What is chess? It is two opponents struggling to outwit each other by making a series of calculated moves. A player can’t control what moves his opponent will make, so really the only thing he can do is make the best possible decisions at every stage/move of the game. Each one of these series of decisions must be part of an overlaying plan that he has developed and must be based on which single move at that time gives the best practical outcome, while weighing numerous factors such as; strength of opponent, time available, tournament considerations (do I need to win this game to get first, second, top under 1900 etc…) The player must also bear in mind; his piece development, king safety, attacking possibilities, pawn structure, possible endgame positions, etc…. During a game a player will have to make anywhere from 10 to 100 such decisions depending on the length of the game, and sometime these decisions will need to be made under enormous time pressure. The one thing that is common to each one of these decisions is the consideration of tactics. While playing chess the player needs to be constantly analyzing all the available tactics at his disposal as well as all the tactics available to his opponent.
When I was younger, I always thought my use of the available tactics in a game was one of my strengths, but now that I am older, I found that I am not as sharp as I used to be, and tactics has become one of my weaknesses, especially when facing the higher rated competition I see at tournaments these days. In order to strengthen this facet of my game I have decided to spend less time worrying about openings and more time practicing practical tactics. With a busy family life, I have only a limited time available to study chess and studying openings usually requires an extended period of time to go through different themes and variations. Tactics, on the other hand, can be practiced in time periods as short as minutes. I started my new practice regime around Christmas. The most important aspect of my regime is that I must have tactical problems available to me everywhere I go; at home, at work, in the vehicle. These problems are usually photocopies taken from anyone of the many books available on chess tactics. If I have a few free minutes, whether it’s while I’m eating lunch, going to the bathroom, waiting at a drive through, etc., I can look at one or more problems.
Another thing that I have just discovered which should help strengthen a players tactical ability is the “Chess Tactics Server”. It is a web page which presents you with an endless series of chess problems to solve and then rates you based on whether you found the correct solution and how long it took you to find it. I can usually find the solutions but my time seems to always be slower than recommended especially at the start of a session. The server tracks your progress and improvement over time so you can see the benefit of practice. I’m not sure of their rating scale as my rating on the server is much lower than my CFC rating, but it is the relative improvement that is important, not the rating number itself. I will add a link to the “Chess Tactics Server” on the side of my blog.
I think I have seen improvement in my tactical ability after only two months of practice so I plan to continue with this study method for the foreseeable future. Plus I did play very well in my last tournament and I hope some of it was because of the tactics I saw during the games. The only true test is time so I will have to see how I play in future tournaments.