• Why we make bad moves on the chessboard (of life)?
  • Why we come to poor decisions?
  • Why we make mistakes?

The answer: because of poor visualization skills, or underdeveloped visual thinking.

Observation is a dying art. Yet it greatly impacts how we act in the world; how we approach solving problems; how we make judgments; how we learn…

In the last Look, don’t think! post we discussed the skill that, unfortunately, seems to be wasting away and looking obsolete in an era of “smart” technology.

Medical patzers

The physical exam in medicine (=an examination to determine the condition of a person’s health, or physical fitness) is what examining the position on the board is in chess. It is an act of observation (observe = to be or become aware of, esp. through careful and directed attention, the American Heritage College dictionary; to watch carefully especially with attention to details or behavior for the purpose of arriving at a judgment, the Merriam-Webster).

chess art by Carlo Bolmida

Masterful Eye, by Carlo Bolmida

But gone are the times when “doctors used the ‘old-fashioned’ touching, looking and listening, almost magical skills of the doctor who missed nothing and could swiftly diagnose most of symptoms using just keen eyes, practiced hands and a stethoscope” (see the full article from the New York Times here).

“Medical schools in the United States have let the physical slide. Dr. Verghese likes to joke that a person could show up at the hospital with  a finger missing, and doctors would insist on an M.R.I., a CT scan and a orthpedic consult to confirm it.”

iPatients are handily discussed in the bunker, while the real patients keep the beds warm and ensure that the folders bearing their names stay alive on the computer. –Abraham Verghese, M.D.

When you visit your doctor nowadays, they look at their iPad more closely than at you, the patient. Isn’t it scary? (perhaps they should also try Fritz?)

iPad, or stethoscope are just tools. “What is the most important part of the stethoscope?” asks Dr. Veghese his students. “The part between the earpieces.”

This erosion of examination skills, the lack to look and see for themselves, the failure to notice, makes doctors overlook simple diagnoses and miss easy clues sometimes. They don’t get vital information to be able to figure out what the patient really needs. The same way as a chess patzer isn’t grasping the situation on the board and so playing poorly.

On the other hand, the best-performing experts in life, in medicine, sport, business, or on the battlefield, spot in no time the most relevant clues of a situation using vision for perception. A doctor looking at his patient, a chess master looking at the board, an art connoisseur before a painting, the great Messi on the soccer field. Once they have processed all relevant information quickly, they form their view and, if necessary, make a confident decision using vision for action.

Visual learning

The importance of vision for problem solving and making decisions cannot be stressed more. And even more importantly, for learning. Because learning makes the brain set up the mind framework and patterns of thought to be used when facing problems and every day decisions later on.

Poor chess vision is considered the main factor in failing to achieve higher levels in the game. Once our patterns of thought become rigid, it is almost impossible to keep improving as we reach a plateau. We get stuck, unable to move any farther.

chess art Firebird over the chess city, by Bolmida

Firebird over City of Chess, by Carlo Bolmida

That is why we need to include visual thinking early in the chess training process, actually right from the hour one. Chess thinking is geometric in nature and we should visualize everything in terms of lines and points. That is where the Contacts method comes in. With its elementary piece set-ups, it forms the foundation for all subsequent learning, for basic tactics and strategy, as well as more advanced topics.

The first period of learning is critical. There is no much time there. It is of utmost importance to reinforce patterns of visual thinking in the first few weeks of getting started. Else, poor vision sets in. With no visible signs of progress, interest toward previous motivation is lost, the student gets bored and gives up altogether.

Are math and chess learning really that problematic?

Math is also notorious for giving most people trouble. While in fact, “almost every kid — and I mean virtually every kid — can learn math at a very high level, to the point where they could do university level math courses,” explains John Mighton, the founder of Jump Math.

The same is true for chess. “If you ask why that’s not happening, it’s because teaching methods are not aligned with what cognitive science tells us about the brain and how learning happens.”

Maybe you should look more closely and attentively, and don’t think too much (I mean logically).

Try visually. Learn to observe. An old art.

Just LOOK!

© iPlayooChess 2012

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