How to Improve Your Chess

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. Tactics, Tactics, Tactics

I spent a lot of years knocking around chess clubs and I’ve seen my share of upsets happen. You might have seen a few yourself; in the midst of a tournament game, suddenly the word starts going around that Jim, rated 13xx, is taking apart one of the 1900-rated or Expert-titled “top guns”. Despite the normally quiet atmosphere, the “buzz” starts and you see players getting up on their opponents’ turn and walking over to see what’s happening in Jim’s game. Sure enough, Jim’s laying a whuppin’ on one of the club’s top players.

If you’ve seen this happen (as I have) and you take the time to find out what kind of chess reading material Jim’s been carrying around in his tournament gig bag (as I’ve done), you’re not likely to see “Winning with the Najdorf” or “Be a Killer with the Ruy Lopez”. These books have their uses, of course, but what you’re more likely to see in Jim’s equipment bag is a battered, dogeared copy of “One Zillion and One Tactics Puzzles”.

Yup, friends, it’s true. Studying tactics is going to improve your chess game a whole lot faster than rote memorization of boatloads of opening variations. In fact, studying and practicing tactics will improve your chess a whole lot quicker than any other kind of chess study (although studying endgames runs a really close second). If you learn to recognize tactical opportunities as they present themselves, you’re going to start racking up more wins. The next step, of course, is learning how to create those opportunites. But neither of these happy circumstances will occur if you don’t even begin a program of tactical study.

It doesn’t even have to be anything elaborate or terrifically well-organized. Just solve five or so tactics problems every day. That’s it. It’s just like an “easy weight loss program” except that this actually works. Don’t spend two hours every day solving dozens or scores of tactics problems – that just turns your brain to mud. Simply solve five (or ten, if you’re feeling ambitious) tactics puzzles each day and, most important of all, take the time to understand the problems. Look at them and figure out why they work as they do.

There are a truckload of tactics books available. The better ones offer text explanations of each type of chess tactic, along with examples and lots of problems to solve. Start with one of these; after you finish it grab one of the “Bazillion and One Tactics Puzzles” books and work your way through that.

A higher-tech, but no less effective, solution involves working your way through the numerous software programs which offer tactics training(descriptions and puzzles) in an organized manner. While not as portable as a print book, these programs often have the advantage of allowing you to finish the game – in other words, after you’ve solved the problem and won the material, you keep playing the game out to a conclusion. You cop off your opponent’s Rook, then play the game out to try to use that overwhelming material advantage to polish off your opponent. (You don’t often win a piece at the chess club and see your opponent fold up and resign on the spot; at least that never happened at the clubs I played at, so you may as well get used to the idea early that you’re gonna have to finish out the game).

Either way, solving tactics problems is easy and it’s fun. You’re not going to see “insta-improvement”, but if you solve just a few problems a day (and understand why the problem works the way it does), you’re going to start seeing and exploiting these opportunites in your own games. And that equals “better chess” in my book.

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