Chess and memory

I was just thinking about chess and memory. Are there great mnemonic techniques we tend to overlook?

When I was younger, I was very involved in chess. Although I was not an expert, I found it very easy to remember entire chess games. Often multiple games. If I happened to walked away from the board part way through a game to go to the washroom, sometimes a non-chess-fanatic friend would amuse himself by trying to surreptitiously move one or two players. They seemed to find it weird and funny that I would instantly know what was changed upon returning.

There was nothing unique about my memory. The ability to remember chess games in detail is commonplace among avid players. But it did not depend on mnemonic techniques. In fact, the act of memorization is more or less an unintentional byproduct of a player’s intense focus on the game. Focus is important, but, it seems to me, intense focus is a necessary, but not sufficient reason for this phenomenon.

It seems to me there is something specific about the cognitive processes that are active during game play that makes it much easy for experienced players to remember the details of the game without consciously trying.

Does anybody have any special insight into why it is so easy for chess players to remember so many details? Is it the same for people who play other games avidly, like poker, for example?

My best bet as a non-chess player is that you already have a database of moves and patterns in your memory, and you might not only see where the pieces are put, but also why they are put there at that moment in time. The play becomes a story.

In many sports you see similar things. Beginners see something being done and really have to slow it down, look at it multiple times and practice it step by step. Experts however, look at it once and are able to do it as they already have the moves in their memory, just not in that specific order.

I would love to see some chess players reply here!

My answer would be more about how our memory works in general then in the specific field of chess games. (Sorry Mayarra :wink: )

We naturally tend to “glue together” small pieces into a bigger piece of information, once we’ve seen it often enough.

The major and pao system is a perfect example!
Example with the number 845563.

  • For a child, he might need to remember each numbers one by one.
    Which means he would have 6 pieces to remember in this number.
  • For a normal adult, he might recognize “845” as his telephone’s regional number (1 piece) 56, as his age, or maybe one of his buss number (2 pieces)
    and 3 would be… 3 (third and last piece)
  • For me, that image translates into IronMan Licking a Bed.
    Only one piece of info, if you make it lick a chair, its not the same, if he sits on a bed, not the same.

Anything works like that in some degree.
Sentences, “How are you” : Do you have to think about each word? Each Letter?
Playing music is the same, or walking, talking, pretty much everything really.

So in chess :

  • A beginner would see each pieces separatly.
  • A novice would see the patterns of defences and attack, and would see the previous moves that brought the play where it is.
  • An advanced player would see mostly what were the previous strategies of both players. That would be composed of their previous decisions. Which would be composed of their previous moves. Under all that, finally, is where each pieces are placed.

So just like anyone would se that I’ve forgotten an “e” earlier
(Because we practiced reading English a lot)
Some one playing chess a lot would then recognized little details like that, but on a chess board.

Does it make sense a little?

Ah, and as a note : Mnemonics and techniques for memorizing numbers are just a shortcut we take to link numbers to images. Anyone could remember that “Iron man Licks a Bed”, but by practicing the PAO technique, now I can “decode” the image. Simple as that, the image itself is only 1 element to remember wether you know hoe to decode it or not! :slight_smile:

(I’m searching for an example between the two extremes that are Speaking and Playing chess. If you find one please share it :wink:
The best one I can think of is either doing sports or playing music, but it’s more about muscle memory then for Chess, but I think under it lies the same idea.)

I am also very much interested in this topic. One of the best explanation I have found here:

http://chrest.info/fg/preprints/Training_in_chess.PDF

When your chess knowledge grows, the complexity becomes tangible and only a few candidate moves will make sense. Often it’s enough to memorize the piece that is about to move to setup a known pattern. The more patterns you know the easier it will be.

In tactical positions you can try to find the solution first on your own. I think the invested energy will make the position more important to your mind and you are likely to remember the solution later.

It may sound contradictory with the idea that chess is abstract, but each move has a deep sense (both in terms of direction and of semantic). I agree then with Mayarra pointing the “story effect” behind the scene. But it’s also true (and empirically backed up) that patterns are learned, helping player to remember diagrams in a more static way. Chess was much studied in the early age of the cognitive paradigm. A classical study showed that amateurs were better for remembering total random chess positions than experimented chess players. Of course, the balance was reversed for realistic chess positions.