If you’ve been playing chess for more than two weeks, you’ve surely heard the term board vision. Grandmasters have it, beginners don’t. But what is this strange phenomenon? What the heck does it mean? Maybe I can shed a little light on that.
Have you ever tried to play chess when tired or ill? It’s really tough to wade through variations or “see” what’s going on at all. Thus, we can safely say that your board vision has been affected by lack of sleep or illness.
Of course, anyone with working eyes can see the board. It’s what we see going on when we look at the board that separates board vision from regular old eyesight. The folks with better board vision are far more likely to make strong moves.
There was a study done a few years back where grandmasters and amateurs were asked to look at a position for a few seconds and then make a move. One hundred percent of the time, the GMs made stronger moves than the amateurs. But they had no more time to think of a plan, so what gives? They have better board vision, plain and simple.
At a glance, a very strong player can sum up a chess position somewhat accurately. Of course, complicated and tactical positions will take more work than a simple one, but titled players can see more at a glance than many can after several minutes of staring. And it’s because they are looking at the right things and seeing the entire board.
If you can glance at a chess board after twelve or so moves and recognize the opening that was played, then your board vision is better than that of a total beginner. If you can tell which side is won at that point, your board vision is stellar. If you regularly ‘forget about’ an enemy bishop or fall for cheapo tactics, your board vision will need to improve in order for you to reach the next level.
Stronger players usually aren’t searching for tactics move-by-move. Instead, they have better board vision and realize the themes and goals of each side’s setup. They are always looking for tactics, yes, but they are more so ‘setting them up’ instead of hoping they arise. See the difference?
Board vision is definitely a strange phenomenon. Players with great memory recall and unbelievable board vision can play many, many chess games at once, all in their heads, without ever looking at a real board. These are known as blindfold simultaneous exhibitions. Alexander Alekhine, for instance, once played thirty-two boards against real people without a single chess board in front of him. His final score was twenty-eight wins and four draws. That’s good board vision, folks.
But you don’t need to be that good. As you play and study and certain types of positions begin to look familiar to you, your board vision will increase. That is one of the main reasons they say tactics training is so important; we don’t get to see the whole game, but only a single position. We then have to make a critical decision in that totally unfamiliar position. Tactics training is a great way to improve your board vision.
Good games, all!