Monday, May 25, 2009

Visualization practice=ankle weights

A couple of months ago I expressed heavy skepticism toward the common improvement advice to memorize square colors, visualize lines, and practice blindfold chess.

One of my main complaints was that when playing a real game, the board is there. I can look at it. Why waste precious time learning something unnecessary? My slogan was 'Practice how you play.' If you play with a board, practice with a board. In training, try to recreate the conditions of the actual competition.

I am still skeptical, but I thought of an analogy that kills my 'Practice how you play' slogan.

Quite often you simply do not practice how you play. This is obvious to anyone with serious experience in sports. In baseball, before going to bat we will put weights on the bat, purposefully making it harder temporarily so that in the actual batter's box, you will have an extra zip in your swing. Runners will put on ankle weights. Bikers will ride hills in a low gear.

None of these things are done during the competition.

That, essentially, seems what visualization training is: wearing ankle weights during training to give you a little rebound during the actual games. Of course the board is there in real games (duh), but is it all that crazy to think blindfold training will help you visualize moves when it comes to the actual competition?

Has anyone worked on blindfold/board visualization and actually found that it helped in practice (e.g., did your rating improve, and do you think it is because of such visualization?).

Parenthetical remark: I've noticed in reading through Eastern European improvement materials, they are good at telling people what to do, but really bad at explaining why. Perhaps the Russian mindset was to accept such orders and just do them. That may explain why they are so good at chess. They don't try to find a million exceptions to rules, they just learn the rules (like a child learning the game).

This was all inspired by my work at the International Chess School (ICS) (not free), and discussions at the ICS Forum (free).


Blogger Zweiblumen said...

I have to imagine that blindfold and other visualization practice will help you calculate to the end of complex variations without losing track of what's going on, but I've never done it...

5/25/2009 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Zweiblumen: unfortunately, the problem is that in theory it sounds like a good idea, but in practice it isn't clear that it helps. I have met many people that have tried it but aren't sure if it helped. That isn't a glowing endorsement. :)

5/25/2009 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger wang said...

I agree, that the eastern Europeans are better at accepting what's told to them. We live in a highly individualistic society and that would lead to more skepticism about what we are told.

As for the visualization thing. I think it would help with calculation, but if you are still struggling to see two moves ahead with crystal clear accuracy (like me) then I think your time can be better spent elsewhere.

I believe one of the biggest problems for chess improvement bloggers is that there are so many techniques/ways to improve that if we don't see results right away we tend to jump ship to something else.

But you are going to see diminishing returns at some point, just like weightlifting. When you first start you make rapid improvements, in fact at the begining you make tremendous gains, but over time you need to do more to get smaller gains. ie..diest beccomes more important, and you need to vary workouts more, it becomes a struggle.

I believe chess is no different. I mean I gained 400 points in my first full tournament year (2007-2008) and only 100 points the next year. I have since altered my routine, and hopefully it will pay dividends, analyzing my own games is still at the core of this though.

I am going to see this CCC thing through to the end, because well I already have the books and it is a course, it will take me from tactics to attacking the enemy king to strategy to endgames, which sshould prevent me form getting bored and provide me with enough "muscle confusion" to make a difference.

We should all find out together how this works.

5/25/2009 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger ChargingKing said...

BDK: I've practiced with blindfold chess and my coach actually has been working at me on a blindfold variant. its not as difficult but you get much of the same feel as standard blindfold.

The board is empty when the game begins, but as you move a piece it is now visible for the rest of the game. As the game goes on you can get to a point where most of the pieces are visible but many times it turns quite tricky.

I recommend this as a good way to get used to blindfold.

5/25/2009 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger chesstiger said...

BDK may i point out that one does play blindfold chess almost always when playing chess?

I mean by this that even when one is thinking with a board in front of themselfs one is thinking of a position that doesn't stand on the board but x moves forward to see if the position reached after x moves is good for themselfs.

With other words the analysis of a position is always done with board visualization. The position on the board is only the starting point of what one tries to visualize.

So i say yes, visualization is indeed important since when playing chess one need to do nothing else then visualization.

5/26/2009 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CT: I never said visualizing moves in the game tree was not important!

In a real game while visualizing you can stare at the board so there is no need to waste precious memory/imaging resources on visualizing square colors or what squares lie on the same diagonal. That's my whole point of why I didn't like blindfold training for visualization. Train how you play!

That said, I think I have refuted that line of attack.

There is no shortage of theories about why such training might be helpful. The question is, is it actually helpful? In the absence of good data (and we are in the absence of good data, unfortunately) the only thing to do is decide for oneself.

Experts are split, though trending toward going against blindfold training, on this.

The fact that in the many times I've discussed this topic at my blog, with probably thousands of different reads, nobody has come out and said it helped them? That suggests it isn't all that helpful.

I know Temposchlucker worked on it, but (surprise surprise) he wasn't really clear if it helped him or not. Likesforest also worked on it, not clear whatever happened there.

The only people I've heard defend it are people who are parroting what they have been told, and are about to start doing it. I haven't heard a success story from practicing blindfold.

Perhaps you weren't here for this post where I cited the study that said:
"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."

Someone should track down and summarize the two studies they cite. If there is actually good dat suggesting it is not helpful, that good blindfold skills come with good normal chess skills, then we have our answer.

5/26/2009 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wang: when I'm a millionaire I'm going to fund massive studies of chess improvement so we can get past anecdotes.

ChargingKing: That is a very interesting technique, and seems more like the type of skill you'd use in a real game, but still enough of an "ankle weight" to help. Sort of like blindfold training wheels.

5/26/2009 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wang said:
"I believe one of the biggest problems for chess improvement bloggers is that there are so many techniques/ways to improve that if we don't see results right away we tend to jump ship to something else."

That is a very common problem with adult chess improvers in general. They switch openings, try a new method, a new book and never finish one.

I'm glad I started and finished the Circles. The international chess school also seems good, and I hope to complete it. The visualization exercises are actually part of their course, so this is all target territory for me.

5/26/2009 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Greer said...

From time to time I've worked on (and read about) improving visualization and blindfold skills, but my progress in this area has always seemed too small when compared to the amount of time and work put into the effort. Meanwhile I was neglecting more critical areas . . .

"Strong" players tend to have little difficulty playing without sight, but this skill comes more from emersing oneself in chess in general than it does from any specific study of blindfold techniques. This conclusion is based partially upon my own experience. I was better able to play blindfolded when I was putting large amounts of time into general chess studies and playing than when I focussed my efforts directly upon blindfold play.

In my opinion if you want to be able to play blindfolded and/or improve your visualization skills then increase your general chess study and play time. The blindfold skills will (eventually) come as a fringe benefit. Meanwhile you'll have increased your skills and knowledge in more practical areas - openings, middlegames, and endgames.

5/27/2009 06:09:00 PM  
OpenID thechunkyrook said...

I'm afraid I cannot offer you data, either. I suspect practicing skills specifically needed for blindfold chess does not yield any particular benefits for OTB play that couldn't otherwise (and more easily and efficiently) be attained.

However, there's still something to be said for "visualization knowledge" such as knowing the colours of the squares or "dry calculation". First of all, memory-wise: isn't it easier to retain moves and patterns if you have an array of associative links, and wouldn't it therefore make sense to add another link to that by knowing the squares and its features? Secondly, dry calculation is, in addition to the point of view of technique, a good concentration exercise.

Last but not least, I've heard from a neurologist that there is scientific data that proves that people who are good at chess, balley and music have in common that the brain regions associated with visualization are very active and strong. Of course, the question then is one of chicken and egg: can I improve my visualization, thus improving my chess, or is it the study of chess that improves my visualization skills? I'd second the feeling that the latter's the case, and that visualization skills are really more an offshot of chess study.

5/28/2009 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Bill: Excellent points. I tend to agree with you.

Chunky: interesting question about 'associative links.' When does an association become a distraction?

5/28/2009 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Michael Hansen said...

George Koltanowski set the world's blindfold record in 1937, by playing 34 chess games simultaneously. He once said that if you can learn to play blindfold well enough to win a game, then your tactical play will be greatly improved. I was able to do this at 13, one year after I learned the moves. I can tell you that I believe Koltanowski was talking about how it improves your minds eye for seeing variations clearly and that in turn improves your game.

5/29/2009 01:12:00 AM  
Blogger Myopic said...

I'm learning blindfold at the moment and blogging as I go, so it will be interesting to see if it does provide the benefit to calculation ability that I am hoping for.

I gathered the views of a fair number of strong players re: blindfold recently, and they can be found summarised here -

3/29/2010 09:41:00 PM  

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