Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Curse of Memorizing?

Some Chess Trainers have a sweet tooth for memorizing games while other view it as a total waste of time. Some argue that the number of games memorized is a good substitut measure for playing strength.

When reading Frisco Del Rosario's excellent book "A First Book on Morphy", I decided to give memorizing a try. What could be a better party trick than replaying a Morphy game from memory?

It was a somewhat strange experience. Memorizing the moves was somewhat easier than I first expected. However, The move order was more or less forgotten in a day or two.

I gave it another try but this time I spent more energy on the "whys" of each move and that was the magic trick! Yeah, the game still didn't get stored properly in my gold fish memory but I was convinced that I got a somewhat deeper understanding of the game itself. My conclusion is that trying to memorize canonical chess games is indeed a nice way to spice up your DIY chess training. I honestly thing that trying the mixture of "whys" and pretending to memorize the moves did give me a deeper understanding of the game studied.

Del Rosario has another book out and it looks very promising. The introduction in "Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate" should be required reading for all DIY chess improvers. I will get summarize my full impressions of the book as soon as I have worked myself through the text.

This time I will do it more carefully. The clear annotations in the Morphy book ofter lured me into the lazy "Learning by nodding mode". This time I will replay the games from the book in Old Fashioned "Guess the Move Style" before enjoying the notes.


  1. I believe memorizing chess games is valuable for three reasons.

    1) If you've memorized a game, you can share it with other people in much smoother fashion than if you have to consult a gamescore. Of course, there is no reason to memorize games that aren't of enough quality to share.

    2) Whichever patterns are there to learn in the game being memorized will take root inside your head during the memorization.

    3) You will occasionally get to replay the game, sometimes in whole. Bronstein said that he typically got to re-create Morphy's Paris opera house game once per simultaneous exhibition. Every Falkbeer gambiteer eventually gets to follow Schulten-Morphy, New York 1857, for a while at least.

  2. I think that memorizing opening lines that you play is a good idea, to avoid slip-ups, and make sure that the problems are well understood.

    I have some of my own games memorized, for a while at least, but that is about as far as I'd go with that.

    Someone like Fischer, I think he had all kinds of opening novelties memorized that he had brought to games. Compared to his adversaries, I think he kind of blew them away in this regard. But the purpose here was to throw an opponent off, not to out-memorize well-trodden lines.

  3. Memorizing opening lines is the chessplayer's biggest waste of time — not a good idea, doesn't help one avoid slip-ups, and ensures not one bit that the problems of a position are understood.

    If one were taking an eastward walk through a forest, and one could afford just one of two half-finished maps — one that showed the west entrance and the middle of the forest, and another that showed the middle of the forest to the east exit — which one should take?

    Openings books are a map from the entrance into the middle of the forest. Any banana can wander into the middle of the forest without assistance, get lost, and die. The smart cookie knows how to get out of the forest — that is, knows how to finish a chess game.

    Saying Fischer had all kinds of novelties is meaningful to players of Fischer's level, not yours or mine.

  4. Great point, but I just want to get into the forest safely. If I can do that, then I am like a Cajun in a bayou from there out.

    Some opening lines are very unsafe, where a strong player analyzed them before a game, trying to gain control of the game through complications. For those of us who are weaker players, those lines can be 'positionally fatal'.

  5. Strong players are strong tactically. Weak players are weak tactically. Openings with tricky twists and turns aren't favorable to strong players because they've analyzed them before, but because they can better navigate the tactics. In other words: again, it's not about knowing openings at all.