How to play chess anywhere

By | November 4, 2009

My girlfriend met someone recently who had met two IT guys from India who could play chess against each other in chess boards in their minds.

They would be answering IT calls, helping people, and then suddenly one would turn and say “Nf3“.  Her friend said that while this seems amazing to most of us, we can do anything with enough practice.

In case you want to try to learn how to do this, so you can play chess anywhere, here are a few tips. First, you need to know the rules of chess. Next you need to know the numbering system used for the board (see below).  Then you need to know how how to describe a move chessusing the letter names for the pieces along with the board position names.  This is known as Chess Notation and there are several different versions.

Even knowing these things, how do they remember what piece is on which of the sixty-four 1 by 1  squares?   Practice.

This trick seems as amazing as having perfect pitch recall, something I’m attempting to acquire as an adult… with very slow results.

I think, by focused effort that these two individuals were able to create a virtual chess board in their minds.  Certainly no one has evolved yet who is born with a virtual internal chess board. It must therefore be learned. I find this hopeful information in my quest to create a virtual piano in my mind upon which I can then play any notes. (Actually I’m not going for a piano, more an abstraction of musical note structure that can be applied to any instrument.)

Here is an entire game in shorthand notation (PGN):

[Event "F/S Return Match"]
[Site "Belgrade, Serbia Yugoslavia|JUG"]
[Date "1992.11.04"]
[Round "29"]
[White "Fischer, Robert J."]
[Black "Spassky, Boris V."]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 {This opening is called the Ruy Lopez.} 3... a6
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8  10. d4 Nbd7
11. c4 c6 12. cxb5 axb5 13. Nc3 Bb7 14. Bg5 b4 15. Nb1 h6 16. Bh4 c5 17. dxe5
Nxe4 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. exd6 Qf6 20. Nbd2 Nxd6 21. Nc4 Nxc4 22. Bxc4 Nb6
23. Ne5 Rae8 24. Bxf7+ Rxf7 25. Nxf7 Rxe1+ 26. Qxe1 Kxf7 27. Qe3 Qg5 28. Qxg5
hxg5 29. b3 Ke6 30. a3 Kd6 31. axb4 cxb4 32. Ra5 Nd5 33. f3 Bc8 34. Kf2 Bf5
35. Ra7 g6 36. Ra6+ Kc5 37. Ke1 Nf4 38. g3 Nxh3 39. Kd2 Kb5 40. Rd6 Kc5 41. Ra6
Nf2 42. g4 Bd3 43. Re6 1/2-1/2

How would you decode the game above?

The movetext describes the actual moves of the game. This includes move number indicators (numbers followed by either one or three periods; one if preceding a move by White, three if preceding a move by Black) and movetext Standard Algebraic Notation (SAN).

For most moves the SAN consists of the letter abbreviation for the piece, an “x” if there is a capture, and the two-character algebraic name of the final square the piece moved to. The letter abbreviations are K (King), Q (Queen), R (Rook), B (Bishop), and N (Knight). The pawn is given an empty abbreviation in SAN movetext, but in other contexts the abbreviation “P” is used. The algebraic name of any square is as per usual Algebraic chess notation; from white’s perspective, the leftmost square closest to white is a1, the rightmost square closest to white is h1, and the rightmost square closest to black is h8.

In a few cases a more detailed representation is needed to resolve ambiguity; if so, the piece’s file letter, numerical rank, or the exact square is inserted after the moving piece’s name (in that order of preference). Thus, “Nge2” specifies that the knight originally on the g-file moves to e2.

SAN kingside castling is indicated by the sequence “O-O”; queenside castling is indicated by the sequence “O-O-O” (note that these are capital letter “O”s, not numeral “0”s). Pawn promotions are notated by appending an “=” to the destination square, followed by the piece the pawn is promoted to. For example: “e8=Q”. If the move is a checking move, the plus sign “+” is also appended; if the move is a checkmating move, the number sign “#” is appended instead. For example: “e8=Q#”. – wiki

As you can see, there is no “#”, so the game above had no winner.

A MUCH easier way would be to past the PGN text (be sure to include the headers) into the form here.  Many classic games are re-playable here:

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