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The Chess Memory Palace is an instruction manual in using memory techniques for chess. To this end, I have tried to keep the main body as short and practical as possible. These Notes by contrast indulge in various tangents. They include instructional points too obscure for the main body, design notes, and commentary on how The Chess Memory Palace relates to chess and memory literature. This doubles up as “further reading”. There are also references for quotations and chess games.


  1. My team’s chorus cry”: Viswanathan Anand (2019) Mind Master. Hachette India, Chapter 3. The context is: “If I haven’t revised my notes, the chances of me forgetting my preparation runs high. It’s why my team’s chorus cry […]”

    In this book, GM stands for Grandmaster; IM stands for International Master.

  2. That’s probably the number one thing”: Ben Johnson’s Perpetual Chess Podcast, episode 32 – Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, 18 July 2017

  3. even elite players: As one of many examples, World Champion Magnus Carlsen commented on a World Championship game: “I had some conflicting emotions. […] The main problem was that I couldn’t remember what was going on later there. I remembered that Ng4 was a key move. I guess Bc5 was correct and then I couldn’t remember the lines there. […] And then we reached the position a lot later anyway, but I had still not figured it out.” Sagar Shah (2021, December 8) Carlsen vs Nepo World Championship 2021 Game 9: What’s wrong with Nepo? ChessBase India.

  4. 70,000 digits of pi: This was achieved by Rajveer Meena on 21 March 2015, at the VIT University in Vellore, India. His recital took ten hours. Sanj Atwal (2021, July 9) Smartest records: Most Pi places memorised, human calculator and more.

    Akira Haraguchi of Japan has memorised over 100,000 digits, but this is not recognised everywhere as an “official” record.

  5. photographic memory: It is unclear what exactly “photographic memory” would mean. If we take it to mean storing a photo-like representation of your visual field, then photographic memory cannot exist, because photographic perception does not exist. Roughly speaking, we see what is meaningful to us, rather than an objectively neutral depiction of the world. Alfred Binet was surprised to discover this during his 1894 study of blindfold chess players, when he learned that they do not in fact have an “inner mirror” reflecting a visual image of the whole board, but instead understand the position through the meaning of the pieces and their relationships.

    Researchers have considered photographic memory a myth since the late 1970s. The closest real phenomenon is eidetic memory, where a small proportion of children (not adults) have a detailed visual impression of images. Even this is imperfect and fades after a few minutes, and is more common in children with development disabilities, suggestive that it is a less developed form of memory than the usual abstract, meaningful memory encoding. Julia Shaw (2016) The Memory Illusion. Random House Books, pages 90-92

    To borrow the words of the poet William Blake, “For the Eye altering alters all”. (The Mental Traveller)

  6. I am still surprised”: Dominic O’Brien (1993) How to Develop a Perfect Memory. Pavilion Books, page 161

Chapter 1

  1. I know from my own experience”: Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusupov (1994) Opening Preparation (translated by John Sugden). Batsford, page 112. The chapter quoted is written by Mark Dvoretsky.

  2. consonant sounds: This system is adapted from the well known major system for memorising numbers. Assign b and p to 9, and s, z, and soft c to 0, and you have a system of encoding all base-10 numbers as words. For example, turtle bench lime encodes the first nine decimal places of pi (141592653). Early versions of the major system date back to the 16th century. The practice of converting numerals to sounds for memorisation dates back at least as far as the Kaṭapayādi system in India, around 600 AD.

  3. picture word shark: For many of the illustrations in this book, I used AI image generators such as DALL-E 2 for inspiration. At the time of writing, such tools are making rapid progress. Perhaps it will soon be possible to generate a whole memory palace and walk around it in virtual reality, creating an experience that might currently be accessible only to a skilled lucid dreamer.

  4. dragging the king onto the rook: It might seem more natural to think of castling as “king to g1” rather than “king to h1” (to use the example of White castling kingside). However this requires you to keep track of whether castling is legal. Imagine you saw a squid (g1) in your memory palace and instinctively reached for the king, only to remember that you moved the rook ten moves ago so castling is not legal. Now you are forced by the touch-move rule to blunder! (You must now move the king one square, when you should have played Rg1.) Notating castling as foot (h1) avoids any such accidents.

    Note that picture notation is not entirely determined by the current board position – you need to remember half a move back, to know whether en passant is an option. But this is less of a risk because the option of en passant is quite salient, and remembering half a move is less mentally taxing than keeping track of castling options.

  5. seahorse: I first saw the idea of using a seahorse to visualise 5 in Dominic O’Brien (2014) How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week. Watkins Publishing, Step 12. In a different context to chess, this can be used as part of a “number shape” system to memorise digits – an alternative method to the major system, see the note on consonant sounds above. For example, a seahorse and swan would represent 52.

    Incidentally, the USA Memory Championship trophy is shaped like a seahorse, which somewhat resembles the shape of the brain’s hippocampus. (“Hippocampus” is the Latin for the mythical sea-horse creature.)

  6. online play: According to the Lichess database.

  7. physically higher: My advice about indicating the order of the picture words in a composite image using relative position is adapted from Ben Pridmore (2011) How to be Clever, Chapter 2. My advice on active and passive elements is adapted from the popular person-action-object memory system.

Chapter 2

  1. Take your time”: Dominic O’Brien (1993) How to Develop a Perfect Memory. Pavilion Books, page 158. O’Brien re-invented the method of loci in 1987, placing images representing playing cards around the city of Khartoum (page 150). He went on to become World Memory Champion eight times.

    In Chapter 20 O’Brien applies his general DOMINIC memory system to chess. Picture notation is specific to chess, so it is a more efficient mnemonic system for this purpose. It requires less than half as many images to represent the same sequence of moves, and the picture words are transferable between people, enabling collaboration. As far as I know, encoding data using syllables, and the candidate piece system, are both original to this book.

  2. place an object: Five-time USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis also suggests making an action with your body, such as tapping your forehead, as you put your keys down. When you search for your keys, you should remember the action, and therefore the location. Nelson Dellis (2018) Remember it! Abrams Image, page 57

  3. aphantasia: Lynne Kelly is one author who reports having aphantasia, yet has built memory palaces and adapted memory techniques from indigenous cultures with success. Her research shows that many, perhaps all, oral (non-literate) cultures use memory techniques. They vary in detail but all share common themes, such as location-based mnemonics, storytelling, and memorable characters, often mixing practical knowledge with memorable mythology. Lynne Kelly (2016) The Memory Code. Allen & Unwin, Chapter 1

    Of course, given neurodiversity, it is impossible to give advice that applies to literally everyone. My main point is to encourage you to not give up on memory techniques without first trying them. They will work for almost all readers.

    There is not much research on blindness and memory palaces, but some reports say that the technique still works by focusing on senses other than sight, such as feeling, taste, and sound. Anthony Metivier’s Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, Anastasia Woolmer on Memorizing Movement and Mastering Recall, 26 February 2020. For those of us who are sighted, remember that we should be using multiple senses in our “images” anyway.

  4. surprising, funny: The classic text in the art of memory is the ancient Rhetorica ad Herennium, written by an unknown author in ~86-82 BC. “Now nature herself teaches us what we should do. When we see in every day life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvellous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonourable, unusual, great, unbelievable, or ridiculous, that we are likely to remember for a long time.” Ad C. Herennium libri IV, as quoted in Frances Yates (2014) The Art Of Memory. The Bodley Head, page 25 (original work published 1966)

  5. we have an aim: Jordan Peterson (2017) Maps of Meaning 06: Story and Metastory part 2 [Lecture]

  6. movement-filled: Bonus points if you sing and/or act out your memory palace. At home, obviously, not at the board! It is instructive to watch Dr Tharaka Gunarathne teach TV presenter Anna Richardson to act out her memory palace, explaining that she is building “micro muscle memories” so that her body will help remember the stories. Jamie Isaacs & Alice Wheater (Producers) (2021, July 15) Can I Improve My Memory? Series 1 Episode 2 [Television broadcast]. Channel 4

    In a small way this echoes the memory techniques of many oral cultures. Ceremonies, songs and dances encode important information. For example one of the songs of the Haya people in Tanzania shows the details of iron production. An Australian Aboriginal ceremony was traded and passed on for 1000km; women who purchased it could give detailed information about places they had never visited. Lynne Kelly (2016) The Memory Code. Allen & Unwin, page 26

  7. abstract concept: Mnemonists have been connecting abstract concepts to concrete nouns for as long as memory techniques have been written about. The Dialexeis fragment (.17ex$\scriptstyle\sim$400 BC) suggests “for courage [place the image] on Mars and Achilles; for metal-working, on Vulcan; for cowardice, on Epeus”. As quoted in Frances Yates (2014) The Art Of Memory. The Bodley Head, page 44 (original work published 1966)

  8. “Harry just had time”: J. K. Rowling (1999) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Bloomsbury, Chapter 1

  9. Children’s TV: The CBeebies (BBC) programme Numberblocks is a particularly good example of children’s TV using shape, colour, personality, story, and song to teach advanced concepts. We should not be too proud to use such techniques as adults. See the next note (as one of many examples) about how powerful similar methods can be.

  10. anthropomorphises: This is a memory technique widely used in non-literate cultures. For example, the properties of plants are remembered by casting the plants as characters in mythological stories. The Hanunóo, in the Philippines, were recorded as classifying 1625 plants from memory. Lynne Kelly (2016) The Memory Code. Allen & Unwin, page 7

  11. talking tree: For example the beautiful description of the half-awake trees in C. S. Lewis (1951) Prince Caspian. Geoffrey Bles, Chapter 9

  12. triangulate: I heard this term from Canadian Memory Champion James Gerwing on Anthony Metivier’s Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, 2019 Canadian Memory Champion Reveals His Memory Secrets, 29 October 2019.

  13. redundancy: This term, and my understanding of additional details making the image safer, come from Joe Reddington (2021) Advanced Memory Palaces. Page 33

  14. in the same way: The dual indicators of picture word order – active versus passive roles and higher versus lower position – are another form of redundancy. When designing rules to store data in a memory palace, there is a trade-off between writing strict rules with added redundancy, versus leaving room for creative images. There is also a trade-off between spending time visualising detailed images in the first place, versus spending time reviewing and rebuilding broken links later. In general, the more you want to memorise, and the longer the time period over which you want to retain the memories, the more you should come down on the first side of both of these trade-offs. The Chess Memory Palace method needs to work for large quantities of chess moves over a long playing career, hence I advise detailed images and lots of redundancy.

  15. each additional detail: This is the opposite of speed memory techniques pursued by memory competitors. Competitors need to memorise images as quickly as possible, and forget the images again immediately after the contest, so they seek to minimise the detail in each image. “Some of them are more visual, […] others are purely sound, others are purely some kind of vague ethereal motion[.] You strip all the fluff around what makes your image as loud as possible and keep it at the bare minimum to make it memorable at such a speed.” Anthony Metivier’s Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, Nelson Dellis On Remember It And Visual Memory Techniques, 27 September 2018.

  16. multiple senses: Mnemonics author Anthony Metivier uses the acronym KAVE COGS: Kinesthetic (movement), Auditory, Visual, Emotional, Conceptual, Olfactory (smell), Gustatory (taste), and Spatial. Anthony Metivier (2020) The Victorious Mind. Chapter 8

    Although many of us find the visual and emotional aspects much easier than the other senses, it is worth trying to combine more of your senses, because apparently this uses different parts of your brain and strengthens your associations. Memories are stored by a network of neurons; a memory of a single event will require neurons in the visual cortex, auditory lobe, and somatosensory cortex (for senses including touch), among other areas. Creating multiple associative links makes recall faster and more reliable. Julia Shaw (2016) The Memory Illusion. Random House Books, pages 68, 252

  17. likes cleaning things: I am thinking of Makka Pakka from The CBeebies (BBC) programme In The Night Garden.

  18. breaking a social contract: Similarly, people are better at solving logic puzzles when the problem is framed in terms of a social contract rather than in abstract numbers and colours. Leda Cosmides (1985) Deduction or Darwinian Algorithms? An explanation of the “ellusive” content effect on the Wason selection task. Harvard University

  19. pencil and paper: You can throw the drawing away when you have finished; the value is in the process. This is a kind of ephemeral art, echoing the body painting or sand paintings of oral cultures. Lynne Kelly (2015) Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. Cambridge University Press, page 91

  20. how your own memory works: Incidentally, many of the techniques for building an effective memory palace also apply to making everyday life more memorable. Themes such as paying attention to your senses, crafting unusual experiences, and setting up unique sensory triggers are all advised in Meik Wiking (2019) The Art of Making Memories. William Morrow

    Grandmaster of Memory Ed Cooke is particularly insightful on this topic, read for example Ed Cooke (2020, March 29) How to expand subjective time during the lockdown and beyond.

  21. mistakes as random errors: A helpful blog post about correcting the root cause of errors, rather than writing them off as random accidents or generically “not practising enough”, is celandine13 (2012, April 29) Errors vs. Bugs and the End of Stupidity. LiveJournal.

  22. missed a location entirely: The first time I used the Schliemann Transit Line memory palace (Chapter 4) in a practice game, I missed the newspaper stand (brain machine) at the bottom of the short escalator. After the game I fixed the location in my memory palace by having the pearl and jester, from the previous composite image, crash into the newspaper stand after they fall down the escalator.

  23. only one of the picture words: The day after I built the Spanish Exchange Airport memory palace (Chapter 5), I was pleased to recall the structure and 69 of the 70 picture words. My one failure was at the security trays, where I remembered something was pushing the trays with a rake. Checking my notes, this turned out to be a heart – I had failed to make it interact with the rake or location in a distinctly heart-like way. I then fixed the heart in my memory palace by making it interact more clearly with the location and rake (by pushing the trays rhythmically and, rather unpleasantly, bleeding blood along the rake into the trays).

  24. further reading: Books about memory and mnemonics are fascinating. They involve psychology, creativity, perception, data structures, art, history, archaeology, anthropology… and all of it applicable to your own mental processes. At times it feels like living in a fantasy novel, reading ancient texts to uncover abilities you didn’t know you had. My top recommendation is Lynne Kelly (2019) Memory Craft, Allen & Unwin, which exemplifies this genre.

Chapter 3

  1. Though for Mma Potsane”: Alexander McCall Smith (2006) Tears of the Giraffe. Abacus, Chapter 9

  2. branching map: Whereas Chapter 2 drew on two millennia of literature on memorable images, and Chapter 1 was inspired by the comparatively recent work on efficient data encoding, which has particularly focused on the memory competition disciplines of numbers and playing cards, there has been little development of techniques to memorise non-linear data structures. The tree shape of a chess opening repertoire is one such non-linear structure. Therefore if there are improvements to The Chess Memory Palace method in future, I would predict Chapter 3 will see the biggest developments. The two main approaches to memorising branching data structures are (1) mapping out a branching memory palace, as I advocate in Chapter 3, or (2) borrowing computer science techniques to convert the data tree into a linear (or tabular) shape, then memorising it in a traditional linear memory palace. I haven’t yet found a satisfying version of the second approach that matches branching memory palaces for flexibility, intuitiveness, and ease of amendments.

    The best discussion of memorising non-linear data structures can be found in Joe Reddington (2021) Advanced Memory Palaces.

  3. video games: For example Nelson Dellis completed Super Mario 64 in an hour while using the game as a memory palace to memorise 1000 digits. Nelson Dellis (2020, December 26) I made a SUPER MARIO 64 memory palace [Video] YouTube.

  4. large or small: Aboriginal songlines, similar to a memory palace, essentially cover(ed) the whole of Australia. Meanwhile many indigenous peoples use handheld mnemonic devices, such as the lukasa of the Luba people in central Africa. Lynne Kelly (2019) Memory Craft, Allen & Unwin

  5. door to the window: Incidentally, one piece of advice recommended since ancient times is to have a door or window every five or ten locations along your memory palace. This is excellent advice if you are designing a traditional linear memory palace, as it chunks your memories into digestible groups of five, and acts as a safety mechanism to alert you if you forget a location. However I have chosen not to advise this for a branching memory palace, for four reasons.

    First, it is less necessary for a chess memory palace: you are unlikely to completely forget about a location, because then your chess moves would almost always be impossible or nonsensical. In other words, the board position will alert you to any mistakes in your recollection of your palace, so you do not need this additional check of groups of five. Second, because of the branching nature of a repertoire, placing a window or door every five moves does not neatly chunk your locations into groups of five; depending on the repertoire this might force you to store many more than five locations inside a single “room”. Third, the biggest challenge in creating a branching memory palace, compared to a traditional linear memory palace, is fitting the tree diagram to a setting. Requiring a window or door at regular intervals is an annoying additional constraint. Fourth (and less important), some positions can be reached by different numbers of moves, due to transpositions, so it is not possible to maintain the “every five locations” rule in a strict sense. For example the mainline Sicilian Sveshnikov can be reached by 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5, or by 5...e6 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5.

  6. which locations you can distinguish: If, for some reason, you have no choice but to use two identical spaces, then imagine one to be plain and the other to be richly decorated. In this way you can try to build more than one memory palace from the same space.

    Incidentally, I believe this is part of the purpose of decorating for Christmas (and other festivals). Not only does the altered environment help to put us in a different mood, but it creates a different “place” for us to store our memories.

  7. fade into the background: The remarkable mnemonist Solomon Shereshevsky, active in Russia in the 1920s, rarely forgot anything; his few mistakes came from oddities of perception when the object he was memorising merged with its background. “Now take the word blimp. That’s something gray, so it blended in with the gray of the pavement[.] Banner, of course, means the Red Banner. But, you know, the building which houses the Moscow City Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is also red, and since I’d put the banner close to one of the walls of the building I just walked on without seeing it.” Alexander Luria (1968) The Mind of a Mnemonist (translated by Lynn Solotaroff). Basic Books, page 36

    Shereshevsky was highly synaesthetic, which made associations and the method of loci (memory palace) easy for him. If there is a key to a memory superpower, then it is not “photographic memory”, but synaesthesia. However having an extremely strong memory is not necessarily desirable. It can cause difficulties understanding text and making connections. “This is the importance of forgetting: sweeping aside irrelevant details in order to form concepts.” Rodrigo Quian Quiroga (2017) The Forgetting Machine. Benbella Books, Chapter 4

  8. forget it again: If you do make a mistake and need to overwrite part of your memory palace, the best method is usually to avoid using the memory palace for at least a few weeks, then visualise a new image. Pay extra attention to the new image and its interactions.

    Grandmaster of Memory Mark Channon suggests a kind of ritual to give your mind permission to forget an image: “[Cellophane] is clear and has a feeling of nothingness, and gives the effect of erasing. Wrap the cellophane around each one of your files and say the word ‘erase’.” Mark Channon (2016) Improve Your Memory. John Murray Learning, page 84 (original work published 2011)

Chapter 4

  1. The Schliemann Transit Line: It is helpful to give your palaces (and even locations) names. This makes their contents more memorable.

    There is some research to suggest that verbal knowledge of openings and plans is more predictive of chess skill than standard chess position memory, perhaps because the verbal knowledge encodes plans, although causation is unclear. Douglas Pfau & Martin Murphy (1988) Role of verbal knowledge in chess skill. The American Journal of Psychology

    Many indigenous peoples are also meticulous about naming every location in their environment and song lines. Lynne Kelly (2016) The Memory Code. Allen & Unwin, Chapter 1

  2. In this computer age”: Junior Tay (2018) The Schliemann Defence move by move. Everyman Chess, page 7. I have cut off the sentence halfway through for clarity; the full quote is “[…] to reach that plus, and even when they do it is another issue to win from there”. This is also true; we need to study middlegame plans and not just opening moves, as noted in Chapter 7.

  3. example memory palace: Not many books contain entire ready-to-use memory palaces, with the notable exception of Ed Cooke (2008) Remember, Remember: Learn the Stuff You Thought You Never Could. Penguin UK

    It appears that authors (including the author of the ancient Rhetorica ad Herennium) are reluctant to share too many images, because images are most memorable when you invent them yourself, based on your own associations and experiences. This is certainly true, but only if (a) you would actually make the effort to design your own images and memory palace, (b) your images would be comparable in effectiveness to the author’s, and (c) there is no social value in sharing a memory palace with others.

    This third condition is the most interesting. I have personally seen the benefits – both for my memories and for my friendships – of preparing for exams by building memory palaces with friends.

    The Italian Jesuit priest and missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) created memory palaces with his friend Lelio Passionei, and still reflected on them two decades later. Jonathan Spence (1984) The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. Elisabeth Sifton Books, page 135

    Similarly the locations, ceremonies and songs of Aboriginals are shared among groups, even though each performer brings their own slightly novel interpretation. Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly (2020) Songlines. Thames & Hudson, page 93

    I have suggested picture words in the Appendix to facilitate sharing memory palaces, or at least sharing tree diagrams labelled with picture words. The hardest aspect of sharing memory palaces is the setting, as two strangers are unlikely to know any shared settings, except for generic places like airports.

  4. a “pure main line” repertoire: To be precise, playing the most popular White reply to every Black move that has been played 50+ times, in the Lichess Masters Database as of 1 August 2022. Not every White move is the computer’s top choice.

  5. take a break: The Primacy Effect and the Recency Effect describe how we remember better the information presented first and last in a study session. Amongst other benefits, taking breaks creates more beginnings and ends to take advantage of these effects.

  6. fluorescent underground lights: The Rhetorica ad Herennium teaches that the locations should be neither too dark nor too bright, so that the objects are obscured by neither shadows nor glare.

    Ed Cooke taught journalist (and later USA Memory Champion) Joshua Foer “to make sure all of the windows were open and good afternoon sunlight was streaming in”. Joshua Foer (2011) Moonwalking with Einstein. Penguin, Chapter 11

  7. 90% of masters …a third of amateurs: According to the Lichess database, August 2022.

Chapter 5

  1. Gligorich said”: Bobby Fischer (2008 edition) My 60 Memorable Games. Batsford, game 56 (original work published 1969). Annotations on the game Bobby Fischer v Svetozar Gligoric, 12 November 1966, Havana Olympiad Final-A, Havana. This game was one of Fischer’s wins with White in the Ruy Lopez Exchange opening.

  2. a “pure main line” repertoire: To be precise, playing the most popular Black reply to every White move that has been played 50+ times, in the Lichess Masters Database as of 1 August 2022. The exception is Area 7, after the ladder and Black’s alternative move crab (6...Bg4). I include this area to show how to use a ladder, rather than to build a full repertoire in the line.

    For a half-hour overview of the main ideas and plans, I recommend IM Andrey Ostrovskiy (2019, October 27) The Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation [Video] YouTube.

  3. Transpositions: Technically a transposition means that we are dealing with a “directed graph” rather than a “tree”, but I will continue referring to “tree diagrams” anyway.

  4. begin the memory palace: I first tried to start the memory palace at check-in. One main line would have been a mad dash to catch the flight; the other main line a leisurely meander through the shops. However this felt like a waste of the airport setting: it rushed through check-in and security, where I can fit lots of locations, and spent too long in the shopping areas, which aren’t the most distinctive parts of an airport. The final memory palace still doesn’t use check-in, but perhaps we can save it for another repertoire, or loop back there when expanding the palace in future.

Chapter 6

  1. There are few things”: Garry Kasparov (2007) How Life Imitates Chess. William Heinemann, page 148

  2. without understanding the moves: Some players argue that learning a theoretical endgame teaches you how the pieces work together, even if you never see the endgame at the board. If this is true, it is certainly an argument to learn the endgames through pattern recognition rather than through a memory palace. However I would argue this depends on the endgame, and there are reasons to be sceptical of how useful (some) endgames are to understand pieces.

    First, some of the manoeuvres are quite obscure, and seem to have little carryover to middlegames. Second, if the aim was to understand pieces deeply, we would expect students to study a range of winning techniques, but instead they generally learn only the most intuitive winning method. Third, it is notable that middlegames are often explained by analogy to an opening (“an improved Marshall", “a similar plan to the King’s Indian" and so on) but they are rarely if ever explained by analogy to a theoretical endgame (“You should move the bishop because it’s similar to the bishop and knight ending").

    Incidentally there is a philosophical question about what it means to “understand” a technique. John Nunn discusses this question in his 1995 book Secrets of Minor-Piece Endings, Batsford, pages 268-272. He suggests that “understanding” is related to having a simplified logical rule that explains a mass of data, and argues that memorising a single line to defeat the defender’s optimal play would not demonstrate understanding, because the defender could “throw in the occasional sub-optimal move in order to defeat such memory techniques”. But what if you can brute-force memorise the winning moves in every variation, as taught in The Chess Memory Palace? It still feels to me that you would not “understand” the endgame – but you will win anyway.

  3. Vertical reflections: I would like to thank Ulrike Fischer for writing the chessboard LaTeX package, with the forethought to create it with the flexibility that makes these diagrams possible.

  4. set direction: I pedantically specify “in the endgame” because kings and rooks also have a set direction of movement when it comes to castling. This is a chapter about endgames, so I assume the option to castle has long since passed.

  5. Queen v Rook: Philidor position: I wanted to include a tree diagram to beat the notorious third-rank defence (White’s king on d5 and queen on f7; Black’s king on d8 and rook on b6). Unfortunately spending time in the tablebases only confirmed how difficult this ending is. The tree diagram would take 59 locations to reach DTZ8 in all variations – and even this is the consolidated version, sacrificing one move from the quickest path in order to prune a section with particularly numerous branches. Unlike other endings such as the bishop and knight checkmate, it is difficult to create transpositions and simplify the tree, because giving the defender a single move of extra time generally creates a host of new defensive possibilities, each requiring a unique sequence of moves to defeat. I tried keeping track of the directions the pieces move, but there are very few repeated patterns. This ending deserves its reputation.

    In the end, I decided not to include a tree diagram this complicated (partly because it is difficult to fit neatly on the printed page), so you will have to be content with just the Philidor position.

  6. Bishop and Knight checkmate: This tree diagram sacrifices a couple of moves of speed in order to make the overall tree smaller. In his groundbreaking Secrets book series, John Nunn was also willing to sacrifice a few moves of speed in order to simplify a technique. John Nunn (1994) Secrets of Pawnless Endings, Batsford, page 48. Nunn spent moves in order to make the winning method easier for human understanding. In The Chess Memory Palace, we do not care about how intuitive the moves are, but we do care about overall tree size, to reduce the memory burden.

    The small size of the bishop and knight checkmate tree is achieved through extensive use of specified piece moves and ladders, which allow us to slowly constrict Black’s king without keeping track of exactly where it is. If Black’s king is preventing our favoured move, the ladders create a zugzwang so that we can advance next turn.

    If any reader is so inclined, there is lots of potential research to create the smallest possible tree diagram for any given endgame position. And, one step further, to create the smallest possible single tree diagram for a range of endgame positions. See the final example for some inspiration of what is possible.

    By the way, if you are defending with the lone king against a prepared opponent with bishop and knight, it might be worth running with your king straight to f8 then g7. This is not the optimal defence in terms of longest winning line, but it forces your opponent to abandon the popular W-manoeuvre with the knight, and is not often covered in books.

Chapter 7

  1. How much theory”: Paul van der Sterren (2009) Fundamental Chess Openings. Gambit, page 7

  2. fade more slowly: As discovered by Hermann Ebbinghaus, who ran self-experiments and published the results in 1885. The “forgetting curves” in Figure 7.1 are sometimes called “Ebbinghaus forgetting curves”. There are many versions of this spaced repetition graph online.

  3. remain identical: Antony Metivier makes the same point in The Victorious Mind (2020). Chapter 10

  4. takes too long: Also Joe Reddington in Advanced Memory Palaces (2021) points out that some of your images will be too grotesque or otherwise embarrassing to commit to writing.

  5. flashcard with a board position: Anand used to review photographs of board positions during plane journeys. Viswanathan Anand (2019) Mind Master. Hachette India, Chapter 3

  6. computer script: BookBuilder, launched by Alex Crompton in July 2022, is an interesting project that automatically generates chess opening repertoires. It uses the Lichess database and computer evaluations to build a repertoire against the most popular lines.

  7. Long before a player”: Garry Kasparov (2007) How Life Imitates Chess. William Heinemann, page 143

    Kasparov does also say that “opening sequences […] are indeed memorised”, and that he plays by “relying on memory to select the opening lines I prefer until I run out of book and am on my own”. Garry Kasparov (2017) Deep Thinking. PublicAffairs. This does not contradict his comments on understanding; instead it reinforces the point that understanding and memory are complements. Kasparov plays a move from memory – but he understands its purpose.

  8. Magnus Carlsen v Bu Xiangzhi: Magnus Carlsen v Bu Xiangzhi, 9 September 2017, World Cup, Tbilisi

  9. On e6: John Cox (2011) Declining the Queen’s Gambit. Everyman Chess, page 13

  10. win brilliantly: Levon Aronian v Viswanathan Anand, Tata Steel Group A, 15 January 2013, Wijk aan Zee. Anand’s account of this moment can be found in Viswanathan Anand (2019) Mind Master. Hachette India, Chapter 3

  11. reading vocabulary: Gwern Branwen. Spaced Repetition for Efficient Learning.

  12. played the Mieses Opening: Garry Kasparov v Deep Blue, 6 May 1997, IBM Man-Machine, New York

    Similarly, Kasparov played 7.g4 against the computer Deep Junior’s Semi Slav Defence, because he knew it was not in Deep Junior’s opening book. (Garry Kasparov v Deep Junior, FIDE Man-Machine WC, 26 January 2003, New York; according to David Shenk (2006) The Immortal Game. Doubleday, Chapter 11.) Kasparov preferred to leave Deep Junior’s preparation early, which demonstrates both the value of memorised moves (Kasparov wanted to avoid the book moves) and the importance of understanding the subsequent middlegame plans (now the computer needed to find moves for itself).

  13. many similar but different lines at once: There is an interesting account of this in Viswanathan Anand (2019) Mind Master. Hachette India, Chapter 3

  14. Which is which: The answer is ...Ba7 on the left diagram, ...Bb6 on the right diagram, according to GM Jan Gustaffson’s Grandmaster Repertoire against the Italian Game, on chess24

  15. After a while”: Matthew Sadler (2000) Queen’s Gambit Declined. Everyman Chess, page 113

  16. won’t help you understand chess better: Apparently there was an experiment demonstrating how chess memory (through mnemonics) can be separated from chess understanding, but I have not yet been able to track down a copy to verify its contents:

    Ericsson, K. A. & Harris, M. S. (1990, November) Expert chess memory without chess knowledge: A training study. Paper presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society, New Orleans

  17. disqualified for cheating: This seems a good place to discuss the boundary between mnemonics and cheating. Using a memory palace in your mind is clearly permissible. But what if you used the tournament hall itself as a setting for a memory palace, and then gazed around the room to help recall your images? And Figure 6.3 takes a shape that would match a palm and four fingers – what if you used your hand as a memory aid, and looked down at it to help win an endgame? (Hands have been used as mnemonics for over a millennium, look up for example The Guidonian Hand.) I think both of these ideas are not permissible as they would involve a form of external assistance. FIDE Laws of Chess Article 12.3(a) forbids a player to “make use of any notes, sources of information or advice”. Using the room, or even your own body, as a mnemonic device would be a source of information. It would be impossible to prove what was going on inside your head though, so this can be enforced only through honour.

    What about rotations? It is permissible to stand up and view the board from a different angle, as long as you don’t distract your opponent. But what about using a reflection? In theory, if you were playing next to reflective glass (like the first Anand-Carlsen World Championship Match!) you could look at the reflection instead of the board itself, which might occasionally help with an endgame. In my opinion the glass would then be a source of information, so this is not permissible.

    Happily this is all theoretical, as these possibilities would be helpful in only a rare and limited way. We are unlikely to see accusations of cheating for people absentmindedly scanning the room, even if it is possible in theory.

  18. exhibition strategies: More detail for all these examples from Fine to Miles can be found in Eliot Hearst & John Knott (2009) Blindfold Chess. McFarland & Company, pages 193-196

  19. Harry Pillsbury: The evidence that Pillsbury knew memory techniques is that he could memorise long lists of obscure words (on the same day as his blindfold simul). He did not publicly reveal his methods. Eliot Hearst & John Knott (2009) Blindfold Chess. McFarland & Company, page 171

  20. strategies above: Although it didn’t fit the flow of the paragraph, one should also not forget FM Marc Lang’s 46 game record in 2011. He used a strategy of themed groups of five games, divided by games played as Black. Leonard Barden (2011, December 30) Marc Lang catches the eye by breaking world blindfold record.

  21. Timur Gareyev: GM Timur Gareyev scored over 80% in his 48 board blindfold simultaneous exhibition. He used his opponent’s voices as well as his memory palace to distinguish the games. He plans most of his pictures in advance, but presumably would need to improvise a new picture if his opponent plays something unusual, or else just abandon the technique for the unusual game. Timur Gareyev & Albert Silver (2016, March 12) Memory Palace – Timur’s World Record preparation. ChessBase India.

  22. rarely been applied: An intriguing exception can be found in “An Artificial Memory, Or An easy Method of assisting the Memory of those that play at the Game of Whist”, at the back of Edmond Hoyle (1745) The Polite Gamester. Hoyle suggests methods of rearranging the remaining cards in your hand to remind yourself of cards played; for example “to remember your partner’s first lead, place a small card of that suit led in the middle of your trumps”. Techniques like this are still known, but not considered useful, in bridge today.

    With the exception of Timur Garayev’s blindfold preparation, I don’t know of any professional documented example of preparing a memory palace beforehand and carrying it into a game.

  23. transform: Inspired by Tony Buzan (2010) The Memory Book. Pearson Education, pages 89-90, 116. This idea is also used in the Appendix.