Inspiration from NM Dan Heisman

Uwe commented on my previous post:

I am still astonished, that you can play blindfold and have problems to name the squares.

Be carefull or you will miss the point! From a normal point of view, I have no problems at all to name the squares. Just like anyone else. But for naming a square, I have to think a second or two. Just like anyone else. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't notice that there is something about it. Only under the extreme condition of squealing time trouble I can't make brain capacity free for it. Just see for yourself how fast you can name the squares. Do you need a second or two and do you hesitate now and then or do they popup immediatialy without noticable time delay, without hesitation or stuttering and with no conscious effort at all? In the first case you have to think, in the second case you use a skill. I suspect alot of chessplayers to fall in the first category without realizing it.

You know "Training in Chess" from Dr. Fernand Gobet? He dont "like" blindfold chess: " (2) We believe that playing blindfold chess is at best useless, and at worst harmful to one’s development. The ability of playing blindfold comes more as a side effect of having acquired a well organized and easily accessible knowledge base (Ericsson & Staszewski, 1989; Saariluoma, 1995). Practicing blindfold as such may be harmful when it interferes with other types of training. "

Mr. Gobet talks about aquiring chess knowledge in his article. In that case he is right. But we talk about a quite different animal here. We talk about transferring a task from one brain area to another. My experiment proofs that that is what I have just done with my training during two weeks. I transferred thinking into a skill.

Of course this new skill is not going to win me games. Neither does it look impressive. But that is not the point. The point is that I have found a method and proved that it works.

Blindfold chess helps to transfer another task from thinking to skill. It helps to keep track of your pieces without physically seeing them. One of the results is that I'm faster in calculating already. I can calculate deeper and with less effort than before. So if mr. Gobet means that blindfoldchess doesn't help my chess at all I already proved that he is wrong.

Now which other tasks lend themselves to be transferred from slow conscious thinking to fast automatic skill? Not every task is suitable. Some tasks are performed better by thinking.
This are some criteria:
  • The circumstances and outcome of the task are always the same. For instance a certain square on the board is always named e4. But it is useless to do zillion tactical exercises as I have done since one pawn difference can change the position totally. So there are just too many (infinite more than zillion) possibilities so the circumstances and the outcome differ too much. Here slow thinking is the best way to interpret the result of the difference.
  • No consciousness is needed. It works best when done automatic. Of course you always keep an eye on the final result. I mean, if you go on vacation and drive automatically while not keeping an eye on the result you might end up at your office.
  • The transfer must result in speeding up the task.
  • The transfer must result in freeing your STM memory.
  • The transfer must result in using less effort.
  • The transfer must result in less errors. Although different errors might be introduced. I often mix up c6 and f6 or f2 and f7. Actually that tells us something about how skills are organizing information.
  • The task must have relevance to the outcome of the game. There are lots of exercises that help you to acquire useless skills. So be carefull in the selection of what you are going to train (look who's talking;)
For this moment I added an additional criterium. I want that the task helps my calculation.

As Uwe's question pointed out, great care is needed since we perform a lot of tasks seemingly well consciously without realizing that it can be done much better automatically. A speedtest should reveal which part of the brain we use.

If you think this all is trivial than you are wrong. Thinking lights up in brainscans the part of the brain that is typically for amateurs. Complex motorskills light up the parts of the brain typically for masters and grandmasters. Ok, this is not exactly evidence, but it looks alot like a smoking gun to me:)

In my previous post I asked for inspiration to find the tasks that matches the criteria above. NM Dan Heisman was so friendly to point out a few articles of him with plenty of inspiration. Here, here and here Let's see where this leads me.

First I found an example in an article of him which exactly describes what we are talking about.

Suppose you are an experienced player with good board vision, but
have not extensively studied basic tactical patterns. Then you can see
what is happening on the board, but instead of quickly and accurately
recognizing basic tactical possibilities for both sides, you have to figure
them out. This would be equivalent to knowing how to add, but not being
able to recognize the answer to basic multiplication problems. For
example, when presented with the problem 8x7, you would have to add
up seven eights or eight sevens, instead of just answering 56. Therefore,
you are not only slower, but less accurate, because knowing the solution
reduces error in trying to figure it out.

Sometimes I use the same words as Dan Heisman but we mean something different by it. I will try to avoid ambuigities but apologize beforehand for any obscurity.
Dan recognizes 3 kinds of vision:

Board Vision – The ability to quickly and accurately recognize where all
the pieces are and assess what they are doing in the present chess position.

Visualization – The ability to keep track of where all the pieces are (and
“see” them as a position) as you move the pieces in your head, analyzing
future possibilities.

Tactical Vision – The ability to quickly and accurately recognize known
tactical patterns and their likely consequences. Tactics include more than
just winning material and checkmate, but also the defensive side:
preventing material loss and checkmate.

I redub my own use of the term "board vision" with "chessboard vision" which is the skill to see an empty chessboard before the minds eye in 3D and Technicolor. Something that is not of any help probably for improving your chess. Let's see if there are candidates for skilltraining.

Board vision.
Normally I would dismiss this as too trivial to pay much attention to. But since naming squares is trivial too I must do a speedtest in order to find out if I use the right braincenter here. I will let you know when I have results.
One of the resaons that I started this investigation in the first place is that I'm experimenting with blindfoldchess. Somehow I felt that blindfold chess wasn't enough to improve my calculation. One reasoning I had was the following: even when I see a position blindfolded I must still calculate lines. That is something different than just seeing the position with the pieces and what they do. So maybe blindfold chess just helps with board vision but not with seeing future lines. I don't know if this idea will stand the time but somehow it explains the discontent with blindfold chess as being not quite sufficient.
On the page with exercises of Dan Heisman I found the idea of Fritz Board Vision exercises. I will dive into that soon.

I discovered that Fritz 12 has a possibility for calculation training from allmost any position. I am going to try that with positions from Chess Tempo.

Tactical Vision.
After 100K+ tactical exercises that should be no point. Yet I will do a speedtest to find out if I'm indeed using the right braincenter now.

Enough inspiration for the moment thanks to NM Dan Heisman! To be continued. . .


  1. Nice post.

    As always, DH says something helpful about playing solid chess.

    I thinking the ability to properly name squares under pressure leads to better time management. Better time management helps to win games.

    Are you writing down the square name when you doing the exercise?

    I wonder if you think that step is trivial or an important part of simulating a game.

  2. @Tak,
    I think that step is trivial since writing a tempo is not a problem.

  3. What about a mathmatical approach?


    Odd odd means dark
    Even even means light
    Odd even means light
    Even odd means dark.

    I think I will try that.

  4. If there is a "Tactical Vision" then there is "Attacking Vision", "Positional Vision" and "Strategic Vision" to. At my Chessclub we often play and analyse in small groups. Some players SEE attacking move sequences, some strategic plans and some positional improvements wihout "thinking".
    You did 100+k tactical exercises. Why is your tactics-rating still "so low" ( meaning not at GM-Level ). Most methods to improve OTB-Chess should have a "tactics-version" wich should improve the tactical rating to. If better Board vision helps at OTB, i would expect, it helps in Tactics and should lead in higher tactics-ratings to.
    If the Fritz exercises ( or any other exercise ) can improve the OTB-play, it should improve a tactics rating ( at CT, CTS..) to and this is easier and quicker to check.
    If you cant improve the tactics rating to a "where ever high"-level then the chances are low to get that level at OTB.

  5. BlunderProne said...

    What about a mathematical approach?


    Odd odd means dark
    Even even means light
    Odd even means light
    Even odd means dark.


    I have a similar system - consider a,c,e,g to be "odd" and b,d,f,h to be "even".

    Then if the row and column "status" (odd or even) is the same (matched) - as in both evens or both odds - you know you have a dark square.

    If you have an "unmatched" coordinate pair (odd+even, or even+odd) then you know you have a light square.

    So the mnemonic is:

    I supposed one way of remembering that would be to say that in the "dark" a couple might think they are perfectly "matched", but under the harsh "light" of day they realize they are not such a good "match". :)

    Anyway, I posted something like this on another thread where the original poster was trying to learn to play blindfold and he told me that this kind of trick is still too much like "figuring it out" whereas he wants to be able to immediately visualize a square without thought (like knowing the multiplication table).

    So I don't know if this trick will get any supporters here... :)

    -- Hank

  6. BP, Hank,
    When I record my games I only write down the names of the squares, not the colors. What purpose do you intend to serve to learn the colors by heart?


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