In my post on Emmanuel Lasker a reader mentioned how former British Champion Robert Combe spent the war years going over the games of Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine for lack of live human opponents and succeeded in reaching master level in a very short time. On a holiday in London when he was 16, he bought a little book called The Chess Openings, by Gunsberg, from which with the aid of a sixpenny book of chess laws, he taught himself the game.
C.J.S. Purdy tells about how at age 14 he (Purdy) borrowed a copy of a “miserable little book” authored by Green named simply Chess that contained about a dozen unannotated games at the end. Purdy played over those games, always covering the next move with a card and trying to guess the next move. He claims he “learned something” and then he started on P.W. Sergeant’s copy of Morphy’s Games. Purdy thought the notes were terrible, but they were better than no notes at all and he claims that after a few months by an unconscious process he acquired at least a fraction of a master’s know-how.
Purdy pointed out that while good notes help they are not essential, but what matters is you put some effort into working out the moves before comparing it to the game and notes. To quote Purdy, “…although it is good to read textbooks, you must not regard them as a substitute for the playing over of games…Reading chess theory helps you very much in the long run (but) it does not produce steady progress, but a series of occasional jumps forward…Playing over games and solving problems from actual play…is quite different. It improves you minute by minute. You can feel it doing you good.”
“…here is a way you can infallibly improve your chess ability. Force yourself to play through published games blindfold.” He admitted playing over games blindfold is not fun, but if you make yourself do it, it gets easier. Playing blindfold improves a vital skill in chess…the ability to visualize the position several moves ahead. He advised playing through the annotations without moving the pieces and making sure you actually visualize the position and not to give up halfway through the note. One thing that supposedly helps with visualization is practicing recalling the color of each square. Eventually you won’t have to figure out c6 is a light square; you will just know. Personally I don’t see this as being much help though. You could play chess on a board where all the squares were the same color.
While on the subject of blindfold play, in a paper titled Chess as a Behavioral Model for Cognitive Skill Research: Review of Blindfold Chess by US Senior Master Dr. Eliot Hearst and John Knott, they found masters consistently reported that they do not see mental images of the board but they do know where the pieces are. They talked about knowing the geometry of the board and visualizing lines of force, power of the pieces and knowing what combination or plan is in progress. In his book, Practical Chess Analysis, Senior Master Mark Buckley talked about the pieces having an "aura” that you have to visualize. Weird isn’t it?