Visualization skill and how it relates to your chess improvement

It’s commonplace when you’re receiving advice in the game of chess to have your mentor tell you to “visualize” your next move. You hear it all the time – perhaps so much that you assume it’s a bit of a cliche. Well, it is often repeated because visualization is an extremely important skill to have in your arsenal. This is a phrase which is well known both to beginners as well as masters, but the actual technique which exists behind visualization isn’t as widely understood.

Here we will discuss what that kind of visualization in chess is, and how you can go about incorporating it into your overall skill set right away. This is an important factor, so pay attention and be sure to think about how it will apply to your game plan as a whole. Mastering visualization will build upon and strengthen each of the other 7 skills which you are now learning.

First, let’s define what visualization as it relates to chess actually is. Visualization is the process of and ability to make moves in your mind and see, in a clear and concise manner, how each of those moves and their resulting positions will relate to the game and its progress. Visualization takes place in your mind only – you won’t actually be moving the pieces on the board. Instead, you’ll be practicing seeing those moves in your mind’s eye, and how they will affect the board. While this may sound simple, it can be difficult to keep track of each piece on the board and understand how each move will affect each piece. This is what you’ll be practicing – being able to see these changes in your mind in rapid and accurate fashion.

So now that you know what we mean when we are discussing visualization, you may be wondering how can you go about improving your ability to visualize the moves ahead. The obvious answer you’ve probably already assumed we will be discussing is to practice – and it is definitely the obvious answer for good reason. You will of course need to practice visualization by, well, visualizing. The more you expose yourself to situations in which visualizing the outcomes of each move available to you, the more you will learn to recognize patterns and identify motifs. However, there are some things you can do to improve your visualization ability besides just practicing on the board.

The Tactics skill relates heavily to being able to accurately visualize how a move, whether it is your move or your opponent’s move, will affect the game. Practicing and solving tactics will help you tremendously in being able to identify what the setups for certain moves and motifs look before they happen – which can not only help you trap your opponent, but avoid traps laid by your opponent as well. This is one great example of how each skill in our 7 Skill family builds upon and is reliant upon each other skill. Take a look through our Tactics training room as well as our Visualization training room, and you should begin to see how the two skills correlate.

In addition to practicing your tactics, it is equally important to practice memorizing endgame scenarios and motifs. You may recognize this as another of the skills in our 7 Skill family – and if you do, you might have recognized the reiteration of our previous point. These skills all build upon and strengthen one another. Run yourself through famous endgames and their corresponding positions. Doing so will help you not only to recognize these positions as they occur, but also to accurately predict how they will play out if different moves are made. The names of these endgames are important as well – the human mind thrives on correlating bits of information, and learning to correlate a motif, tactic, or endgame scenario with its corresponding name is a shortcut to memorizing many such positions.

You may find that your memorization is aided by using systems like flash cards. Many serious chess players have incorporated flash card memorization sessions into their practice – and it may be that this is an effective means for you as well. The Leitner flash card system is widely embraced by high-level chess players, so it is possible that it may be a good fit for you. Not only will this help you improve your chess visualization skill, but it will sharpen and improve your memory as a whole.

Practicing visualization without a board in front of you is just as important, if not more important than, doing so with the board physically present. Just as using flash cards can help you to improve your memory, working out tactics in your mind’s eye will help you improve your visualization skill when it’s game time. You can look up lists of famous problems in chess and then solve them in your mind without actually having the board in front of you. This technique will help you hold the image of the board in your mind, as well as to ensure that you can accurately predict the outcomes of moves in a real game.

Ultimately, the most important technique by which to improve your visualization is just simply to practice visualizing. Think about your moves as you are physically playing them – imagine how each move will affect the outcome of the game not just one, but five moves ahead. When you aren’t playing a real game, picture a chess board in your mind and imagine moving the pieces. Imagine how their positions will relate to one another, and advance the game without having the board in front of you. Additionally, practice memorizing your tactics, motifs, and endgames. Read about famous games, and imagine how each move led to the inevitable result. Imagine how the game might have played out if a different move had been made.

Use our Visualization Training Room to hone your skills, and remember that each of the 7 Skills is strengthened by one another – feel free to go back and practice any of the other skills as you move forward in your chess training.