Gobet, F. & Simon, H. A. (in press). Templates in Chess Memory: A Mechanism for Recalling Several Boards. Cognitive Psychology.


This paper addresses empirically and theoretically a question derived from the chunking theory of memory (Chase & Simon, 1973): To what extent is skilled chess memory limited by the size of short-term memory (about 7 chunks)? This question is addressed first with an experiment where subjects, ranking from class A players to grandmasters, are asked to recall up to 5 positions presented during 5 seconds 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 STM, to store information rapidly.