Templates in chess memory: a mechanism for recalling several boards

Cogn Psychol. 1996 Aug;31(1):1-40. doi: 10.1006/cogp.1996.0011.


This paper addresses empirically and theoretically a question derived from the chunking theory of memory (Chase & Simon, 1973a, 1973b): To what extent is skilled chess memory limited by the size of short-term memory (about seven chunks)? This question is addressed first with an experiment where subjects, ranking from class A players to grandmasters, are asked to recall up to five positions presented during 5 s each. Results show a decline of percentage of recall with additional boards, but also show that expert players recall more pieces than is predicted by the chunking theory in its original form. A second experiment shows that longer latencies between the presentation of boards facilitate recall. In a third experiment, a Chessmaster gradually increases the number of boards he can reproduce with higher than 70% average accuracy to nine, replacing as many as 160 pieces correctly. To account for the results of these experiments, a revision of the Chase-Simon theory is proposed. It is suggested that chess players, like experts in other recall tasks, use long-term memory retrieval structures (Chase & Ericsson, 1982) or templates in addition to chunks in short-term memory to store information rapidly.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Templates, Genetic*