The assumption is this: the best chess players in the world memorize thousands of key games. This has been talked about by top players going back to the mid 1900’s, so it’s a fairly safe assumption that this is a key ingredient in becoming a world class chess player.
My question is, do you think it is enough to simply memorize, or is it the “becoming intimate” with a game, where you get a true understanding of how it played out? I am inclined to think that memorization alone may not be very helpful, without a deeper understanding of each game, and what happened in each game strategically speaking.
The TV show 60 Minutes did a piece on Magnus Carlsen, the number one chess player in the world.
From around 2:45 to 3:45 in the video, when he is playing the American #1 player, he says that he has memorized 10,000 chess games. It shows a moment in the game when Magnus already knows how the game is going to end (because he has seen it before in a similar game he has memorized), but the American is shown struggling trying to think through all of the details on the fly. I’m sure there was some creative editing involved, but it demonstrated the point well.
As previously stated, this is not surprising, given that a significant part of the classical Soviet school of chess improvement consists of memorizing games played between masters that illustrate some important concept. The idea is, when you are playing, you will remember the game that was similar and you will instantly know the right idea, instead of having to do a lot of in-depth calculating on the fly.
In the 60 Minutes: Web Extras, he talks about how he doesn’t have to figure out what the best move is, he just “knows”.
I think it’s the same for sports. The best players engage in deliberate practice away from the competition, and when it’s time for the game, they “just play”, and let their practice take over. They don’t think about “I am going to run over here, then I’m going to kick the ball there…”, there is no time for that in the heat of the moment. That has to come from instinct, learned from practice away from the game. This seems to be what is happening when a top chess player memorizes 10,000 important games. When it is game time, he just plays.
At about 5:45 to 6:20, it mentions that when he was 5 he memorized all of the countries in the world, and their capitols, and other things. It seems like he is probably not using any memory techniques. More likely he may have a better than average memory, and he works very hard and focuses intensely. In the Web Extras, he admits that he “sometimes stops thinking about chess”, which no doubt explains why he is so successful.
I found these videos interesting, and am interested to know what others think about this topic. He achieves an impressive memory feat, but it seems to be more of a side effect of his study rather than a primary cause of his success.