There is no need to explain the importance of tactics for a tournament player.
I bet you've all heard the cliche "chess is 99% tactics," or an anecdote about a grandmaster who was a famous endgame specialist. (Was it Smyslov? I don't remember.) When he was asked about the secret of his powerful endgame play, his answer was "calculations"!
To paraphrase this anecdote, the secret of strong opening, middlegame, or endgame play is calculations!
How should a chess player improve his tactical abilities? It all depends on his or her chess level. A good place to start for a beginner would be a primer book on tactics or the tactics trainer here on Chess.com.
But at some point you'll need more sophisticated exercises. The problem with most of the books on tactics is that they give you indirect hints. For example, if you are doing a puzzle in a chapter on pins, you know that you are supposed to look for a pin. If it is about back rank then you know where a checkmate should come from.
Meanwhile, in a real tournament game you are on your own. You don't even know if there is a combination in the existing position, let alone the idea of the combination.
Today we'll try a different approach. I offer a very interesting position for your analysis. You only know that there is an extremely complicated combination there, but nothing else . Give yourself 30-40 minutes and try to find the combo and calculate it as far as you can. Then write down all your findings and compare to the moves played in the game.
I doubt that you will be able to see all the moves, but if you manage to anticipate all the tricks of the attack and defense, then I'll be happy to know that there are grandmasters among my readers!
A Wizard Did It by Dwayne Bent
For most of you this combination will probably be too difficult to find. Don't worry, just re-play the game and try to guess it move-by-move. It is much easier to find the best moves this way.
Now, without further ado, let me present the game played in the Soviet Championship 50 years ago :
As you could see, Black was so shocked by the unexpected combination, that he chose to immediately return his extra material trying to bail out. Now find a winning way against Black's better defenses:
and now try to break Black's most stubborn defense:
Even if the most of the variations were too difficult for you to find, I am sure you still enjoyed the beautiful combination of our favorite sailor.
As far as I know, the book of Kholmov's selected games was never translated into English. It is a shame, because besides this beautiful game, it has many more chess gems of the famous Soviet grandmaster.
I strongly recommend you practice this kind of tactical exercise: set up a position from a game played by a strong chess player where a combination was executed and try to write down all the variations you see.
With some practice you'll soon discover that your calculations get better and you can correctly guess many moves and variations played in the game. Do this kind of tactical training on a regular basis and I can guarantee your tournament results will improve!
article image: Ratmir Kholmov via wikpedia