Which player has never heard that chess is all about tactics?
Well, as the game requires also a good dose of strategy, we cannot say this claim is entirely true. But the thing is it is not totally wrong either.
Indeed, until a certain level, let’s say 2000 Elo or so, most games are decided with a tactic manoeuver, And the more experienced the player, the more she/he is able to annihilate any opponent’s tactical opportunity, because of her/his better ability in that area.
So yes, practicing your chess tactics can definitely boost your Elo, provided you do it the right way.
Here are 5 rules to follow to make sure you will get the most out of your tactical training.
1) Use your downtime consistently
Among all the exercises available to progress in chess, tactical training is probably one of the easiest to put in place. All you need is an online platform (like chesstempo, chess.com or chess24, an application or any chess book of your choice) and 5 minutes of your time.
From a practical point of view, I personally suggest opting for online solutions as you can train anywhere, anytime and on top of that, you can analyze the combinations and save them in PGN.[i]
And because time is precious, using your downtime for your tactical training will become double win; you won’t waste those periods where you have the tendency to do nothing important and instead make regular progress in chess.
From now on, consider every unforeseen 5’ window which frees itself as a trigger to get your mobile or your tablet and aim for 2 or 3 tactics.
And if you’re afraid of not being consistent enough, following these steps should help you fix it.
2) Prefer quality over quantity
It is true that the more you solve tactics, the more you will be familiar with themes and develop your tactical eye. But if you do your series too rapidly, only counting on your intuition and saying to yourself you will see the solution right after, you actually miss the essence of the exercise.
Tactical training is not only a way to recognizing patterns, but also a good calculation tool. Forcing yourself to analyze the candidate’s moves and evaluating them one by one will be much more productive.
This doesn’t mean however that you can waste 30 minutes or more on a puzzle as seen as for a tactic to become mechanical, a bit of speed is also required. The good balance is to allow 60 to 90 seconds for each puzzle.
In the same vain, I strongly recommend you not seeing the theme of the tactic, or any tip that you could have to help you solve, because you have to remember that in real game situation, no one will ever tap you on the shoulder warning you there is a tactic out of the current position.
3) Review and analyze your mistakes
Another important aspect that shouldn’t be neglected is analyzing the puzzle you didn’t manage to put together. If you don’t see a move or some part of the combination during the allocated time, chances are you won’t see it either with plenty of time available.
In those cases, I personally save the PGN and put it in a Chessbase[ii] file called “mistakes”. At the end of the week, I try all the puzzles a second time, and either delete it when I succeed (I might have missed some piece only because of fatigue for instance) or analyze it more deeply if I fail. The point here is to understand what went wrong and why I didn’t think about the idea.
4) Understand and save the novelties
Sometimes, when solving a tactical exercise, you may also miss the entire tactical combination, without even considering it in your potential moves. In such a case, you will follow step 3, analyze what was the solution and most probably realize that you haven’t seen that kind of trick before.
When I’m confronted with a totally new idea like that, I save the tactic in a file I called “novelty” and make sure to include a comment describing my mistake in order to review it later. By doing this regularly, I ensure the novelty becomes a second nature to me.
Here is an example of a new idea I saved recently. I completely missed the queen was protecting the rook on a8 and thus didn’t even considered Re8 in my calculation.
5) Save the tactics that are relevant to you
This last step is probably the most crucial. Knowing your memory is limited, it could be wasteful to spend too much time with tactics which will probably not appear over the board.
For that purpose, I also created another Chessbase file simply called “tactic” in which I compiled all the tactics that come from openings I play. The specificity here is that new notions can come from literally anywhere. A game I glanced through, a live I’ve been following or even a blitz I played. Literally anything is good, as long as it is relevant to you your repertoire.
Saving those new concepts and reviewing them regularly can be a boring task, but is certainly worth if when it comes to your chess improvement.
A quick review of this created file right before a game could certainly prevent a tactical blow don’t you think?
Are you ready?
I cannot lie here; identifying tactics is to a certain extent a talent as it requires a good calculation technique. But I strongly believe that it can also be learned quite quickly and effectively. By training properly and consistently with the 5 tips I gave you, your subconscious will grow to detect tactical opportunities more than you can imagine.
So, are you ready to practice your tactics smartly now?
[i] Portable Game Notation (PGN) is a plain text computer-processible format for recording chess games (both the moves and related data), supported by many chess programs.
[ii] Chessbase is the most well-known chess software that permits analysis and organization of chess games.