Monday, December 15, 2014

the GREAT PATZER on tactics


  For a chess Amateur, Chess tactics should be his FIRST name, and his SECOND name ought to be chess Tactics, and his LAST name really must be tactics too!”

Botched up quote of some wizened and very strong grandmaster in Russia.  (although everyone knows the Russians obsessed on Endgames, just sayin’)

Tactic Principles!

Tactics has a near and dear place in my heart and back in August when I started this I said to myself.  Self which tactics book ought we really learn to master?  And after some trying and thinking about it; I settled to Susan Polgars, Chess Tactics for champions.

After a short while of just blitzing off puzzle after puzzle, my analytical self, starts asking SO how are we doing, and I realize I’m going to have to have a real system for going through these tactics.  After a bit of reading and studying I settled on the following thoughts (with lots of influence from the famous PA chess coach Heisman)

  1. Chess Tactics need timed.  The idea is to “see” the puzzle- and when we do that, solving the chess tactic is very quick*

  1. Chess Tactics need to be recycled.  I think one of Maza BEST ideas.  If we are endlessly covering different and diverse patterns- how do we expect to internalize the patterns?  Learning (at least for an old geezer) means repetition. 
if we feel like we’ve really mastered the pattern- that we could see discovered attack in a millisecond, then this is one less thing to strain about at the chess board.  Both in seizing opportunities and perhaps more importantly in not Giving the opponent the opportunity.

  1. Chess Tactics need to be (Relatively) easy.  As I said I had a choice of tactic books including the venerable Reinfelds 1001.  While his selection seemed wide and his insight was rather deep.  In many it just wasn’t easy enough.   I found myself trying to understand the answer (unsuccessfully) on several puzzles (as in a significant percentage), where did the opponent reply THAT way?  What if the opponent Declines to take some kind of careful baited trap?  

So I had the book, I had the program (roughly) in hand.  I was going to go out and go through polgars book several times and look for improving solution times.  For a while I went through the tactics.  I made one spreadsheet, got some answers that dumped it into another.  After a little while I became more concerned that the analysis was a little weak.

Analysis presented PROBLEMS!

So the original idea was to get the book, look at the puzzle hit a timer and click it again when I noticed the solution.   Take all results and average the results.  After a little while it became clear that this simple analysis isn’t really that ideal.   Yes!  We want to solve problems Quickly, but mostly we want to solve problems accurately and even worse (from a personal point of view), is to Nearly get the solution, but stumble into some kind of variation that doesn’t work.   Chess is a little cruel this way- Having not a clue, is usually worse than seeing it wrong- as the tactics are almost always disadvantageous when botched- when the “I don’t get it” answer means you merely miss the opportunity.

So how do we fit IDGI, Refute and yes even “almost answers” (including those where It takes forever to get the answer)- into a system of times and averages.

The answer I think is to realize that what you want is Statistics and not Averages.   You want to see How many are solved quickly, not so quickly or just accurately solved in any time.  To do this means Subgrouping the problems of course, but this isn’t hard with the polgar book- each chapter is 25 puzzles excepting for the first 3.  so we can group to 25puzzles.

And then lastly and nicely if we just sequentially order the sets, from first group to last- and then from first pass to second and to third (and some fourth)… after a tiny bit of math I’ll explain to anyone who really wants to go into it--- you get

Dark green is puzzles done rapidly, light green is puzzles done medium speed, and lastly those that take took the longest.  For many puzzles- between 30-50 seconds.

And now the two lines.  Yellow is a running average on quick response, and on average we have gone from 35% to 55%. Red is a running average on puzzles done within the slow time frame.

What does it MEAN?

What does this all mean? As I see it.  I’m getting more improvement in solving some problems much quicker, but accounting for that. There hasn’t been too much improvement in getting things done quickly.  You need to bear in mind, this isn’t as depressing as it might seem;  clearly MORE PROBLEMS are quickly recognized by their tactical pattern.  I’m Gaining, on ones that I struggled to see at all in the beginning.  I see about as many MORE of those I lost to the ‘easy’ category.

But Also and importantly perfection is difficult.  A few of my puzzles continue to daunt.  While some of these puzzles had been unsolved or worse (refuted) time after time, Some of the puzzles are just hard enough that there is a substantial effort to solve them.  I’d like to  say that in time I will as well conquer them

But realize that we’re in fact contrasting board vision and pattern recognition.  NOT the same thing.  In fact, I really think pattern recognition is easier to improve in and probably has the bigger effect.   The way I see it , board vision is the big internal chessboard- but pattern recognition is the Alarm buzzer that your going to do something bad, or that great chess is headed your way. 

Early indications are general the “I don’t get it” stupor is the first to go away; with some puzzles continuing to be taxing after several passes.  Unfortunately, the ‘Refute’ is the most stubborn issue to address; and the illness of picking the WRONG variation with the right idea-tends to bounce around between some of the trickier puzzles.   (In response to that, I have tried to temper my timer inclinations.  Stopping the clock and doing a blunder check on my OWN time).

Thank you!

That enough for now and again a big TY to several bloggers who have taken the time to comment and explore their thoughts.   The idea that one blogger would inspire others to write, and explore each other ideas is I think one of the Great upsides to blogging.

I’d also quickly add, that while many pursued chess tactics; probably the guy that used this approach the most was a blogger called “Empirical rabbit”  (
 starting out with Maza Circles he mixed it up with a few ideas of Heisman and came up with almost exactly this system.

I’m not entirely aware of how he handled inaccuracy.  And I’ve been cautious to go with the strict timing method; because of fears of getting refutes and quick thinking.   But I agree with his premise, obviously find his method sound and very much modeled my system on his.  We even did the same Tactic book!


  1. Hello Jason.

    I started reading your blog as it is at the blogroll with chess friends: Aoxomoxoa and Blunderprone. That's very nice to read your thoughts as well. Keep up writing and asking interesting questions!

    I have done a few dozens of thousands puzzles (mostly the same sets repeated many times) and that is what I think.

    1. It is better to solve a puzzle VERY SLOWLY and analyse the other interesting moves. If you are absolutelly sure the other moves and worse (bad), just write down the best one you have caluclated.

    2. When you finish the process of analysing then you should try to see (memorize) the most important ideas from the position you are looking at.

    3. If you repeat the puzzles with a high speed - when you see some problem with ANY puzzle, just STOP. Analyse what you want to know or simple mark it as "for further analysis".

    It is better to analyse and understand WELL 2-3K positions than to solve 20-30K positions without any serious effort into "what happens if I could play that". That's the piece of advice I could give you to help you with making progress! :)

  2. The most important question behind repetition of puzzles is, how is the transfer. To get quicker at a special set of puzzles is one thing, but does this help to solve other, unknown puzzles is the question.
    My personal experience is, than repetiton of complex puzzles ( like the puzzles of CT-Art ) has a negitive effect on the performance of other tactical puzzles.