Is Chess Just Memorization? (Quick Facts) | Iris Reading
Is Chess Just Memorization?

Is Chess Just Memorization? (Quick Facts)

Is Chess Just Memorization?

Chess is one of the most popular board games enjoyed by many people all over the world. It originated from India and was called Chaturanga, a Sanskrit word meaning “four limbs.” 

However, as it is played now, modern chess does not resemble the original game.

Chess is an intellectual and complex game that has been the subject of several analyses in books and articles. There are also movies about the game, which shows the level of importance attached to it. 

Playing the game will boost your intelligence, and it is beneficial to your mental development. If you are considering learning chess, keep in mind that it requires certain capabilities to gain mastery of the game. 

Chess is not just memorization. It needs other cognitive abilities such as fluid reasoning, information processing speed, and a high concentration capacity. Many positions exist in the game, and it is impossible for anyone to commit all of them to memory. 

In this article, we will examine how much of a chess game is memorization and the role memorization plays in the game. 

Let’s get started.

How much of a chess game is memorization?

Chess requires pattern recognition and recalling opening games, best moves, and position. Memorization plays a role in the game but is not the most vital element.

A study in the Memory and Cognition journal found that pattern recognition and a high level of conceptual processing play a central role in memorizing chess positions. 

Thus, other cognitive skills, such as reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving, are required in this game. 

Chess moves are numerous in number, and it has been found that they are greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe.

 This number is referred to as the Shannon number, named after Claude Shannon, an American mathematician. This represents all the possible moves in chess. 

This is a lot of moves to memorize! And it is impossible for any individual ever to remember all of these. 

Viswanathan Anand, a five-time world chess champion, stated that chess demands a high level of mental strength and stamina, making it more difficult than other physical sports. 

That is why the game requires a mastery of the skills and cognitive abilities.

Can you excel in chess without memorization?

Yes, you can excel in chess without memorization by utilizing your creativity to familiarize yourself with the specific strategies that will help improve your game. 

Memorization can only take you so far in chess, especially for the opening game. But in the midgame and endgame, it can be useless. The only thing needed at this stage is mastering all the tactical moves. 

You have to combine it with creativity and quick thinking. It will enable you to excel in the game. 

However, memorizing some of the opening game options available can be quite effective and helpful. You need to improve your memory to recall some of these opening games and certain end games. 

Some resources can help you maximize your memory and improve your retention capacity if you struggle with retaining this information. 

Sharpening your chess skills will require a deliberate effort on your part. If you are a beginner, here are some of the 10 tips you need to improve your skills:

1. Master the rules

If you want to learn chess, start by mastering the rules of the game. Learn how to move the pieces and the basic strategies required in the game. 

2. Utilize the easy-to-hard approach

Chess can be learned by starting from simple positions. Before studying complex positions, you must develop a basic knowledge of fundamental endgames such as king and pawn vs. king, promotion race, and opposition. 

3. Practice consistently

You get better at chess by constantly playing the game. You can play with your phone even when you are on the move, like on a long train ride. Seize every opportunity to brush up on your skills. 

4. Replay your chess games

If you play good openings and replay all your games consistently, you will become familiar with the best strategies or tactics. 

5. Read books about chess

Consider reading a book about chess. It will improve your knowledge of the fundamentals of the game, the rules, and several chess positions.

There are many chess books to choose from. You can utilize these speed reading techniques to go through most of them quickly.

6. Review your game

Reviewing your game will enable you to spot your mistakes and opportunities, which will help highlight the areas you need improvement. 

7. Study important positions

Don’t waste time studying complicated or uncommon end games. Focus on learning practical positions, including triangulation, knight vs. pawn ending, Lucena position, the opposition, and Rook vs. Bishop. 

8. Play with a partner

After studying your endgames and other positions, playing it with a partner who knows the game well is vital. That way, you get to practicalize what you have learned. It will also help your understanding of a position and improve your mastery. 

9. Patience

Don’t be too fast when playing with an opponent, especially when you see a good move. Take your time and think deeply about it before making a move. Always have a good reason for a move you want to make. Don’t just make a random move.

10. Practice with chess puzzles

Chess puzzles will highlight the basic patterns you will see during the game. You can find them online and practice with them daily. 

Do chess players memorize games?

Chess players do not memorize all the games. Instead, they memorize some of the games’ positions, moves, and elements.  

Chess players have been rumored to have a photographic memory. But Viswanathan Anand said they only possess contextual memory by remembering the essential elements in the game related to moving pieces. 

Talented Chess players possess certain qualities that make them stand out, and they include: 

Strategic thinking

Having excellent strategic thinking skills is one of the traits needed to succeed in a chess game.

You may be confused about what to do to get to a superior position in the middle of a game. Your opponent is watching you and reading your body language. Talented Chess players spend time thinking about an approach and their opponent’s response to their next move before making them. 

Visualization abilities

This skill is used to visualize the position that will be reached when they make certain moves before they are made. These moves are seen so clearly in their mind’s eyes and the consequences that come with the move. 

Pattern recognition

Chess players have a high memorization capacity that enables them to recognize patterns and features of the position they are facing. 


Talented chess players are very tactical and they have mastered several chess tactical patterns. Moreover, some of these patterns share similar ideas because they have overlapping components. 

They include double attack, double check, decoy, deflection, clearance, cross-pin, absolute pin, attraction, battery, etc. 


Chess masters spend time preparing for any competition. Their focus during this preparation is usually on the patterns of movement and game development. This preparation helps them recognize mistakes and correct them.   


Chess involves analytical thinking, and it helps them to identify and evaluate which position is in their favor or the favor of their opponent, 


Talented chess players enjoy learning. They spend time studying and reading books about patterns and positions of chess champions.


Chess requires a lot of patience to succeed in the game. Therefore, these players spend a lot of time studying a move before making it. 

High level of concentration 

These champions have an unmatched attention span. They spend hours practicing without getting distracted. Their eyes are always on the ball. 


During chess, people often encounter lots of poor performance, but talented chess players bounce back to play in another game. This is because they take time to study their mistakes and performance. This is what makes them go far in the game. 


A good chess player is flexible and can adapt to any situation. A game may not always go as planned. So they adjust and move forward to pick another position different from the one they are already familiar with.

Magnus Carlsen, the current world chess champion, once noted this in a CNN interview. He said the game requires mental flexibility, especially when there is a shift in position during the game. In that situation, you need to endure and not lose focus. 


A good player will always try to find out the weakness in their technique. They are always open to learning and improving. 

Wrapping up

Chess is an intellectually challenging game requiring several abilities, including quick thinking, creativity, intelligence, and information processing speed

That is not to say that there is no memorization in chess. On the contrary, memorization in the game exists, especially in recalling patterns, positions, and tactics. 

And, of course, you can excel in a chess game without memorization if you can recognize specific patterns used in the game and become familiar with certain positions and moves. 

Some other tips needed to excel in the game are mastering the rules, replaying your game, reviewing your game, studying chess books, and learning about essential positions. 

Chess players do not memorize games; instead, they try to recall all the moves and positions in a game. 

Good chess players possess certain qualities, which include visualization skills, dedication, flexibility, analytical mind, high level of concentration, resilience, and self-criticism. 

To be good at chess, you must brush up on these qualities and sharpen your memorization skills to recognize patterns and positions. 

To boost your ability to retain the knowledge of these patterns, check out these online courses on improvement and maximization of memory.

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  • What used to be

    myself, I didn’t “study up,” I figured out the whole game over time

  • Lapsed Master of Chess

    oh, really? there are many youths out there right now who can and do remember and use 100% of all known strategies and counters