Visualization, pattern recognition, and forward search: effects of playing speed and sight of the position on grandmaster chess errors


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A new approach examined two aspects of chess skill, long a popular topic in cognitive science. A powerful computer-chess program calculated the number and magnitude of blunders made by the same 23 grandmasters in hundreds of serious games of slow (“classical”) chess, regular “rapid” chess, and rapid “blindfold” chess, in which opponents transmit moves without ever seeing the actual position. Rapid chess led to substantially more and larger blunders than classical chess. Perhaps more surprisingly, the frequency and magnitude of blunders did not differ in rapid versus blindfold play, despite the additional memory and visualization load imposed by the latter. We discuss the involvement of various cognitive processes in human problem-solving and expertise, especially with respect to chess. Prior opposing views about the basis of general chess skill have emphasized the dominance of either (a) swift pattern recognition or (b) analyzing ahead, but both seem important and the controversy appears currently unresolvable and perhaps fruitless.