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I am an intermediate level chess enthusiast. I have noticed that one of the main hindrances that slows down my progress is that I have never been able to internalize the algebraic notation and lack a good “board sense”. I know that Algebraic Notation is a pretty simple and straightforward system and I have actually no problem reading the moves and playing them over the board. The problem is that, when I am playing black, I am not able to look at the board and without first reading the grids name the exact square right away.

It is relatively easy to do this when you are playing white and I don't have much trouble doing that, but when it comes to the black side all of a sudden everything is reversed and I have to sit back and think what square is what and that sometimes becomes annoying to the point where it prevents me from concentrating on the moves.

In all chess books diagrams are shown from the point of view of white and because of that I never tried to follow games from the opposite side. When I look at the videos where grandmasters are quickly analyzing their games, I see that they have absolutely no problem following the games and talking about moves from the black’s point of view. So I guess that’s something I should also be able to do, in case I want to improve my chess.

Incidentally, I noticed that I don't have that problem with descriptive notation. I can play black's moves very quickly on the board when I am reading or analyzing moves written using that system of notation. The reason is that descriptive notation is “relative” but algebraic notation is “absolute” and only one name is assigned to the squares no matter which side is talking. Alas, descriptive notation is obsolete and I have to find a way to deal with the standard system.

Has anyone else experienced the same problem, and if yes, how have they been able to solve this? Any tips on visualizing the board and following the moves rapidly from the black side is also appreciated.

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    I have a longer answer below, but also I recommend setting up the board from Black's point of view when playing through games from a book, especially if the "hero" is playing Black that game. That will give you practice in looking at the board from Black's point of view. – dfan Aug 22 '13 at 12:09
  • I have tried this many times, and every time I am very slow at recognizing the squares. You see, I have no problem memorizing a game and replaying it from the black side. But I have problem with reading the moves from a book and playing them from the black side for the first time. I am very slow and I occasionally misplace a piece. With descriptive notation I have no such problem. – Omid Aug 22 '13 at 17:48
  • I understand. This is not an overnight solution, it just helps provide more practice, which is what you need to become fluent with the chessboard. – dfan Aug 22 '13 at 18:23
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I would recommend using chess eye, here's a video about it, it will help you memorize the board, difficult but fun!

EDIT

I don't think this is the answer you're looking for, but I'm answering anyway since there's no other answer and since my initial answer didn't help much, i feel that i must improve my answer even if it won't help you. Here's how i visualize, I don't follow from black perspective nor white. I see them as a list, such as this.

I memorized only the A rank, especially a1 and a8 and worked my way through the board using maths, not memorization, i think maths helps more, if you calculate it, it makes sense to you. For example if you tell me to memorize how to derive an equation, I'll never understand it and I will find it hard to remember, if you tell me the idea behind it and tell me why i am doing it, i will understand and do it fast.

I'm not a fan of memorization and i know that modern chess is all about memorization, criticize me all you want.

I just remember that a1 is black, therefore a4 has to be white, a8 has to be white as well, count them on your fingers.

b1 is directly above a1 so it's the opposite color, b1 is white, b4 has to be black, b8 has to be black.

A pattern is visible here

  • x1 color is different than x8
  • x4 = x8
  • x8 = y1

Not only that a1 and c1 are black, because there's always x black followed by y white, you can say that all the odd rank numbers starts with black ends with white, and vise versa for the even rank numbers

a is an odd rank since it's the first letter and the first rank, a1 is black b is even b1 is white.

So a1 is black, what about h1? well a8 is white, and h is the 8th ranks, its number 8, got to be white. Want to count from h to a? lets do it,

h1 is white, and so is is g8, g1 is black and h8 is black of course, i want you to imagine it, not just to read it, forget about the letters, just imagine that you're counting from 1 to 8, each number has a color, and when you get to 8, you start again, 1 has the same color as 8.

one last rank is the d rank, it's number 4, a1 is black, a4 is white, d is rank number 4, which is white! that's what i do, a list, white, black doesn't matter, might help you with blindfolded chess or if you're playing against an engine, no GUI.

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    Thanks, I downloaded a trial version and worked with some of the exercises. It is indeed fun and helps with visualization, but I am not sure if it solves my problem as they too are all from the white's perspective. You are memorizing the board as viewed by white! Turn the board and all the same issues are back... – Omid Aug 21 '13 at 19:44
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    @novice66 i tried to improve my answer, since no one else showed up :) – Lynob Aug 22 '13 at 2:22
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    try to use the site i gave you, to practice – Lynob Aug 22 '13 at 2:24
  • @novice66 yes you have to make it a game in order to remember, thats how i remembered the first 20 elements in chemistry when i was little kid at school, you expect me to memorize it like Natrium (Sodium), Magnésium, Aluminium, Silicium, Phosphore, Soufre, Chlore, Argon? no way! we sang a song, a french song since we learnt chemistry in french Napoléon Mangea Allègrement Six Pommes Sans Claquer Après. whenever something seems complicated make it simple :) – Lynob Aug 22 '13 at 18:21
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The meanings of the squares don't change depending on whether you are looking at the board from White's or Black's point of view. So try to think about the squares' function rather than just identifying them by coordinates.

I will give some examples.

  • When I think 'c4', I think "White's second move in the Queen's Gambit Declined, and the square he moves his Bishop to in the Italian game to attack f7", not "three squares over and four squares up".
  • When I think 'g7', I think "the square Black fianchettos his bishop on in the Sicilian Dragon and King's Indian", not "seven squares over and seven squares up".
  • When I think 'g8', I think "the square Black's king is on after castling kingside", not "seven squares over and eight squares up".

These functions of the squares don't change when you switch your orientation, so they are easier to work with.

Of course it takes a lot of time to internalize the functions of the squares in this way, but you will understand the chessboard a lot better when you've done so. For one thing, you will know, for example, what having a queen on c2 and bishop on d3 is good for, without having to look at a board to follow the diagonal out to its destination.

  • That's a good approach for sure. I have never looked at the squares that way. Nonetheless, even if I adopt this method, chances are that I would still have problems while playing Fischer Random Chess where opening theory is irrelevant! But anyway, thanks for your input. I should try this too. – Omid Aug 22 '13 at 17:43
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Two quick things which I think might help (though I realise your question is old):

1) lichess.org has a training tool specifically aimed at improving your knowledge of algebraic notation; coordinates flash on the screen (eg "E7") and you have to click on the correct square, answering as many as possible in a set period of time. It varies between showing the board in white and black orientations.

2) I worked out a similar shortcut to quickly give the colour of any given square, also based on "odd" and "even" files. First mentally translate the letters for files into numbers so that the letters a-c-e-g (1-3-5-7) are "odd" and b-d-f-h (2-4-6-8) are "even". Then the rule is:

  • if rank and file are both odd or both even, the square is black (a1, b4, c7)
  • if one is odd and the other even, the square is white (h7, e8, d1)

In short, black squares match; white squares don't.

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