Chess Master’s Guide to Improve Your Tactics

Chess Master’s Guide to Improve Your Tactics

In this article, we will present you with a definitive guide in order to improve your tactics.

Improving one’s tactics is the most important piece of guidance that a master can give to any player. The use of tactics is an essential component of the game.

For a beginner player looking to improve tactics, it takes precedence over everything else. The term “tactics” refers to a wide range of themes, including sacrifices, forcing moves, and other similar topics.

Forced Moves

Forced Moves are the first moves to consider in a position with high-piece interaction. These positions are also called dynamic or tactical positions. Why is this so? The answer lies in the complex nature of such positions. There are so many possible Candidate moves that it becomes difficult to order them.

Forcing moves helps us to decide the order in which to calculate the moves. With so many possibilities in a position, the idea is to calculate the moves that produce the highest reward.

A chess game’s greatest reward is to conquer the opponent’s king.  Therefore, the first forcing move to consider is a Check. A check directly attacks the king and the opponent has limited moves to dodge the check.

The next greatest reward is to obtain a material advantage. Capturing pieces is a simple way to achieve a material advantage.

Look for possible ‘beneficial’ captures in a position. This is because there can be many possible captures in a position. Some are outright wrong but we should be able to filter out the beneficial captures. This can only come with experience and puzzle-solving.

In a complex position if you cannot directly go for the king or force a material advantage then having the initiative is of great value. So the next forcing move to look for in a position is a move that creates threats.

However, your opponent doesn’t need to respond to your threat. Your opponent can make a threat of his own. Therefore it is important to calculate the consequence of a move accurately.

In most tactical positions you have to combine different forcing moves to achieve an advantage.

Example

If you want to improve or test the level at which you can identify forcing moves then take a look at the following game.

Sacrifices

Nothing is as appealing as a sacrifice for chess players. If you’re a player or a spectator, a well-played sacrifice is pleasing to the mind and the eye. Sacrifices are part of tactics. In chess, there are two types of sacrifices.

The first type is the one that gives up material as a part of a combination. The second type is sacrificing without any combination involved.

When you are solving tactical puzzles, you are training the first type of sacrifice. In other words, the consequences of sacrificing material are clear. Forcing moves and sacrifice have a huge overlap and are essentially interchangeable.

Let’s take an example of this type of sacrifice. In the position below the center is closed but Black’s pieces are not well coordinated.

tactics

White makes a stunning sacrifice to open up the center.  After a forced sequence of moves, White regains the material while retaining excellent attacking chances.

The key elements for spotting this sacrifice were the weak Black king and the favorable geometry of white pieces.

Studying the second type of sacrifice (also called the Positional Sacrifice) is not so clear. To maximize the chances of spotting such sacrifices you need to study positional aspects of the game deeply. The understanding should be so deep that you develop an internal alarm that shows the possibilities of such a sacrifice.

In the following game, Magnus Carlsen sacrifices a central pawn with 14.Na5 to gain control over the weak light squares.

Tactical patterns

In his exemplary work, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman describes the two systems that everyone uses in day-to-day life. They are the sub-conscious and conscious thought processes (System 1 and 2 respectively).

A chess player uses both these systems interchangeably while playing a game. For chess players, it is of paramount importance to develop both systems adequately.

Players like Magnus Carlsen have developed both systems so well that they can access information at blazing-fast speeds.

When you do tactics you ingrain tactical patterns in your mind. This acts like a repository of tactical patterns you have either solved or come across. This is handled by System 1.

When you play a game your subconscious (System 1) automatically recognizes patterns on the board. This comes from all the previous tactical patterns you have acquired.

Seeing as many tactical patterns as possible should be one of the top goals of a chess player.

Search the entire board

In the heat of the game players often overlook the full range of the chess board. The long-range pieces are quite tricky in this regard. They can target squares and pieces from afar and a momentary lapse in concentration can cost dearly.

Therefore while training tactics, it is essential to be aware of what’s happening throughout the board.

In the following miniature, White plays the London system without early pawn moves. White overlooks a long-range manoeuver by Black and it costs him a piece.

Tactics drills

Tactical drills are one of the best methods to improve tactical acumen. Players use tactical drills mainly for three reasons

(a) To internalize tactical patterns

Repetition is the mother of learning they say. By repeatedly exposing ourselves to tactical patterns we automate that pattern. This transfers the pattern to our subconscious so that we can effortlessly access it during a game.

(b) To increase knowledge of tactical patterns

By doing tactical drills you also learn new patterns. These new patterns can sometimes also combine with older patterns to produce new patterns. This is quite a fascinating aspect of the human mind.

(c) To improve the speed of calculation

When you see forcing moves in different positions your calculation speed automatically increases. Seeing these moves work in different contexts helps you build better intuition.

FAQ

How do you solve tactics?

You should solve Tactics actively and fully. A common mistake is to guess the answer or give a partial answer. Try to calculate all the variations while solving tactics.

How can I improve my tactical play?

You can improve your tactical play by solving tactics regularly, doing tactical drills, and analyzing dynamic games with many tactical possibilities

How many tactics problems should I solve per day?

This is highly dependent on the level of expertise and concentration you possess. The emphasis should be placed on the quality of the puzzles. A beginner player can start by solving 15-20 tactics per day.

We also recommend reviewing 7 Things to Do Before Starting an Attack as well as 10 Chess Patterns Every Player Should Know.

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Updated 01.04.2024

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