Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Review: Chess Visualization Course Book 1

Book 1 of the Chess Visualization Course is a unique work consisting of 800 visualization exercises. The problems start out simple, consisting of basic counting problems (when a bunch of material from both sides is pointed at one square). The problems escalate in complexity as the book progresses, eventually ending up with tactics that involve visualizing moves across most of the board. Also, within each chapter, the number of moves you have to visualize increases.

The problems are set up in an interesting way. Your job isn't to find a solution to a problem: the actual moves are already given. Your task is to visualize the board after those moves are made, and to evaluate the position at that point. The solutions are in the back of the book and consist of an image of the board after the moves are made (is it how you visualized it?), and a brief evaluation of the position. There are lots of examples at the web site above. The book provides an ingenious implementation of Soltis' suggestion on how to improve at visualization in chess (as I discussed here). Namely, look at a position in a book and follow along the moves without using a board, and then compare your image of the board to the actual board after those moves.

The number of moves in each problem varies from 4 ply up to 39 (!) ply. On average they are around 8 ply. I found the exercises fairly easy, and I think this book is appropriate for most levels of players. This is the first, most basic book in this Chess Visualization series put out by Gelvert Publishing. The next three will focus on attacking, endings, and then 'deep visualization' problems, respectively.

Each chapter has a very useful introduction (again, you can find examples at their web site) that describes the essence of the problems in the chapter. For instance, the first chapter is on basic counting problems when there is the same number of attackers and defenders of material on a square. The introduction gives some useful general rules for such sequences of exchanges, and these rules are reinforced quite well by working through the problems.

There is a strange lack of counting problems to be found in the voluminous chess literature, and this book provides a most welcome exception: the first five chapters in some way or another involve visualizing sequences of exchanges at single squares! (See the table of contents of the book here). For those just getting into chess, this book would be a great way to familiarize yourself with the general rules for exchanges.

The most important question is, "Does it work?" I found the book very helpful. In real games, after working through the chapters on counting, I was able to much more quickly calculate whether a series of exchanges would be to my benefit. So, I recommend this book, with a couple of caveats given below, to those who wish to improve their visualization skills. As for difficulty level, things get pretty complex, so this book should be good for all skill levels, even if you find the early chapters too basic.

Reviews need criticisms of their subject, and this review is no exception.

First, the book is not very well put together. It is held together with a plastic spiral thing like you sometimes get for course readers in college. These things don't have the most longevity, and it is sort of a pain to turn pages. It was originally slated to be published by Everyman Chess, but for unknown reasons Everyman backed out of the original plan, so that probably explains the less-than-professional binding. That said, there were few typos and the diagrams are crisp and easy on the eyes, so the content seems well edited.

Second, the solutions are in the back of the book. For a book built like this, don't make us turn to the back to see an answer. Put them on the adjacent page, the bottom of the page, or the next page. It's just easier. This isn't that big a deal, but a minor annoyance.

Third, I would have preferred to see some real problems in the book. Being given 9 moves to visualize, and comparing them to the picture in the back is pretty helpful. But it can get pretty tedious after awhile. To spice things up, they should have included problems that, after a sequence of moves, concluded with, "Now what would be the best move?" where the best move is a simple tactic or something that you would easily see if the position were in front of you. That's more like the visualization you need in real games, and frankly it's just harder to stay motivated when the problem is "Visualize these moves" and there really isn't much feedback other than the picture of the board after those moves. There are evaluations along with the solutions, but they are quite superficial, in the form of a material count in the end position. Yes, keeping track of the material during a sequence of forcing moves is a crucial, perhaps the most important skill in chess, but more detailed evaluations would have made this book much better.

These criticisms weren't deal-killers for me. I am happy to have this tool for visualization improvement on my bookshelf. Overall, if you want to work on visualization, and the method used in the book sounds like your cup of tea, then get the book. The problems seem well-chosen to help us patzers improve at the elusive and important skill of accurately looking into the future on the chessboard. I look forward to future installments in this series. Let's hope the author, Ian Anderson, keeps at it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this should also be interesting stuff on the subject of visualizing. It's a bit more expensive to obtain though, as it is only available to gold plus subscribers.

12/20/2007 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Ahh, blindfold chess. We've argued about its effectiveness for improving in actual chess, where the board is there in front of you.

There's software for visualization training I listed here . A psychological study suggesting blindfold chess isn't helpful for normal chess I described here.

About blindfold chess, they 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).

I'm not endorsing what they said. They also said visualization training is not helpful, but I think when done coupled with instructional modules, and a theme, you can improve at building the knowledge base while improving at visualizing.

12/20/2007 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger SamuraiPawn said...

It seems to me that it would be both cheaper and more beneficial to practice visualization every time you read a chess book on another subject, given that the book is a good one.

12/20/2007 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

I am amazed by the proliferation of books on any subject. I just heard of this micropublisher (on demand).Perhaps you will want to publish " Secrets of the Knights Errant"

12/20/2007 06:47:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Some training grinds to a hold without me noticing it. Visualisation exercises is one of them.

12/20/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

There's this guy at my chess club that plays other members blindfold every now and then. I asked him how he had learned to play blindfold chess. He told me the way that worked best for him was to play over complete games in his mind while looking at an empty chess board.

12/20/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

SP: A good point. Indeed, that's what I've been doing, as I mentioned here.

The major differences in the two tools are that they are focused exclusively on tactics in this book, they break it up into themes (more below), and the sheer number of useful counting problems, makes it different. Also since each problem has a tactical focus, and that's where visualization is so crucial, there are some differences.

On the other hand, I could see wanting to do it with a good annotated game. (Though see below).

Tempo: the counting problems alone make this book worth my while. I wish they were presented as problems and the answers weren't given right away. This would be a much better book if it were a computer program, as they could be more flexible in how the solutions are presented.

Working on visualization, as that study I cited suggested, could be putting the cart before the horse. I visualize better as I gain more knowledge and skill in the game, more implicit memories. Indeed, many beginners will analyze a single line very deeply, while the master will analyze tons of lines shallowly, and better be able to see which lines need deep analysis because they are forcing. And since they are forcing they are pretty easy to analyze.

However, in defense of this book the lines are all forcing, they are all lines that require deep visualization (or at least deep counting). So instead of the case when visualizing through annotated games (visualize ten ply in a quiet position: that's not what you want to be doing!), you are training "by osmosis" on the types of positions that actually demand such depth of visualization. Implicitly getting a feel for when you need to think deeply. That's one nice thing about the book: the examples are very well chosen. The counting problems include many cases with intervening tactics, so you can't just dumbly apply algorithms. It reinforces that even for simple counting problems, after the initial material count you simply must check to make sure the intervening tactics aren't there. Of course we all know this intellectually, but it is nice to have all these examples.

And as I said it actually helps that they are broken up by theme, so you build some book knowledge and then a little intuition. For some reason in this type of book it seems it would indeed be a mistake if they hadn't broken it up by theme.

As I said, in practice it helped with counting problems for me. I haven't worked through the rest of the book, only the first three chapters and a sample of problems from each additional chapter.

As I said in the review, I don't recommend this book to everyone, but only those for whom this method sounds like your cup of tea.

12/20/2007 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

i assume you received a free review copy.

personally i think $20 is quite steep for a spiral-bound production.

i enjoyed the author's flute playing with jethro tull, however. ;)

12/20/2007 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: Yes, it is a review copy, and yes it is a steep price for that that type of binding.

12/20/2007 02:48:00 PM  
Anonymous GeneM said...

I give author Ian Anderson a lot of credit for this book "Chess Vision Course: Book 1: General Tactics", because unlike so many chess books that have content similar to so many others, this book brings something new or at least uncommon.

The "exchange counting" exercises do benefit the weaker student. I might hesitate to say there is enough variety among the exercises in the book, but any student can stop after he has had his fill of the exercises.

What I really am replying to say is that --- I love this lay-flat binding for its immense practical usefulness (even tho you dislike it and think it is inferior). Functionally it is indisputable superior to regular bindings, which of course are always trying to force the book closed while you are reading the book.

And the plastic binding is not in the form of a "spiral" or of "coils". Instead it is some kind of unitized set of rings, and the wholes in the pages do not travel from one ring to the next.

Thanks. GeneM, 2013/04/14

4/15/2013 01:11:00 AM  

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