Professional gamers have a superpower. An ability that sets them apart from everyone else.
But this superpower doesn’t only exist in esports, it’s the same powerful ability that divides good athletes from world-class athletes, average students from high achievers, and novice chess players from grandmasters.
In fact the chess master Alexander Alekhine seemed to have this powerful ability, because in 1933, Alexander set a new world record simultaneously playing 32 chess matches against other skilled players, forcing him to keep track of 1024 pieces, and 2,408 squares amongst 32 different chess boards… oh, and the most impressive detail, is that he did this without looking at a single board!
But how? How does one simultaneously keep track of 32 chess matches, without even seeing the board? How does one mentally process all that information?
Well, this secret power is the same thing that allows pro gamers to play at such a high level. It’s an ability that they have developed over time and something that they’re all continuing to develop with powerful strategies, strategies that most average players just aren’t using.
So let’s break this all down, and let’s first take a quick look at exactly how Alexander Alekhine was able to pull off such amazing feats, and how you can apply lessons from his accomplishment in your own esports journey.
As Alexander Alekhine was growing up, he developed an intense passion for chess. He spent much of his waking life dedicated to playing, studying or just thinking about chess. And at one point he would actively make it his goal to become the World Chess Champion, the absolute best at 1 on 1 chess!
But as a young man, he stumbled into a big obstacle. School. When in class, it wasn’t exactly an option to bring a chess board and play while the teacher taught, so he decided to do the next best thing. What he would do is entertain himself by thinking about chess positions, and developing strategies by playing through matches in his mind.
Now at first he aided this thinking by drawing diagrams or taking notes, but as he improved as an overall player it became easier and easier for him to just do it in his head.
Eventually, he would start trying out blindfold chess, a method of playing others without an actual board. And among good chess players, this extreme version of chess really wasn’t uncommon. And for Alexander, it seemed that as he developed his skill for 1 on 1 chess, his ability to play blindfold chess just became natural and easy.
From there, blindfold chess became a natural side strategy for playing when there just wasn’t a board around or playing when he needed to handicap himself against a less skilled opponent.
And over time as he challenged himself to play blindfold chess matches, he slowly built this secondary skill until he was able to play against more and more players at the same time.
But this doesn’t mean that Alexander is one of only a few players who can play simultaneous matches of blindfold chess – in fact in the overall history of blindfold chess, we find that most players who worked hard to become chess masters, found themselves able to play blindfolded chess with little or no additional effort!
They seem to naturally be able to track 10s or even hundreds of chess pieces in their working memory – an ability that defies what we know about the human mind.
You see, because the human mind is constantly focused on only a few things at a time, the working memory is designed to only hold 2-4 chunks of information at a time. And then when we need to take in more information, it basically hits the reset button to make room.
So how exactly then is it possible for that chess players to surpass the limitations of the human mind? Have they developed some sort of advanced memory that allows them to absorb and process all information at a faster rate?
Well, this is the exact question that researches wanted to tackle… So beginning in the 1970s, researchers sought to understand how grandmasters remember chess positions with such accuracy.
They tested a few players, including a national-level chess player, and a novice-level chess player. And they tested them on two types of boards, one that had the pieces arranged in patterns taken from a real chess game, and the other with random placements, that made no actual sense in the context of a game.
When showing the chess boards with the pieces all laid out in patterns from real matches, the masters could remember about 2/3 of the positions on the board, while the novices could only remember around 4.
When shown the chess boards with the pieces arranged randomly, the novice chess player did somewhat worse, getting only around 2 pieces correct. Which honestly is no surprise.
But what was surprising was that the grandmaster didn’t do much better, they were only able to get around 2 or 3 pieces right – All of a sudden, the experienced player’s advantage completely disappeared.
What researchers learned from this, and from similar studies is that the chess masters don’t develop some incredible memory for individual pieces on a board. It isn’t as though they can suddenly memorize and process all information at a faster rate.
Instead, their memory and processing power is context-dependent: it relies on patterns of the sort that would only appear in an actual game.
But what does this all mean for you?
Well, when you’re in a game, there are tons of changing variables to take in and keep track of, and your working memory is responsible for all of this. It analyzes that information, processes it alongside past knowledge, and does so in order to predict future outcomes, develop possible plans of actions and ultimately make decisions.
But the working memory can’t hold onto a lot of information at once… Yet when it comes to a complex situation in the game, there can be up to hundreds of subtle variables that you NEED to process, in order to make an EFFECTIVE choice.
This is what’s so powerful about patterns – Each of these patterns organizes several variables into a single chunk of information. And each pattern or chunk of information is then stored in the long-term memory, thus freeing up the power of the working memory to absorb and process more information.
This is why we are able to process so much information without even realizing it, our mind is able to see patterns of information that are already known to us, and simultaneously hold new information in the working memory while the long-term memory does most of the work behind the scenes.
As an example, consider the act of driving – while you’re behind the wheel you need to analyze tons of different factors – from weather conditions, to the velocity and direction of each car around you, the traffic signs, pedestrians, the position of your foot on the pedals, as well as monitoring the precise motion and strength needed to press the acceleration.
And if you’ve been driving for a while, then you’re likely able to drive with minimal effort, sometimes even daydreaming while just driving home – meanwhile, your brain is processing all these different variables without you really being aware of it.
So the power of pattern recognition is to essentially automate information processing by identifying patterns and making predictions instantaneously!
And of course, that’s what sets a pro player apart from average players is their ability to see more patterns, to process more information. This is what allows them to see more potential moves in any given situation – playing out each potential outcome and then devising which move is best, all in a matter of seconds.
So if you want to make effective predictions, you want to make pro-level decisions, and process tons of information at lightning speeds, then you need to develop your pattern recognition!
So then the question becomes how exactly do you develop your pattern recognition?
Your mind is always in a sort of predictive state, predicting the most likely future that will happen. For example, I’ll give you 3 numbers in a pattern and let you guess what the fourth number will be…
So based on the given number, you likely thought of the number 8, as in the next multiple of 2.
Your mind is always collecting the current information, connecting it to past experiences and attempting to determine the most likely future based on it.
And even consider what it takes during an intense 1 v 1 – in real time you need to predict the most likely offensive and defensive strategies of your enemy, and based on their behavior, positioning, and available moves, you must predict their next step so you can effectively counter them or prevent their escape.
In this scenario, you’re making pre-emptive decisions based on past experience and current information. But, of course, our minds are not perfect and they often predict futures that don’t actually happen.
For example, when giving you the number pattern I could have said – 2,4,6, and then 10 instead of 8 – as in some sort of Fibonacci type pattern, that combines the 2 previous numbers to get the next. But based on your past experiences, you knew that the most likely future was the one where I said 8.
Similarly, in the 1 v 1 scenario, you may have unreliably predicted that the enemy was more vulnerable than you expected, so you start chasing after them, only to be baited and destroyed by their offensive abilities that you didn’t consider.
And this brings us to a very important point: your capacity to predict outcomes and make effective decisions is a skill that you learn through experience.
Patterns are basically just the relationship between causes and effects, or actions and outcomes. So every time you make a prediction, you’re analyzing the available information, then taking action. And based on the result you can determine if you were correct in your prediction or incorrect, thus verifying the pattern or forcing you to reconsider the variables and looking for a more accurate pattern.
Thus, through trial and error, you begin to better understand the relationship between cause and effect in a given scenario, you learn to notice new relationships between subtle factors until it becomes a cohesive pattern.
So this means that pattern recognition is basically just a natural process that doesn’t require anything more than diving into new experiences, taking action, and automatically learning from the outcome – right?
Well yea, kind of. The process of developing your pattern recognition can, in fact, occur automatically with experience… but not very effective.
To effectively absorb the information and lessons from your matches, to identify and internalize new patterns you need to actively be searching for key lessons to extract from every game. And then after each game, you need to use the power of recall, journaling or visualization to make sure those lessons actually sink in.
And the absolute best strategy for developing your pattern recognition this is something that I’m going to be exploring in a lot more detail in the next video.
But as an immediate takeaway, I urge you to enter every game with a sense of purpose, priming yourself to look for new patterns and obvious lessons. Then during the game make mental notes of key scenarios where you made a prediction and things either went really well or really poorly. Immediately consider what factors contributed to that result – pay attention to small and subtle variables that tip the scale. And if you can get a death recap or watch a kill cam then do so and learn from it.
And then of course at the end of the game, recall those major high points and low points, considering what you did right and what you did wrong. If possible, write them down and mentally make sense of the causes, variables, and effects.
Most players jump from game to game without a real sense of purpose. And without making a conscious effort to learn from every situation, it’s as though their brains are basically on autopilot and their learning ability is essentially turned off. And this is why so many players hit skill plateaus, and only achieve a low rank after years and years of playing.
But by actively searching for and pondering the lessons of every match, you’ll internalize new patterns at a much faster rate. Allowing you to make better decisions, process information faster and become a much better player.
So absorb the lessons from this video, realize that the superpower that allows chess players to process so much information, is a superpower that you can develop in your own domain.
The biggest factor is to simply pay attention to your actions and their outcomes while searching for the many variables that contributed to that result!
And don’t underestimate the power of this. The difference between actively searching for patterns and recalling them vs. just passively playing is the difference that separates a player who plateaus at bronze, from players who keeps climbing to the very top.
So consider which of those you want to be. And enter every single match including your next match with a sense of purpose, a determination to learn new patterns, and a focus on developing the superpower of professional players!