Tactics, Tactics, Tactics
Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have - Saul Alinsky
Chess is 99 percent tactics - Richard Teichmann
After almost a year of studying chess, it is time to get serious. That isn’t to say I haven’t been serious before this, but I’ve tried to be serious about a bunch of different things. I always tried to jump to the latest study method or new book, and never stuck with any one study plan for very long. That has only slightly worked. I did improve, and when I look back at some of my games from a year ago I feel pretty good about what I have accomplished. But, if I look at ratings, most of that accomplishment happened from January to June (800 to 1200), and not much from July to November (1200 to 1200).
I want to keep improving and I feel like the path forward is to spend some time focusing on one aspect of my game at a time. In everything I read, and on pretty much every podcast I listen to, the advice is the same, “study tactics.” How much to study varies, but I’ve never heard anyone say “don’t bother with tactics, just study [something else].” I feel like a good portion of my games are won or lost by simple tactics.
One problem I have is when I’m doing puzzles, I can usually spot them. When I’m playing a game, I forget that tactics exist until I’m on the losing end of one. This is what I want to change. I want to be the one who sees the tactics and wins games because of them. I believe this will improve my game considerably.
According to my Chess.com insights (new feature), I leave pieces hanging (especially pawns), and sometimes miss when my opponents leave pieces hanging, I have room for improvement in seeing forks and pins, and I often miss mates (even 30% of mate-in-one).
My Study Plan
I spend about an hour and 20 minutes a day on chess. My plan is to break that down as follows:
If I’m more specific about the types of tactics I’m doing:
Here are the specifics:
1. Aimchess - 15 Minutes a Day
I have been doing all of the Aimchess “Today” lessons every day since the end of August. There are usually around 40 lessons/puzzles each day. You can see my quick overview of Aimchess here. Though they have different styles/names, most of the lessons are related to tactics. I do everything that is recommended, but I think the best ones are the “blunder preventer,” “retry mistakes,” “intuition trainer,” and of course just “tactics.”
According to Aimchess, I blunder less than my peers, which seems good. However, I somehow blunder more than my opponents. I’m not exactly sure how that works, since I feel like I only play peers. Aimchess gives me a tactics score of 59%. My goal is to get that much higher!
2. Chessable Tactics - 20 Minutes a Day
I am following the advice from this blog post by Alex Crompton about how he studied tactics using Chessable. I really like the structured approach he described and I really appreciated the specific Chessable settings in that blog post.
Basically I set a timer for 10 minutes and then review any tactics in the Chessable course that are ready, and then fill up the time learning new things in the course. I only give myself 10 seconds per position, so I am working on identifying these tactics quickly. I am currently working on 2 different Chessable courses in this format, for a total of 20 minutes:
- Learn Chess the Right Way - Book 1: Must-know Checkmates by Susan Polgar - Categorized tactics (forks, queen mates, etc)
- Tactics Time 1 - Random tactics
The first one has been pretty easy so far. After 1 week I am about half-way through. Luckily there are books two, three, four, and five to move on to when this one is done. The blog post has other recommendations for tactics books as well.
3. Tactic Books - 60 minutes per week
I completed Chess Steps “Step 1” and started on “Step 2” but did not get very far. I also have “Everyone’s First Chess Workbook.” I feel like these books are still mostly focused on tactics, so when I need a break from a screen I pull out these workbooks. Another option would be to get a different tactic/puzzle collection book.
4. Playing Games - 120 minutes per week
Besides tactics, the other advice I usually hear for beginner players is to play games. This is how I will test my improvement and my “skill” vs. “knowledge.” See this video by Kostya Kavutskiy about Knowledge vs. Skill. I want to be able to prove to myself that I can recognize tactics for myself and my opponent. For every game I play, I need to also spend time analyzing the games afterwards to look for tactics that I missed.
I want to focus on Rapid or Classical time controls because I know I learn more when I have more time to think. Blitz is fun, but I make lots of mistakes and then those bad habits become patterns and I worry I am learning the wrong things. If I was better at stopping and analyzing Blitz games, that might be OK. I also want to play at least some OTB tournaments in 2022.
My actual rating is not as important. I fully expect my rating to be a lagging indicator, likely at least a few months behind the work I put in. I want to use the games to make myself focus on potential tactics and the other opportunities.
5. Master Games - 60 minutes per week
Though I do not spend much time on this, I know deep down that it is important, so I am going to make an effort to study at least some master games each week.
My problem in the past has been either they take to long to set up a board and play through, or I play digitally and do not get much out of them. I am going to try using the Forward Chess app to see how that works.
Filling In The Gaps
- Puzzle Rush (chess.com) or Rated Puzzles (chess.com): I feel like this is a good way to get more practice, when my other studying is done.
- Books: By the time I get to reading books, it is usually right before bed. Not a great time to study chess. However, there are some books about Chess that are about history or general chess knowledge that I will check out.
What I’m Not Doing
- Studying Endgames: For now I am pausing on this as well, though something like Endgame Studies 101 on Chessable from Kostya Kavutskiy is really a different type of tactics training. This may be the first thing I add back as I am looking to expand my training.
- Flashcards: I started making flashcards like Neal Bruce but decided to pause on this for now. I think there is lots of value in using flashcards for tactics, but I am getting some of that from Chessable already, with the benefit of focusing on tactics that I missed.
- Studying Openings: This has been an on-and-off focus for me this year, trying to find a great opening and have a great position out of the opening. However, the general advice is that I do not need to worry about it much at my level, which makes sense since I rarely get past move 4 or 5 of whatever opening I am trying in real games. This will of course be more important as I play stronger opponents.
- Woodpecker Method: I bought this book early on, only to find that even the “easy” puzzles were a stretch for me. I plan to move on to this as I become gain more experience. I have the physical book, but may use the Chessable course for this as well.
- Other Chessable tactic books: In the past year I purchased a couple other tactics books on Chessable. These are good candidates to use in the 10-minute-a-day style I described above:
- See if I can stick with this plan. By writing this down, I am hoping to keep myself accountable. I’ll check back periodically to see how I am doing.
I think this will be enough to help me improve and keep me busy for months. At some point studying only tactics will have diminishing returns, but I feel I have some time before that happens.