The past few weeks Mr Z and I have been discussing visualization in chess. We arrived at the following conclusions:
No concepts, no visualization.
If you have not available the concept of a crocplevier you cannot recognize it, even if it bites you from behind. If you doesn't have a concept of a car, you cannot imagine it. You can't visualize it before the minds eye. If you DO have a concept though, you can't stop the mind from being able to visualize it. That clarifies why blindfold players declare to see concepts and idea's. Not pieces and board. That's why you can play blindfold chess against a much lower rated opponent so easy. Due to his mistakes it is easy to have a conceptual idea of the course of the game. That gives your mind grip.
No difference between high level and low level concepts.
By the mind, concepts are treated equally. No matter if it is a subtle concept how to keep h7, g7 and f7 under control by g4 when a transition to the endgame is near or a more straightforward idea as to put your rooks on an open file or a pawnfork.
The human mind isn't capable to handle complexity. Complexity usually consists of a vast amount of simple concepts. If a grandmaster tells you what he thinks it usually doesn't sound like rocketscience. You just slap your head and say "of course!". If you try it yourself behind the board you find that you lack the concepts.
You have to obtain a vast database with concepts. Who should be the creator of those concepts? Not you! It simple takes way too much time to invent everything on your own. Belief me, after 10 years of studying chess improvement I consider myself to be an expert on wasting of time! No DIY!!
This means that your concepts must be obtained from an outer source. Be it a coach or an author or a chess DVD. For tactical concepts with finite solutions you can use a chess engine. This means: don't waste time by looking for the answer to a problem! After solving 100K+ problems at every regimen you can think of I can state with entire certainty and with no doubt: don't waste time with inventing the wheel on your own. This blog is meant to be a landmark to prevent others from wasting their time. Let Houdini or Rybka do the work. The only thing you have to do is to pour the information into nice little reusable concepts.
Chunks are concepts.
A concept always has some kind of generalization in it. It binds together a whole host of positions and moves into a chunk.
Concepts in chess.
What are they? Concepts describe the relationship between pieces and squares by means of little naratives. Let me give an example.
Black to move.
It is a pretty high rated problem (2046), due to the many possible moves of the king.
Yet it is very easy once you start formulating concepts like:
- When I move the king it must attack something if possible
- I must not interfere with the communications of the rooks
- I must not put my king on an open file that my rooks may need later
- I must not give a chance for a skewer.
You see how simple these concepts are. When you have acquired these concepts, it is easy to visualize them. Without them, it is impossible. The concepts guide your visualization. If you put too much time and energy in finding the solution yourself, you will lack the time and energy for summarizing the solution in a narrative. Which is my greatest fail the past 10 years.
Difference between tactical and positional concepts.
Tactics take a very special place in the realm of concepts. Chess is a game of practically infinite posibilities. Concepts are a means to handle such infinite amount by binding groups of positions together. The glue is generalization. Positional considerations are used when there is no finite solution to the current position. When there is a forced continuation, the infinite amount of possibilities is restricted by force. The amount has become finite. Tactical concepts handle forced continuations.
It is evident that the ability to visualize long and complex tactics into quiescence can give you an edge. In fact it is the only ability I consider to be a possible supertrick.
Since concepts are the only means of visualization, a database with tactical concepts is necessary. There is another kind of concepts that plays a role. These are the limiting concepts. For instance: when you consider yourself worse and you have a sacrifice which leads to eternal check: play it without any further calculation about what might happen after that position. In fact there are a lot of these limithing concepts which are very useful in practical play.
In preparation for the Tata Steel chess tournament 2012 I will build my concept-database.
Positionally by looking at chess DVD's about the middlegame for hours on end.
Tactically by looking at the answer of high rated problems at Chess Tempo (what's in a name?) and formulate tactical concepts like the ones above.