I wrote this 5 years ago on Facebook.

Chess is a complex game. One grandmaster said that it is too complicated for any single mind to comprehend completely, which is true, but the human race has made a reasonable stab at it. Thousands of books have been written about the game, and an inexhaustible list of strategies has been developed.

I have been thinking about chess skill. I wonder if anyone has tried to study all the components of chess skill? On personal reflection, I think that chess skill can be broken into four parts:

1. Vision. This is something I developed at the age of 14 when I realized I could see all the moves available on the board at the same time. Chess vision is the ability to see things instantly that others would have to think about.

2. Pattern recognition. This is similar to vision, except that chess can create many complex patterns. Through experience and study, skilled players have developed the ability to recognize these patterns in their games, sometimes almost instantly.

3. Knowledge. Many complicated strategies have been worked out about chess, and players have to memorize some of them to compete seriously. I have spent a great deal of time committing chess strategies to memory.

4. Understanding. This is by far the most important. There are areas of the game that I understand so well that they require almost no thought or effort on my part. I can play these positions with ease. There are other areas of the game where I feel completely ignorant. For example, sometimes I get into positions that make me uncomfortable because I don't understand them very well.

The reason why understanding is so important is that the more we understand something, the easier it is to learn. This worked really well for me on my computer studies, because the concepts came easy for me, so it didn't take much effort to learn them.

I think many players try to learn things in chess without fully understanding them. At times I have been guilty of this. It can be difficult because chess is a hard-to-comprehend game. There are many different areas in chess, each of which can be a separate field of knowledge.

So to be a good student at chess, one needs either good coaches or good books that explain the concepts well, and the student needs to make sure that he really understands what it is that he is learning. The same thing could probably be said about any field of study.

Best wishes,
John Coffey

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