps to conversion from descriptive to algebraic notation at an impressionable age, and I easily get the empty board reflected in my mind. – Laska Oct 24 '19 at 20:41