William Chase

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William G. Chase [1]

William G. (Bill) Chase, (July 23, 1940 - December 16, 1983)
was an American psychologist and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who gained recognition for his experiments demonstrating that good memory is an acquired skill. He researched with Herbert Simon on Perception and Skill in Chess, and co-authored three publications on that topic in 1973. William G. Chase died in December 1983 while jogging, aged 43 [2].

Perception in Chess

William Chase and Herbert Simon [3] tested chess player's memories of positions of games versus random positions. In all game positions, performance on this test declined as the player's chess rating declined. At random positions, all levels of players did approximately the same, while more recent research conclusion is that chess masters do slightly better with random positions than weaker players as well. However, this suggests that the higher-ranked players are able to use some form of chunking that allows them to rapidly encode macro features of the positions. For instance, even a mediocre player would be able to encode the six pieces comprising a castled king and rook, fianchettoed bishop and three surrounding pawns as a set, while a beginner would be forced to remember these separately.


Alexandre Linhares [4] and Anna Elizabeth T. A. Freitas in their 2010 paper, abstract [5]:

Pattern recognition lies at the heart of the cognitive science endeavor. In this paper, we provide some criticism of this notion, using studies of chess as an example. The game of chess is, as significant evidence shows, a game of abstractions: pressures; force; open files and ranks; time; tightness of defense; old strategies rapidly adapted to new situations. These ideas do not arise on current computational models, which apply brute force by rote-memorization. In this paper we assess the computational models of CHREST and CHUMP, and argue that chess chunks must contain semantic information. This argument leads to a new and contrasting claim, as we propose that key conclusions of Chase and Simon's (1973) influential study stemmed from a non-sequitur. In the concluding section, we propose a shift in philosophy, from “pattern recognition” to a framework of “experience recognition”. 


Counter critique by Peter Lane and Fernand Gobet in 2011, abstract [6]:

Linhares and Freitas (2010; LF) argue that experts use analogical or semantic similarity, similarities that are not available from direct surface representations. LF make their case using a critique of Chase and Simon (1973b) and the presentation of a few chess positions and examples from other domains. Their conclusion is that models such as CHREST (Gobet et al., 2001) and theories such as the chunking theory (Chase & Simon, 1973b) and the template theory are inadequate for dealing with these issues. They propose an alternative paradigm, which they call “experience recognition.” Although we find this issue an interesting one, the separation between pattern recognition and problem solving is a lot more complex than LF portray. We instead suggest that a “revolution” in our to date successful modeling is not necessary. Especially in the chess domain, LF’s examples do not make the point they claim. Furthermore, their criticisms of CS are incorrect, and they have failed to mention a large number of experimental results that have supported the hypothesis of location-specific encodings. Although we agree that experts use semantic information and similarities, these ideas already possess analogues in CHREST, which can form the basis of further evolution of the theory. 

Neil Charness

Neil Charness in 2012, abstract [7]

Although Linhares and Freitas (2010) have failed to characterize earlier experimental work in chess skill accurately, their conceptual approach of “experience-recognition”-driven problem solving points to the need to incorporate analogical reasoning mechanisms into explanations of how chess players choose the best move in chess. The Lane and Gobet (2011) commentary and the cognitive simulation models that they espouse consist of plausible mechanisms to support choosing a good move, but need additional development to incorporate abstract/semantic information. One possible avenue for future exploration will be to produce hybrid models that use both “piece-on-square” chunk and template representations and abstract high-level representations to guide search in chess. 


Alexandre Linhares et al. in 2012, abstract [8]:

We question Chase and Simon’s (1973) study concerning the content of the chess chunks, and we conduct a new variation of the classic chess reconstruction experiments, analyzing 25 types of possible reconstruction errors of grandmasters, masters, and beginners. The differences between the errors conducted in poor, intermediate, and strategically perfect reconstructions provide insights concerning the encoding of experts. The results obtained shed clear light into the debate concerning the importance of abstract thought (i.e., forward search) vs. perceptual processes (i.e., pattern recognition). We claim that a clear solution to this debate is ultimately unfeasible, as our experiments demonstrate high entanglement of perception and reasoning. Our results provide additional evidence that analogy is central to strategic thought in chess. 


Herbert Simon

Herbert A. Simon [9]

To his research, Bill brought powerful experimental skills, ingenuity in experimental design and analysis, a strong sense for theoretical relevance and implications of experimental findings, and a generosity of spirit that made working with him immensely pleasurable and rewarding. 

Hans Berliner

Hans Berliner in A Life's Appraisal [10]:

While a graduate student at CMU, I had ample opportunity of interact with Herb and Bill Chase who was a Post-Doc and later a professor in the Psychology Department there. It was there that I got involved in the Human Perception of chess which built on the work of the Russians in the 1930s and of De Groot in the 1940s. I was very impressed by the machinery that clearly existed in the human head and made it possible to remember positions almost perfectly even after having seen them for only 2 seconds. What was even more interesting, was that errors in reconstructing the position had a definite pattern to them. For instance, a Bishop may be misplaced in the reconstruction, but it would still be on the critical diagonal, and thus retain its function on that diagonal whatever the function was. This insight has been incredibly important in my career, and is seen clearly in the program CAPS, in my book The System, and in other writings presently under way. 

See also

Selected Publications


External Links


  1. Photo from 36th Carnegie Symposium on Cognition - Expertise and Skill Acquisition: The Impact of William G. Chase, June 2-3, 2009
  2. William G. Chase, 43 - Tested Memory as Skill - Obituary - NYTimes.com
  3. William Chase, Herbert Simon (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 4, No. 1
  4. The Human Intuition Project: Chase and Simon (1973) Perception in chess, Cognitive Psychology 4:55-81. A scientific blunder by Alexandre Linhares, October 01, 2007
  5. Alexandre Linhares, Anna Elizabeth T. A. Freitas (2010). Questioning Chase and Simon's (1973) “Perception in chess”: The “experience recognition” hypothesis. New Ideas in Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 1
  6. Peter Lane, Fernand Gobet (2011). Perception in chess and beyond: Commentary on Linhares and Freitas (2010). New Ideas in Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 2
  7. Neil Charness (2012). Patterns of theorizing about chess skill - Commentary on Linhares and Freitas (2010) and Lane and Gobet (2011). New Ideas in Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 3
  8. Alexandre Linhares, Anna Elizabeth T. A. Freitas, Alexandre Mendes, Jarbas S. Silva (2012). Entanglement of perception and reasoning in the combinatorial game of chess: Differential errors of strategic reconstruction. Cognitive Systems Research, Vol. 13, No 1, 72-86
  9. Quote from 36th Carnegie Symposium on Cognition - Expertise and Skill Acquisition: The Impact of William G. Chase, June 2-3, 2009
  10. Hans Berliner (2001). HERBERT A. SIMON (1916-2001): A LIFE'S APPRAISAL, ICCA Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1
  11. ICGA Reference Database (pdf)
  12. Chase & Ericsson 1982: Skill and working memory, Summary by David Zach Hambrick, 1998

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