Sunday, March 08, 2009

Practical Chess Analysis: Is square-color memorization practical?

I have frequently mentioned Buckley's book Practical Chess Analysis. Now there is a helpful overview of the book at this web site so you can get a good sense of its content.

Buckley is in the camp that thinks you should memorize square colors. For reasons spelled out at the post where I lauded Buckley's discussion of "auras", I think memorizing colors is a waste of time. This is in contrast to a previous post almost two years ago, when I had a system for learning the board and was clearly quite concerned about this, and had a system of breaking up the board into four identical quadrants that should be memorized, blah blah blah.

While GMs claim to not visualize such inessential details (after all, if you remove the colors from the board you could still play chess), that doesn't mean it won't help a patzer like me. Further, even if it is technically true that the colors are inessential, that doesn't mean they won't help me visualize the board. After all, that's why they were added to the board in the first place after a few hundred years of inexistence (yep, the first chess boards didn't have black and white squares).

Let's temporarily assume that it is useful to learn the square colors. Should you memorize the color using descriptive or algebraic notation? When I am playing the black pieces, I see the board in a whole different way than when I have the white pieces. Simply memorizing square color in algebraic rips that contextual information out of the description of the square. Perhaps we should be memorizing square color from both perspectives (e.g., the K4 square for white is white, while the K4 square for black is black). For those that think memorizing square color is useful even though color is inessential, what would you say about this?

Stepping back, the key question is whether memorizing square colors is helpful. When playing a real game, the board is right there in front of me, so why should I spend time memorizing it? It seems the most helpful skill is being able to see the pieces (and groups of pieces) and their relationships to one another, both on the board in front of me as well as imagined future positions when analyzing candidate moves. Further, to get better at this, why not just do Rowsonalysis! Rowson made a very good case that the best way to improve at chess, in practice, is to take a semi-complicated position and think about it deeply.

Hence, my hunch is that memorizing square colors is useless, and good vision comes with chess improvement, not vice versa. However I may try it and see. Chances are it won't hurt my chess, other than sucking valuable intellectual energy away from more fruitful chess pursuits (so, indeed, it could hurt my chess, so fuck it maybe I won't try it).

I have previously discussed the issue of whether square visualization is something you should work on here (we need more psychological studies of this type of question, as these anecdote-sharing sessions from different GMs is a bullshit way to get at the truth, especially when there is no consensus. Please rich man reading this blog, give me money to study this stuff empirically!!!).

At any rate, I'd like to hear people's thoughts, especially people that disagree with me for concrete reasons (not because they "heard it helped" or because it "helped them"): specifically why and how has it helped?

11 Comments:

Blogger Polly said...

I'm trying visualize in my head why it might be useful to know the color of the squares. Since I don't play blindfold chess I don't really see a practical application. If I'm playing in a tournament and doing calculations, I'm looking at the board. I can see the square colors as I'm looking at the board.

I do think being aware of square colors is important. On a very simple level, putting pieces on the opposite color of are opponent's bishop keep them from being attacked by that bishop.

In terms of knight forks, keeping two valuable pieces such as the king and queen on different color squares prevents those forks.

Square color choices don't necessarily prevent forks by queens or rooks. In fact queen forks often are coming from a diagonal and horizontal/vertical directions.

Probably more useful then square color is knowing the squares on a specific diagonal. a1,b2,c3,d4,e5,f6,g7,h8. I do know those are dark squares.

I'm not sure learning square colors based on English Descriptive is very helpful. I kept score in EDN for three years before switching to AN. Back then all the books and English language publications were in EDN. Most players used EDN to keep score in the early 70s. When I look back at old games of mine in EDN, I find myself getting confused at times, especially if looking at the board from black's side.

3/08/2009 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Polly: very good stuff, thanks.

In blitz where the enemy has a Knight I definitely try to put my material on different color squares just to avoid the embarassing fork :)

3/08/2009 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chess? said...

im with you on this one blue. like you said the board is right in front of you.why would we need to fo this?

3/09/2009 01:54:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Knowing the colors helps you to know the diagonals. Knowing the diagonals is essential for board vision. Board vision is of no use when you play with a board.

Yesterday I solved my first complex problem without a board and pieces. It's fun!

3/09/2009 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Rolling Pawns said...

After playing intensively last 20 months, I know what square colors are. It came naturally, I didn't do any exercises and don't think they are necessary. I agree, you can use your time more usefully. Having said that, I think it's good to know it and see the board too. I read that GMs at the tournaments often think about their position while walking between the tables.
I can't see myself the whole board and my vision of the parts of it is not stable. I would love to be able to do that and think it kind of makes you better chess player.

3/09/2009 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger chesstiger said...

I dont think that square colors matter but 'auras' do matter i guess since you must see thru the pieces to the squares behind the piece this so that you can see combinations if the piece in question is not on that diagnal, row or collum.

3/09/2009 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

square colors matter b/c they help you keep track of diagonals like Tempo said.. BDK you may want to check your links again.

3/10/2009 12:16:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: yes, but is having them memorized important? And in what coordinate frame?

3/10/2009 12:52:00 AM  
Blogger Aziridine said...

I share Rolling Pawns' experience. It just came naturally after I had been playing for a while. It might be a byproduct of rather than an aid to visualizing the board.

3/10/2009 02:18:00 AM  
Blogger drunknknite said...

Someone once asked me if I knew the color of all the squares and I thought for a second and although I can quickly deduce what color a square is it's not something I ever memorized. I mean isn't knowing d1 is light and d8 is dark good enough to find the whole board in a matter of seconds. It's a coordinate system... it's not rocket science.

But... I CAN visualize my game away from the board. I do it very frequently in tournament (I either close my eyes and look at the position in my head or walk around). I usually find very good moves in bed after a tournament game because I have the position fresh in my mind and somehow things just work like that. Knowing the colors of the squares is not essential to visualizing the board. Although knowing diagonals is.

I think the comments about being able to see the board are irrelevant. It is usually not the position on the board that you are thinking about. It is a position 2 or 3 moves ahead or strategic elements that may impact the game 10, 15, 20 moves down the road. Because of this I think the board is largely a distraction (I've heard the term placeholder somewhere, which is very good). I think memorizing the colors of the squares is just part of an overall familiarization with the board. Something that is invaluable during game time analysis. I think ultimately the point is that you should not have to think about what squares a piece can move to, etc. Also thinking about the colors of the squares helps you think about minor piece exchanges which are usually focused on color complexes (i.e. trading a knight for a bishop is a two color piece for a one color piece).

In conclusion I do not think that this is essential by any means. However, I believe that studying the board and becoming very familiar with how pieces interact with certain squares, etc. yield many dividends.

3/10/2009 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for all the great comments everyone. drunknknite as usual very helpful. You seem to be strong enough that Rowson's book could actually help you :)

How about this: turn the board 90 degrees and play with the colors backwards. Do you think it would effect your performance :)

3/10/2009 07:43:00 PM  

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