Visualization in chess is a superpower that every chess player needs. Ask any professional and they will instantly tell you that visualization in chess is a necessary skill that one must develop.
So what exactly is visualization? It is the strength of your mind to picture the entire chess board and the specific positioning of your pieces even when you aren’t directly looking at the board. Sounds quite difficult right? Wait till you see grandmasters play multiple games blindfolded, They can do that because of their prowess in chess visualization.
Now you will ask me, “How can I learn and improve my visualization skills?” Well, this article is precisely for that! Read on to learn more about it.
Why is visualization important in chess?
To improve your level in chess, your knowledge should be accompanied by correct application. Only with the combination of these two can you deploy what you have learned and win games. Visualization is an aspect of the applied part.
Have you ever observed professional chess players staring into nothingness or be seemingly lost in their thoughts between their games? That is actually them visualizing! Many times you can see them do so with their eyes open or with their eyes closed. If you are wondering which one is better, the answer to that is both! You should adopt the one that works for you. I personally visualize with my eyes closed because the darkness helps me focus only on the board that I’m picturing in my mind. However, you should definitely chose the option that feels right to you.
The ability to see the present position of all pieces on board, calculate variations and still not lose sight of the original position from where you started calculating is quite a task! Visualization helps you consider all the possibilities in a particular variation without actually moving the pieces or sometimes even without a board in front of you.
When you hone your visualization skills, you become more confident while playing. You believe in what you have envisioned and trust your calculation even more. Not only that, learning this skill will also empower you to evaluate whether the position at the end of your calculation is beneficial to you or not. It will also help you save time on clock as with the added confidence and trust in your calculations, you will take faster decisions on board.
It is also a great way to keep your chess practice going on even when you don’t have a chess board or a laptop handy. All you have to do is close your eyes and start visualizing the moves.
Your mind should be trained to do this and one cannot learn this overnight. Let us take a look at some steps which will help you start working on your visualization skills.
How To Visualize The Chessboard
Any goal when broken down into smaller steps seems more doable and achievable. Similarly, it would be unrealistic if you expect yourself to visualize the entire game from the first move till the end in a couple of days. What you can do though, is start a step-by-step process to improve upon this skill.
Let’s take a look at some elements that you can incorporate into your routine to work on your visualization power.
1. Imagine the board and memorize the coordinates
Even before visualizing the pieces on their respective squares, a chess board sans all pieces must be firmly remembered first.
You can do that by first observing the board and then closing your eyes and visualising it perfectly along with the coordinates. It might seem easy at first but doing so will form a good foundation for the complex visualizations you’ll undertake later on.
Remember important details like the bottom left square will always be black and the bottom right one will always be white. At the end of this exercise, you should remember the chessboard like the back of your hand.
2. Memorize the color of each square
Simply knowing the coordinates won’t be enough! You must remember the color of each square. “Why?” you ask? Because in the future when you will add pieces to this equation, knowing the colors will help you find the right paths for the pieces.
Be it your queen, rook, bishop or simply your pawn, knowing the color of every coordinate is very important. It is handy while planning attacks and also while managing your defenses. It is useful in a variety of endgames, especially when there is a pawn promotion involved.
So how do you begin this process? Close your eyes, call out the coordinates of any random square and then try to visualize your way to that square from a corner square, say a1. While doing so, don’t forget to be mindful of the color of each square.
3. Solve tactical puzzles mentally
This is one of the best things you can do to enhance your visualization skills after you’re well acquainted with the chessboard. Learning how to solve chess puzzles does wonders for your imagination as you not only have to remember the original position but also consider various moves that could be the solution without losing sight of the original position all along.
You can start with simple puzzles such as mate in 1 or mate in 2 as they will help you train your mind for tougher puzzles. You can then attempt tactical puzzles such as those involving pins, forks, double attacks etc and see if you can solve them. These can get tricky as middle-game puzzles often contain more number of pieces as compared to endgame puzzles.
After you’ve gained sufficient mastery over solving these 1-2 move puzzles, start attempting complex 3-5 move puzzles involving calculations and combinations.
I understand that it can get very confusing at this stage as you not only have to visualize all pieces correctly but also come up with solutions for genuinely difficult puzzles. However, trust me, doing these exercises will help you immensely in your tournament games. You will feel the increased speed of your calculation and the heightened accuracy of your visualization.
4. Play games blindfolded
Yes! You read that right! This might have seemed like an impossible task or a distant dream before you began working on your visualization, but not anymore!
Though playing an entire game blindfolded is the end goal we desire, you can start by visualizing as less as 5-10 moves. Be mindful of the movement of each piece and keep track of their paths. This might seem unnecessary while you imagine 5-10 moves but as you increase the depth, you will need to pay conscious attention to these little cues.
With every extra move you play, try integrating the puzzle solving techniques that you learnt while doing step three. This will help you not only play legal moves but also find tactics along the way. By increasing the depth step by step, you will be able to play an entire game blindfolded really soon!
And who knows, if your visualization power really gets that strong, you might be able to play 2 blindfolded games simultaneously as well!
5. Revise your opening repertoire mentally
As your level in chess improves, your opening repertoire will get vast. You will increase the number of openings in your inventory so that you will be less predictable for your opponent. Along with that, the depth of each variation will increase too. This means that if you were initially preparing only 10-12 moves in a particular opening, you will now prepare at least 18-20 moves.
It is very important that you are able to recollect this during the game. Many opening patterns are very similar to each other and this can lead to confusion. Hence, having clarity about your chosen line is important.
Visualization is a great way in which you can revise your openings and also work on your imaginative skills. If you can recollect the moves with relative ease while visualizing, it is very likely that you will be able to do it very smoothly on board.
Visualization is one of those skills in chess that are an indispensable part of chess. It is a useful tool that helps you in a variety of ways to improve your level. Hence, inculcating it in your chess routine since the beginning is a very wise idea.
The step by step process that we discussed above is a great way to kickstart this journey! Remember, be realistic of your goals and take small steps towards them every day.
You might not see the benefits of visualization in chess immediately. However, the more you practice, the more you will realize how easy the entire process has become for you.