The Three Parts of Tactical Vision
Written By: National Master Dan Heisman
Internet Research By: "KingsEnemy"
Question: Are doing tactical problems enough to improve your tactics?
Answer: It is necessary, but not sufficient.
During a real game (and not just solving a problem in a book or on the computer), there are really three parts of tactical vision, and none can survive without the other:
1. The general "find the best move" thinking process - of which looking for tactics is just a part
2. Recognizing the "Seeds of Tactical Destruction", and
3. Finding a possible solution to the tactical problem.
Doing a problem out of a book only addresses the third issue. If you are not already doing the first two correctly, you will get diminishing returns. Let us quickly look at #1, since I already have a web page about #2, and everyone knows about #3:
Without going into the kind of wonderful detail found in Adrian deGroot's Thought and Choice in Chess (a great book, but not for layman), here is the rough sequence of thoughts necessary to do #1 correctly once your opponent has made a move:
Was my opponent's move legal? (If not...)
Am I in check? (If so...)
Can I now just force checkmate with a sequence of checks? (Usually not, but if so...)
What about my opponent's move?
Is it safe? Can I just take it off?
Does it make any of his other pieces unsafe by opening up a line, or removing their guard?
Why did he do it?
What can he do now that he couldn't do before?
Did he create threats (you might need to use Seeds of Tactical Destruction)?
If I had threats, how did his move meet my threats?
What are my and my opponent's strengths and weaknesses?
What should I be trying to do?
Only now would you continue to check the Seeds of Tactical Destruction, and see if there are possibilities of tactics. If they indicate there are, then you should use your Tactical Solving Ability gained by doing the tactical problems to either find one for yourself or figure out if your opponent has a combination you need to stop. Or perhaps the game is only in the early opening, where one still has to be tactically careful, but getting out all your pieces is much more likely your goal than spending lots of time looking for combinations that can't exist before the two sides are in conflict. And finally, when you see a good move, put it in your pocket and look for a better one.
Obviously, it takes time to do this right. That is why the best quick players have already honed their skill by playing years of slow chess. In slow chess you learn to do things like this right, and only then are you able to take the kind of efficient shortcuts it takes to play proficient quick chess.
Do good players always use this sequence? No, of course not. They are so used to doing things right that they know which shortcuts to take. They know that tactics are so important that if their opponent creates a threat, analyzing the positional niceties might be a waste of time.
But for beginners and aspiring intermediates, trying to solve a tactical problem each time your opponent has made a move without doing the other things (such as recognizing whether such a tactic might remotely exist) can lead to a lot of frustration.