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Tactical Training Cheating

For about a year, I was a cheater. No, not that kind of cheating, this dog is faithful. I’m talking about cheating on the tactical trainer. Perhaps worse than the actual cheating, was that I was really not that aware of it. It’s my own fault, Chess.com already admonishes in the Study Plan Directory, “…please don't rush the puzzles! It is vital that you take the time to fully understand each puzzle you got wrong.” Because I ignored that advice, I found a good way to get it right and yet be absolutely wrong. I was cheating, and in the process, reinforcing bad habits.


This all seems contradictory, but this is how I did it. Take this problem:


So I got it right, right? I got it wrong. I got it wrong because that wasn’t the whole answer. Look at what I didn’t notice, and notice what I told myself in response:

 

Now as each move came up I easily adjusted to it, saw the solution, moved, got it right, and ended up winning the points. So I counted it right--back then. Now I see what I was doing was wrong.


What made me see the light?


A couple things that came together. One night I was watching NM Dan Heisman, and he described a way to use the tactical trainer that I hadn’t considered before. He suggested studying tactics in order to quickly recognize tactical situations. By this time, I had given up on the tactical trainer. It didn't seem to be helping my game, and I had become more obsessed with the rating points than the actual training it offered anyway. His suggestion made me go back to it. I turned off the clock, and limited the problems to 1100-1300 strength, and tried it his way. Of course I began to get a lot more of them right—but I was still getting some wrong, so that told me I wasn’t recognizing the situations as I should. I figured I’d just keep practicing this way, and over time I’d recognize the situations almost automatically. Not sure whether or not it was coincidence, but my play over the electronic board did appear to noticeably improve shortly after I started using it this way.


However, I was still cheating. I needed someone else to bring this to light. That came from NM Bill Richards. He suggests a program to become a National Master, based upon playing slow chess, ensuring you come up with a list of candidate moves, take your time, play the best move you can, and then analyze your game for mistakes afterwards. Focus on your own games so that you can build on your understanding from where you’re at. Over time, you’ll improve, keep doing it and it may lead to Master someday. So I began to do this.


At some point while practicing with the tactical trainer a light bulb finally went off in my dim wit—why don’t I try mixing analysis with the TT? Really study how and why I’m getting them wrong. Analyze them like I do my own games? Identify and catalog my thinking deficiencies?


And that's when it occurred to me that I had actually been cheating. I often found myself surprised by the defensive moves of my electronic opponent. That meant I was not considering all of the important replies, which meant I was still doing impulse moves, which also meant I was actually practicing playing that way!


So now I play the TT differently. It is set lower, although I have recently increased it to 1200-1400 strength to make it more challenging. No clock. I take my time. I try and notice all the resources of my opponent. If I’m surprised by the defense—then that means I really got it wrong. Then I categorize what I’m getting wrong, or notice how many times the same kind of mistakes are being made. I’m uncovering my thinking deficiencies. Besides impulse moves, I will often fixate on an idea, and discount moves (often quite subconsciously). I used to suffer from Queen Infatuation. I was too fond of the old girl. The TT has reversed that tendency. I now delight in making the King a widower if it means he wins. Let him get a fresh, young queen.


So no more cheating yourself. When you stop cheating yourself, that’s when you really start winning.

Comments


  • 8 months ago

    ryansth16

    Awesome post! I did hide the clock, but this made me realize that I actually ended up caring more about the rating points than doing the problems properly and correctly so I started blitzing out the moves on impulse anyway. I used to do it this way and improved quickly. Once I stopped I stopped improving. Time to get back into 'real' tactics training :)

  • 11 months ago

    Somebodysson

    so I find two blogs in one day that I want to read lots in; I am wanting to be able to track your blog posts, but it seems all I can do is track comments in individual topics. Oh well, I'll find you. Excellent instruction and inspiration. 

  • 11 months ago

    Somebodysson

    yes, yes, perfect. realize the cheat every time I am surprised by TTs move.Excellent. I wish I could somehow bookmark your blog. I'll see if I can. I want to read more of your writing. Thank you. 

  • 15 months ago

    asm64

    great post. i will start doing this.

    in 'winning chess tactics for juniors' lou hays suggests not spending more than 5 minutes on a problem. then study the answer to make sure you understand it.

    it's a pity you can't set such a timer in the tt preferences.

  • 17 months ago

    TheMushroomDealer

    One of the best blogs what I have ever read

  • 17 months ago

    robthepek

    Words of truth.

  • 17 months ago

    Chessmo

    Nice post. I also hide the clock and try to calculate out the whole sequence before making my first move. Then, I "blitz" the moves out once I've calculated my sequence.

    It is a hard discipline to follow and I am not always perfect at it.

  • 17 months ago

    ShyamGopal

    very true

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