An enormous amount of research has been done on chess players’ selective thinking (humans don’t need to calculate each and every move) and as a result we are now in the era where computers can beat humans. Along with this they have researched how experts play in familiar positions as well as random positions (see Chess Players’ Thinking: A Cognitive Psychological Approach) and concluded that they are better at pattern recognition and recalling known position types. These days this is common knowledge, and it’s also important to note that such experts are not as good at other activities as the are in chess. This means that they are not born geniuses, they have worked hard to gain their expertise.
How can we improve at pattern recognition? Well I spent couple of hours surfing the internet but didn’t get any satisfactory answers, but when I thought deeply about it the answers were just in front of me.
Repeating the same material: This can sound weird but the more you see, the more you remember and the more you do the better you understand. Here is the example from real life; one of my friends is very good at mating combination and his tactics rating has crossed 2500 whilst his actual rating is not good. He told me that he has been through Laszlo Polgar’s book, 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games, 5-6 times. While writing this I remember my primary school days when, as a punishment, I was told to write particular lessons for 5 or 10 times, but afterwards I was not able forget it for a longer period of time :).
Discussions: Discussing any kind of positions with your friends (even if he is weaker than you) will create more chances to recognise it for a longer period of time rather than doing it alone. I can’t give any proof of this but it is 100% true in my case.
Triggers, incidents and stories: This one can be very useful while teaching kids and adults also benefit from it. For example, while discussing a game with Nigel told me that even if you prove that this is the best move on the board he still didn’t like it (I had captured an opponent’s piece with f-pawn rather than the h-pawn). From that day, whenever I came across a similar kind of position, I am able to recognise it very easily.
Get proper sleep: Although this is not directly linked it has a significant effect on your working memory which you use for recalling positions. A few weeks ago I visited the doctor because I was forgetting very important things quite frequently, including my marriage date, and he advised me to get more sleep. For further information you can look at this article.