Visualization is an aspect of chess that a lot of new players struggle with, some even consider such a feature witchcraft. How can someone visualize a chessboard on top of their head having the specific placement of the pieces? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?
But it is entirely possible, with enough practice a lot of people can do it, although you need the right training. This article will help you with that, it will also have some tips on how to improve your visualization in general.
If you want to improve on this, keep on reading, the tips below would be valuable.
Create an imaginary chessboard while visualizing
I think this is the most basic concept about visualization that beginners usually miss, it is almost impossible to visualize moves without sticking to an imaginary chessboard. Some that are new to chess fumbles over and never even try to create an imaginary board before giving up.
Most people who are adept at memorizing have some kind of imaginary chess board embedded in their mind, something that they know like the back of their hand. Some people prefer a 2d chessboard (like the one you see on chess.com) while others prefer a 3d one.
If you are someone that is used to playing online, it would be better to imagine a chessboard that is in 2d format (like the one you see on lichess). On the other hand if you are someone that is adept at using a 3d chessboard then imagining a real chessboard should be fine.
With this imaginary chessboard play the moves that supposedly would be in the position and try to come up with a counterplay. Usually the imaginary chessboard should be something that you feel cozy with, this would make using it quite comfortable.
Play many games of chess in order to be better in visualization
One you have decided what kind of chessboard you will embed during visualization it is important to move to another step, which is playing continuously. In order to get a better grasp of the board a player needs to undergo muscle-memory (opposite of memory muscle).
In this kind of opposite memorization you need exposure to the particular chessboard in order to imprint it on your mind, try to do a consistent feature every time. If you decide on a 2d chessboard then play only on a 2d chessboard, lichess or chess.com should help with that.
On the other hand, if you have chosen a 3d model then maybe stay away from online chess for a while and get used to playing 3d. By doing it this way visualization should be a bit easier, you will automatically imagine the chessboard you are familiar with.
It is important to memorize it by incorporating some games in order to maximize familiarity, once people are familiar with something they can utilize it automatically. This is useful in visualization since you would need to think of harder things while calculating, you don’t have to think about the imaginary chessboard every time.
Learn chess notations to become better at chessboard visualization
Next step would be to work on your chess notation recognition, no matter how you visualize there will be less accurate findings without the use of chess notations. To place the pieces in the exact squares you also need to be familiar with notations, otherwise you are likely to get confused.
You don’t only need to visualize how many pieces there are, you also need to pinpoint their exact squares with zero margin of error. If you happen to imagine a single piece being slightly off its real square, it would be disastrous, it could single handedly end the game.
The only way to do this is to be familiar with chess notations, by acquainting yourself with the file/rank notations you can easily pinpoint specific squares. It is best to analyze your own games without looking at the notations and trying to write them on your own.
Do this for a while and you will start recognizing specific squares more easily, this would improve your visualization since you will call the pieces on the right squares. Mistakes are less likely to be committed and you are unlikely to forget some of the pieces, it is great.
Visualizing with the most important pieces first
This is a method that works for most people, instead of imagining everything all at once try to start from the most important pieces to the lesser. Imprinting all the pieces on the board at the back of your head all at once is quite challenging, perhaps doing it one at a time is better.
One way to easily remember the position of the pieces is to start with the king, then try to remember the queen, rook, bishop, knight, and the pawns. But visualizing in this order you are likely to consider the most important pieces thus giving maximum results.
Start from the most important pieces since they are usually fewer in numbers, but also and the more crucial part, their impact on the game is bigger. You can’t afford to lose the important pieces, therefore it just makes sense that you should start the visualization on them.
If there ever will be an occasion where you will make a mistake, at least the impact is not as big since the more important pieces are taken care of. This can be useful in chessboard visualization since it accurately determines the placement of the pieces, a key ingredient of a good visualization.
Visualizing with a personalized piece or pieces in order to get better
There are some individuals who can visualize better if they are only concentrating on a single piece (or multiple pieces) as a focal point. This could make you better at visualization, if you focus on everything all at once the board will be in disarray.
The point of this one is similar to above, instead of focusing on everything when doing calculations try doing it in a single piece. However this time you can choose a personalized piece, something that would make it easier for you to calculate.
For example you can go for the queen instead of the king, or maybe the rooks then branch out from there. Choose the most comfortable piece for you that can easily be remembered, then imagine the position of other pieces from that personalized piece.
This way you are focusing on the main pieces of your own game, however it is important to test the validity of your calculations. By having a personalized piece you are more likely to ignore the important pieces, just make sure that you test it before going on practical games.
Learn chess openings in order to improve in visualization
Now you might think that this is something of a bail out, yes, by learning theory you can calculate many moves ahead but it is not visualization. Real visualization is one that is made without any prior memorization, an on the spot experience that is more likely to happen in games.
However it is definitely a good practice to study openings in order to improve your visualization prowess, it would force you to calculate. When you apply memorized lines on real games you would need to visualize them in some way, I mean you have to check if you get it right.
Now this is an easier form of visualization since you would have a guide for the right moves, but this is exactly why it is a good practice. You don’t need to calculate much but still need to visualize everything right, after all you don’t want to play bad moves.
The real reason some chess masters are able to see all the variations at the beginning is the existence of theory, a lot of them have studied a lot of openings. Studying openings surprisingly allows people to visualize better early in the game (plus it helps with memorization!), you should try doing it.
Blindfold chess can improve chessboard visualization
Blindfold chess is the kind of chess where players play the game without looking at a chessboard once, you don’t even need to be actually “blindfolded” in order to play this. Just dictate the moves to a partner and let the game proceed as usual, the only difference of course is there is no chessboard to look at.
This is the ultimate test of visualization, if a player can execute a good game of blindfold chess they can do good calculations in actual games. In blindfold chess you need to be aware of the pieces’ placements with zero margin of error.
If you don’t have a good visual capability then you wouldn’t even last some 20 moves, in order to play a decent game you would have to go beyond. It is a good practice since you are tackling the main concern, which is visualization.
It is okay if you struggle at first but this is definitely doable, most titled players can do this even if they are slightly weaker in strength. Remember the goal is not to be strong at blindfold chess, rather it is to increase your visual strength which happens to come in playing blindfold chess.
You can also play blindfold chess online, there are options to make the interface “blind” of the placement of the pieces, this can help you train. Some have found that it is easier if they do it at the top of their mind, but a lot of people seem to find more motivation if it is done online.
This is also applicable to most people (online) since not everyone can have a buddy to play chess with, lichess have tons of users waiting for you to be their partner. You can execute a game of blindfold chess this way, visual prowess will come after you have played a sizable amount of games.
Reading a chess book can help with visualization
Traditional chess books have multiple chess notations in order to express the lesson, they don’t have as advanced visuals as we have today. With our technology most chess books today are interactive, meaning there are added visuals for easier comprehension.
This is great, but traditional chess books require readers to imagine the sequence of moves without added assistance. This seemingly primordial way of teaching has a value, it forces the readers to visualize the game in their own thoughts.
This is why people who are used to reading chess books are so good at visualization, they have been doing just that from reading chess books. You need to incorporate this in your own routine, and it would be helpful generally.
I mean I am sure that you are going to be reading/listening to some chess lessons later down the road, by reading chess books you would also learn new things. You can kill two birds with one stone, just read a regular chess book and you can also practice your general visualization.
Try reading a chess book (one of those that have multiple notations) and you will find that it is easier to visualize. Traditional chess books, unlike modern courses, do not show all the variations, thus readers are left to visualize what is being taught.
It will definitely be hard at first and you might even need an actual chessboard for the calculation, however you will find it easier to let go later down the road. Eventually you will try to visualize everything on top of your head, after all, it is pretty inconvenient to go back to the board every time you read something.
To summarize there are three main ways to increase your visualization: it is to play blindfold chess, read a notation-rich chess book, or just play a ton of games and analyze them with notations. There are also a lot of tips that have been given throughout the article to help you in the way.
If I am going to pick which is the best though it is definitely reading a chess book, not only are you practicing some visualization you are also learning. Chess books are the traditional way of learning chess, it is a great tool for improvement.