I’ve thought about this. First it depends on what your goal is.
- Memory trick to impress your friends
- Improve your playing ability by remembering key positions.
- Improve your playing ability by remembering entire games that illustrate important concepts.
- Attempt to use memory techniques to play blindfold chess.
There is the school of chess training, generally attributed to Russian grandmasters, that says in order to be a master level player you have to “know” 300 key chess positions. You have to know them fully, understanding everything about the position, and recognize the position instantly. The idea is extended to “knowing” key games between master players. GM Ziatdinov has written some about this:
I think using a memory technique to help remember key positions or key games is certainly a good use of your time if you want to become a better player. For example, endgame knowledge is largely about knowing key positions, and usually there are only a few pieces on the board. You could use the techniques to remember a lot of openings as well. So using memory techniques alone, you could play two-thirds of the game as well as a master player (with a lot of work, as there’s a lot to remember).
So one question when creating this system is, do you want your system to be general enough that you can use it to remember positions and games?
In order to remember games, you basically need to remember a series of moves. That requires a source-square and a destination-square, and rarely for a promotion you need to know what kind of piece was promoted to (queen, rook, bishop, knight). So for remembering a full game, it’s enough to have images for each square (basic images, PA, however you want to do it), and also have images for promotion piece types (QRBN).
Here’s an example. Using a Dominic system, square a1 could be Andre Agasi, and his object would be a tennis racket. Square f6 is Frank Sinatra with a microphone. So if a bishop moves from a1 to f6, you just remember Andre Agasi holding a microphone. This should be straight forward, but potentially it requires a lot of locations. If a game is 60 moves, you need 120 locations. Games can sometimes go 100 or 200 moves. If you’re wanting to remember a lot of games, locations add up quickly, so I see the number of locations required as one problem that needs to be addressed. If you could store more moves per location that would help.
For memorizing positions, I considered a few different approaches. One approach is the straightforward way of having 64 locations, and storing images based on the piece in the square. This also uses a lot of locations. If you want to remember 300 key positions that’s 19200 locations.
You can approach it from the other direction. Instead of 64 squares, there are a maximum of 32 pieces in any position, and as few as 3 pieces in the endgame. Since a lot of the key positions that GM Ziatdinov says are important are endgame positions, this might be a reasonable choice.
As for piece encoding, you could go with something straightforward, like the black king is always Barrack Obama. One idea I thought of was to give each specific piece an identity that sticks with it. So the white kingside rook is a different image than the white queenside rook. I thought that white could translate to W or L (for “white” or “light”) and black could be B or D (“black” or “dark”). Then the white kingside rook could be LKR, which could be the word Laker, and the image would be a memorable player for the Los Angelos Lakers, say Magic Johnson. So if the white king rook moves from h1 and later ends up on a1, your image would be Magic Johnson holding a tennis racket.
You could improve this by using a chaining method. The issue with chaining is always that you need a proper set (meaning no duplicates, otherwise you would remember incorrectly). If each piece has a distinct personality (as discussed above), then you can use chaining without any duplicates. Obviously you can’t have two pieces on the same square, so it’s impossible to duplicate squares. So if you avoid duplicates with the pieces, you can just create a chain and remember an entire position per location. This is obviously slower to recall because chaining is a serial process to recall. For example, to remember what piece is on d5, you have to go through half of the chain one by one. You could combine approaches and use chains to remember rows of the board, and then to recall what piece is on d5, you start at a5 and follow the chain to d5. That would require 8 locations per position.
I am not so sure that the slow recall for the chaining method is a deal breaker. Let’s say you are trying to memorize a key endgame position for KRP vs KR like the Lucena position. It’s only 5 pieces on the board, so your chain is short. And the memorization technique will only be required while you are learning it. After a while you won’t have to rely on the memorization technique, although you could always fall back to it if you forget. Because the most important positions will be the most frequently used, your brain will sort of “cache” them so you recognize them quickly, and recalling a full position with a lot of pieces will happen less frequently.
Finally, if you are intending to use a memory technique to help with blindfold chess, then the speed of recall becomes important. You essentially need to recall the current game state (position, side to move, castling rights, etc), and although not necessarily required, you probably want to remember the moves of the game as well (at least I would). For fast recall, I would want an image or location for each square, and then images for each piece type.
I’m not sure how well this will work in practice, because as you move pieces around during the game, and while thinking about potential moves to play, there is going to be a lot of repetition. In a very short period of time, the e4 square might have numerous different pieces occupying it. In theory, your mind only recalls the most recent connection between e4 and the image for the piece occupying it. But I know for myself, my first location in my house is the trash can in the kitchen, so it gets used frequently. If I’m going to the store, it’s usually not a problem to remember what item was attached to the kitchen trash can (low stress, I can take my time creating the visual image, the image isn’t being reused). But if I’m going through my busy day at work, I quickly attach some image to the kitchen trash can, and then later that day without thinking about it I need to remember something else and I attach another image to the trash can, and the next day I couldn’t tell you what image was attached to the trash can. Playing a blindfold game, to me, seems closer to the stressful busy work day than the stress free trip to the grocery store.
I have not actually used any of these systems yet. I also began thinking about it recently. So let me know what your thoughts are. Maybe we can combine some of these methods and come up with a really good system.