What do you mean – I hear you ask?

Well, again, your brain knows more than you think it does. And I want to prove it to you today.

As discussed in past posts, the vision is fundamental to all our actions in the world – everything else follows on from it.

Expert's brain has ability to glean more information from a single gaze due to experience

Your chess brain

We don’t see with our eyes though – we see with our brains. “Many people think that brain’s visual system works like a camera, simply collecting and processing the raw visual data provided by our outside world. We actually experience  our visual environment as a fully analyzed opinion about what the brain thinks is out there,” (Brain rules, John Medina). The brain combines current visual input with pre-existing knowledge, concepts and patterns, already stored in it, to grasp the meaning of the moment and respond to it.

“Rather than using the predictive logic of a microchip, the brain is an analog processor working by analogy and metaphor. It relates whole concepts to one another and looks for similarities, differences, or relationships between them,” (A User’s Guide to the Brain, John Ratey)

In order to understand any spatial-visual system we need to:

(a) know its parts,

(b) recognize spatial and functional relationships between them (we want a proof of this today!),

(c) know what purpose and goals of the system are.

Here’s the proof.

First, forget all we said about what modern cognitive neuroscience tells us about how brain works and how we act in the world. Forget about what philosophers, like Wittgenstein, have told us about understanding and meaning. Forget about Nimzovich and his 1929 article in a Russian paper.

Forget all of that for a moment!

An expert already knows what is going to happen, then he will know where to direct the attention

His excellency, your brain!

Instead, think football, or soccer, or basketball, or a warfare battle in full rage. In American football, think the quarterback, in soccer and basketball, think the playmaker, in a war battle (the one from the past, not a modern-era one, as now it’s just coming to you from the sky from an invisible enemy), think the general, in chess, think the master.

What do they all have in common? You brain knows the answer. And the answer will be the proof.

They all have instantaneous grasp of the problem they are up against:

  • A good quarterback not only needs a good arm, they must also have a great field vision with the ability to quickly scan the field for open receivers, that is he must instantaneously capture the current line-up of all players on the field, who is being blocked, who is open, etc.
  • A good playmaker in soccer is someone possessing not only abilities such as master technique, precise pass (long and short), first touch, stamina, influence, concentration, team work, but also a great game overview combined with creativity and decisions. Someone like Messi, Xavi, Kaka, or Gerrard.
  • A good basketball playmaker is one who is said to have “court sense” and who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him without conscious effort.
  • A brilliant general possesses coup d’oeil, or “power of the glance”, an ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield.
  • A master with a great chess eye sees in no time all piece contacts and relationships on the board, together with their functions (attack, protection, restriction, blocking). After a quick and automatic understanding of the situation, he starts working on the solution.

They all have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the game. They all share a perfect sense of all spatial and functional relationships existing on the battlefield. How men on both sides are positioned, how they are lined up right now and what their roles are. Of course, they also know what their overall strategy is and what current tactics should be.

You see the point? Of course! Thanks to your smart brain (I told you!). Your brain works by analogy and uses all its previous knowledge and concepts buried deeply within, to see things.

No psychology, no philosophy, no Wittgenstein, no Nimzovich, your brain outsmarts them all! It just created mental picture and come up with a snap judgement of what we wanted to prove, in just few moments, compared to years of work of the former.

* * *

Fortunately, I’ve got a good news for you: good field/board vision can be practiced.  There are drills that will sharpen your eagle-eyes.

In early chess teaching, it’s contacts drills! I keep repeating this, don’t start with teaching moves, no matter how paradoxical it may sound at first.

And quite logically, as spatial and functional relationships between pieces is definitely the most important thing in chess, it is to be taught first, before anything else.

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