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How do you Improve Visualization Skills?
By Richard Reid

In Chapter 2 in Jonathan Tisdall's book entitled "Improve Your Chess Now" discusses Blindfold Chess and Stepping Stone diagrams.

He states that "Basically, all players can calculate ahead, it is only the depth which differs."

Jonathan later goes on to say, "The stepping stone technique consists of resetting the mind's eye on the position at the point at which the student feels he is beginning to lose focus. If the natural comfortable depth of a player's calculation is three moves, then when that level is approached, the student should make a systematic effort to burn the characteristics of the new position into the mind's eye. One first sets down stepping stones at the natural length of one's stride."

"Which pieces have moved? - visualize them on their new squares. Remove the pieces that have been exchanged. Bring that position as clearly into focus as one sees the start position in one's head, or the current position on the board... When this is done, on can begin to calculate again. ... With practice of this kind of diagram projection ... one can gradually extend the
depth to which one can calculate clearly."

I have found that Jonathan's method has one drawback. I found that although I could reproduce the position, I had difficulty visualizing the squares the pieces were attacking. In other words, I could visualize which squares the pieces were sitting on from a static perspective, but not from a dynamic perspective.

So, I decided to figure out a more gradual way so as to actually using the stepping stone diagram for calculation.

Exercise 1:

The first technique that I found useful was to picture and empty board with a knight on the a1-square. The objective is to eventually move the knight to each square on the entire board. Start by figuring out in your mind how to get the knight from the a1-square to the b1-square, then to the c1-square, etc. until you reach the h1-square. After you've completed the first rank, and have the knight on the h1-square, then figure out how to get it up to the h2-square, then over to the g2-square, the f2-square etc. until you get the second rank completed and the knight is on the a2-square. You'll then concentrate on moving the knight up to and along the third rank, fourth rank, fifth rank, etc. until you picture the knight ultimately ending up on
the a8-square. At this point, you will have transferred that knight to every single square on the board.

However, the trick to the above exercise is not only move the knight from square to square, but in doing so, to simultaneously visualize the color of each square that the knight touches as it moves. [As you will see, knowing a square's color becomes very helpful for later exercises]

Picture the knight on the a1 square (visualize the a1-square as black). To get it to the b1-square, one route is to move the knight in your mind first to the c2-square (picture the knight landing on the white c2-square), then to the black a3-square, and then to the b1-square (which is white). Concentrate on both the color and the name of each square the knight touches.

When I first started doing this, it took me several hours to get the knight to each square on the entire board. Now, it takes between 10 to 15 minutes provided I make sure to visualize each square's color that the knight touches along the route.

Exercise 2:

Now that you are able to move the knight in your mind, let's extend the method to include board interaction. [The objective here is to relate a specifc square to the rest of the board.] When a knight lands on a square, your task now is to visualize that square's connecting diagonals. In the case of the a1-square, there is only one diagonal. Thus, the a1-square's connecting diagonal is made up of the squares, a1, b2, c3, d4, e5, f6, g7, and h8. All these squares are black, so visualize them as such.

It is also important to try to visualize this diagonal in relation to board (i.e. from a detailed perspective and from a higher-level perspective). So, try to visualize this specific diagonal from various perspectives, specifically as it fits in relation to the rest of the board. That is, try to look at it from a player's vantage point, an overhead vantage point and from a spectator's persective, naming each and every square on the diagonal as you do so.

After you begin to feel comfortable with the names of the squares on the diagonal, from the distant perspective come back to a detailed view and work the knight to the next square (in this case the b1-square). When the knight arrives on the b1-square visualize the b1-square's connecting diagonals.

There are two diagonals, that intersect at the b1-square: the b1, a2 diagonal and the b1, c2, d3, e4, f5, g6, h7 diagonal. Try to visualize these two diagonals from the high-level perspective. Picture in your mind that all the squares on these diagonals are white. Work to memorize the names of the squares along each of the diagonals.

To make the task easier, and also to develop dynamic visualization, play a simple game in your head by visualizing an enemy bishop moving back and forth along the diagonal to and from various squares. Name each square the bishop lands on as you move it back and forth. Then, when you are comfortable that you have the diagonals clearly visualized, visualize the bishop capturing the knight.

Now remove the bishop and replace the knight back on the b1-square. Again visualize the knight's path to the next square on the rank making sure to see each square's and color the knight touches as you move it. In this case, we are wanting to get the knight to the the c1-square. Upon landing on the c1-square, visualize the two diagonals which intersect at the c1-square
making sure to name each square on each diagonal. For example, you would visualize the black c1, b2, and a3 squares on one diagonal, and the c1, d2, e3, f4, g5, and h6 squares on the other diagonal. Again place an enemy bishop on the board and move it back and forth until you eventually decide to capture the knight.

Repeat the technique until you have moved the knight to every square on the board and have visualized every diagonal and color thereof along with the piece interaction. You will then have done the exercise from both a static and dynamic perspective.

Yes, this method takes time, but it doesn't have to be done all at once. Let's say you've worked the knight up to the d4-square and need a break. Go ahead and take your break. When you decide to return to practice, replace the knight on the d4-square and continue from that point.  In this way you will eventually move the knight to each and every square on the board.

You will become familar with the connecting paths and the intersecting points along with all connecting squares. Essentially you will be memorizing the board simultaneously with piece interaction which will make it much easier to use Jonathan's stepping stone technique from a dynamic, rather than from just a static view.

Using variations of these exercises, you will begin to know exactly which squares an enemy bishop, knight and queen threaten. Eventually you can add other pieces, and visualize more complex interactions, but hopefully this is something that will help to get you started.

Richard Reid was kind enough to give us permission to put this interesting article on BrailleChess.net, Thanks for that Richard.

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