Improving Visualization Guide
IMPROVING VISUALIZATION GUIDE
Visualization refers to the ability to hold a chess position clearly in mind, almost as if one were looking at the position right in front of them. Some players “see” a 2D board that’s clearly visible in their mind’s eye, while others don’t really “see” anything but rather remember the positioning of all the pieces.
Over-the-board (OTB) calculation can feel very different to calculating online. Many players need time to adjust when they are used to one and switch to the other. For instance, it is very common for online players to struggle the first few times they play OTB. So if you are preparing for an upcoming tournament, make sure to practice playing and visualizing with a physical board well ahead of time!
DO YOU NEED TO WORK ON YOUR VISUALIZATION?
In general, visualization is a skill that naturally improves as one plays a lot and analyzes games, solves puzzles, etc. The more time you spend around chess the stronger your overall visualization will become.
However visualization can become a weakness for some players, especially if they are lazy in their calculation,overly used to online puzzles (where solutions are inserted one move at a time), or too reliant on arrows to aid with calculation mid-game.
For players who don’t feel like they can visualize as well as others around their rating, it can be very useful to specifically work on their visualization skill.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR VISUALIZATION
In short, improving visualization is about pushing oneself to see further/clearer. The most important thing to remember is that visualization skill will improve with consistent practice, and atrophy if left unused. Improving your ability to visualize essentially means being able to hold a position clearly and then visualizing possible moves/variations without losing track of the pieces or the original position.
The stronger a player’s visualization, the more moves they can “see ahead” and be able to switch between different variations without losing track of the position.
So in order to improve your visualization skill, you must try to see further ahead than before. If your limit is visualizing 2 moves ahead, at some point you will need to push yourself to visualize three moves ahead. It is similar to lifting weights at the gym—in order to progres, you must try to lift more weight.
The best times to “practice” visualization are
- During games (trying to calculate further)
- When solving puzzles (trying to calculate further)
- When analyzing a position (trying to calculate further)
Of course, there can be practical barriers in the way. During classical games for instance, one can’t just spend all their time trying to calculate as deeply as possible. You need to manage your time accordingly, and then be willing to calculate deep when you sense a critical moment.
Additionally, there are also drills that are useful for improving visualization:
- Visualize an empty board. Place any piece on any square and then list every single legal square that piece can move to. Then check on a board to verify your answer.
Example: Ne4 – f2, g3, g5, f6, d6, c5, c3, d2
- Calculate as far as you can from the starting position, essentially playing blindfold chess against yourself. Go as far as you can before the position gets fuzzy, then replay the moves and see if you can get to the same position but try to see it a little clearer. See if you can go further. Then try again a third time or until your brain starts to hurt a bit.
- Calculate as far as you can in a given position. It can be a puzzle, analysis of a game, etc. Once you have reached the limit of your calculation (position starts to get fuzzy), try to visualize the final position as clearly as you can and identify all of the legal captures for both sides. If you’re able to quickly spot all of the legal captures (almost as quickly as if you had the position right in front of you), that means you’re visualizing the position well. If you struggle to identify every capture, it means you need to replay the moves and try to see the position clearer.
Example: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 – how many legal captures (for both sides, ignoring turn) are there in this position?
Knowing when you have lost sight of the position is an incredibly useful skill on its own. If you make a mistake in your visualization mid-game, it could cost you the full point, so being able to identify when you are hallucinating can be extremely valuable.
A great way to check if your visualization is correct is to do an abridged version ofDrill #3 – ask yourself to quickly spot all of the legal captures in a position. If you’re not properly visualizing the position, you will likely feel some uncertainty as to where the pieces are—and this should act as a trigger to recalculate and try to see the position more clearly. Identifying possible captures is also a great way to reduce blundering!
As with most chess skills, improving your visualization takes time. But with consistent effort comes great reward. Once a player can play blindfold chess, that is another great way to work on improving visualization. Most players seem to learn to play blindfold around 1800-2000 FIDE, but it can definitely be learned earlier as well.
A Simple Way to Practice Visualization
Kostya’s Blueprint – Visualization
How To Calculate Lines & Knowing When to Stop
How to Avoid Stopping Short in Calculation
Deep Calculation Lesson (1500+)
David’s Guide to Blindfold Training
David’s Guide to Blindfold Training - Part 2