What do you see in your head when you read?

When you read out a tactical sequence in a game, or when you solve a tsumego problem, can you describe what’s happening inside your head?

I’m asking because someone recently mentioned aphantasia. Something like 2-4% of the population have limited or no ability to form vivid mental imagery. There’s a famous article by Blake Ross describing an extreme form of this. For me, I don’t have the complete blank screen that Ross describes, and I haven’t been formally diagnosed, but I definitely can’t conjure up clear pictures of people in my head. I’m used to having awkward conversations where I mention a name, the other person says “I’m not sure who you mean. Can you tell me what they look like?” and it turns out that I can’t say what they look like even though I’ve seen them hundreds of times, and then the other party thinks I’m weird…

So back to reading in go. People talk about “visualising” the result of a sequence of moves. Do they mean it literally? Like, you can see in your mind’s eye something that looks like a photo of the board after those moves have been played? Or is it more metaphorical? For me, it’s pretty abstract. Hard to put into words, but I have a kind of kinetic sense of the flow of the stones, kind of like what it would feel like to drive a car down a winding country road, twisting and turning. If I read out 8 moves, then say – but what if white made a different choice on move 5? – I’m not able to just edit the picture in my head. I need to go back to the beginning, flow through the sequence again, but turn left instead of turning right at move 5. it’s inefficient, but somehow it works for me, and most of the time I’m able to read out sequences and see it happen on the board the way I imagined it.

I suspect that most people do have something closer to clear visual imagery when they read. I’d be interested to hear other people’s experiences, and if there’s any different versions of this, or workarounds for when the imagery isn’t clear enough.


My answer here: Visualization • Life In 19x19


I wanted to answer that I can visualise one or two stones and when I have to add more in reading the ones early placed become fuzzy. But now I did some tsumegos and watched myself doing it. Turns out I don’t really visualise a single stone. My imagination seems to work one level deeper. I don’t imagine stones, I imagine the meaning of them, like patterns, eyes, liberties and so on. Say I consider a defensive move. I might see the straight four that would be formed that way and I see that I can fill the middle two of those four, since I ‘played’ one stone in there already. All that without really visualising individual stones.

To myself that sounds like a superior method. So I should be a high dan! However, it is working very, very imperfectly in my head. Pure empty space and stone patterns of one colour work sort of ok, but when I mentioned liberties above, that was largely a lie. When reading deep (more than one or two moves) I basically have to force myself to ‘manually’ count liberties, if it is important. And more often than not I either mis-count or mis-judge the importance.


These resonate with me. Things are kind of blurry for me when reading as @jlt describes, more so mentally tagging intersections and remembering the idea of what’s happening and what @xela and @richyfourtytwo describes. black white black white, throwin capture atari and so on.

I think when trying to see a bigger picture or deeper into sequences it runs into trouble trying to remember if something is a liberty shortage or an atari several moves deep.

I am trying to improve though on visualising things. For instance, if trying to visualise the various 3-3 invasion sequences without looking at a board, I want to try to improve visualising the space inside, how many lines and intersections there are, how close things are to the edge.

Another things is to try to imagine whole board 9x9 positions, still difficult for me but something to try to improve on.


Hmmm, one could make a memory game with just 9x9 positions. Or 7x7, or 19x19, whatever you preference. That should be a nice training method. What a wonderfully nerdy thing to do!

Also, I think I read children are comparatively good at memory games. So maybe this could be used to introduce go to young children! Of course the game would be very different if you don’t know the rules and basic stratgies of go. You can’t work with things like 'there are two black stones in atari*.

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What happens in my head it’s like this
Say I looking at the board
Then I start picturing move1 follow by move 2 move 3… etc. on the same board.

However, I’m not really visualizing the board. Each and every move that I’m reading, it’s not like I’m visualizing the board changes each time. Although that probably should be what’s going on in my mind. Instead it’s like doing math problem in my head. Like 99x99, I have to memorize the numbers each time then go back to do the calculations then memorize, calulate then finally memorize the final answer. Times that I’m wrong it’s because the visualization/memory of the numbers were wrong.
The same goes for go when reading moves sequence out.

It seems visualizing does help in reading future moves better but the thing is image you imagine can you really sustain it and able to recall it for future use? Like you visualize the board, you visualize the future moves out, can you really recall the board position? Is your temporary memory good enough to visualize every move out? If you can, you can probably read super super deep like 50+ moves with ease.

Anyways, alot of my opponents seem to be bad at reading, they just random clicking buttons. They would just play out beginner moves(ladder) until finally it’s shown on the board they’re captured in a ladder. Mind you these are like 2-3d on fox.

Hence it’s safe to conclude that, you don’t really have to read too deep even in dan games in online Go environment. Most likely these people would solve tsumegos/tesuji problems then in game, they try to recall such pattern to replay the problems they did before. This is more of a pattern recognition thing.

I saw a female pro playing on fox, doing a live broadcast, it was a normal online time settings probably something like 5min/30s byo, like around 10-15 moves in the opening, she saw an irregular move by opponent, her process is like wtf??? I don’t know such move, never learned such move, AH…ok, whatever let’s try here. She panicked, she wasn’t reading moves out, she was only trying to recall from memory, since there was no memory of such pattern, she just play a move she thought was irregular as well, hopefully tricking opponent into a bad position as well. At the end of joseki(corner sequence exchange), she came out a bit worse than even, still it was playable. So even pros don’t really like reading out moves either. lol

Also the more time a specific pattern you’ve seen, the easier it is to “read” future moves. You can call it intuition, experience, or pattern recognition if you want. Memory does help speed up your reading a bit.
Now imagine all of a sudden, you see a new pattern in game, you’ll take a lot more time to read the moves out. While on the other hand, if you see old patterns, you’ll recall bits and bites of it and read out moves with much ease. You could be reading variations that you never have seen/played before but it will be done at faster pace because your brain can recall such pattern in your visualizations.

Maybe a bit off topic, Go pros I’ve seen on live broadcasts, they all seem to be not that good at reading.
While the pros in Shogi, in the youtube videos I watched, they were reading 10-20+ moves checkmate sequence within seconds. They were able to blitz in endgame when time was running out.
It was super insane godlike reading ability. It seems every one of them pros is trained like this.

Although it’s a totally different environment/game, but it seems Go players are a bit more memory focused. Shogi or chess players are more reading focused.

I think word “unclear” is unclear

unclear image may mean blurry image
But if you move your hand to the edge of your vision, you will see your hand unclearly, but it will be unclear in different sense than “blurry”, there no word to describe such unclearness. You still can understand how your fingers move in the edge of vision, but can’t read any text, even huge font.
Inside a dream my imagination is clear as center of vision. But when I awake, my imagination is unclear. As edge of vision, not as blurry image.
Just like its impossible to read text inside edge of vision, its not possible to read far ahead in Go for me. For same reason. Blurry stable image of stones would be much more useful, but instead I work with something that unable to properly comprehend.

I think most people can visually imagine, but most of them have different problems with it compared to center of vision.
Also I think that some of those who think that they have “aphantasia”, actually can visually imagine, just do it more weakly than most people.


The problem with this argument is that a lot of 6 dans and pros can read far ahead! (dangomango, that broadcast you saw, I don’t think that’s typical of most pros.) Even I can read 50 moves ahead if it’s a ladder. Just not for the complicated capturing races…


I’m 6 kyu

Ishi no shita (play under the stones) remains most difficult.

Besides that i try to visualize each position after each move, maybe bit quicker in intermediate (example of a shicho reading, in which the difficult part is at the end) and i try to be sure with liberties and whenn a doubt read again or check what happened before. Each move need to check any sensible variations.

And yes in all these mind activities i use board and stones pictures, but mostly locally, very rarely a full 19*19.

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The corresponding question has been discussed in chess, though not really at a scientific psychology level, AFAIK. The conclusion has been that among really strong players, literally visualizing the board is very much an exception. Mostly, they keep track of the patterns in an abstract way – similar to how you add numbers without imagining N and M sticks next to each other. And they count the force explicitly with a number, again without reference to an image of the pieces on a board.



For me it’s more about remembering / keeping track of all the moves that I read. I also read in sequences and need to start over when I want to explore another branch. I don’t try to visualise (parts of) the board, I try to remember the moves I’m considering. So if I read a long sequence (nowadays the exception, as I’ve become lazy), then it can be a challenge to remember the earlier moves :rofl:

As far as remembering moves, it becomes easier if I associate a purpose / an idea with the move. When replaying the game afterwards, I’ve found that I mostly forget about forcing moves that I didn’t think much about, and get the order of moves wrong, e.g. between moves at unrelated parts of the board.


This is actually exactly the metaphor I was thinking of the other day, thinking about this thread!

I have the perception of perfectly clear vision in a large area in front of me, but I know the vast majority of it is mostly inferred by my mind. Likewise, I have the perception of nearly opaque (say 90% opacity) stones when reading, but I have to continually go back through the sequence and think of the meanings behind the moves as I read, because in reality my mind is (I have the impression) granting me the illusion of clarity


When I close my eyes, I can visualize a hane, but a cross-cut is already fuzzy. But I can count some liberties with closed eyes.

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I don’t close eyes.

:sweat_smile: I don’t either when playing, just to test my visualization skills.

Imagining street in your city is much more easy than Go board with stones.


When dreaming I can see complex board positions in my minds eye and are able to deliberately manipulate the stones and shapes. This means I have the innate ability to visualize. (Wondering how people with aphantasia dream?)
Awake I can’t visualize shapes but I can relate to feeling/ memorizing their meaning in given Situations as others have said .
I practice to hold very easy board positions in my mind before sleeping but if this will help me to visualize better in real games is questionable.
I am always in awe if I hear people like telegraph go talk about replaying games in their head while showering.


When I close my eyes (awake) I can visualize simple local sequences, like josekis, but shapes are fuzzy, white stones are not very different from black stones, and I can’t see the grid. Visualizing moves one by one is easier than trying to see the final position.


When driving home from a tournament, or laying in bed after playing some online games, my mind may wander off into replaying/reviewing parts of my last game. I suppose it’s a bit like dreaming, except it’s more accurate when I’m awake.

When I’m awake, I’d say it’s more like this:


(fairly faithful for reading in the short range, but not very useful for whole board thinking)

When I’m dreaming, I’d say it’s more like this:


(it doesn’t really make sense, but I may only realise that when I’m waking up in the middle of it)