How to Become a Tactical Wizard

  • GM Gserper
  • | Aug 3, 2014

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

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! Smile 

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



  • 9 months ago


    In the bottom diagram 22. Rxf6 is inferior to 22Nxf6! which leads to mate in 7 as follows: 22Nxf6! Qe1+ 23Rd1 Qe3+ 24Qxe3 f4 25Qh3 (or 25Qe7 Bb7 26Nxd7 h6 27Qf6+ Kh7 28Qg7#)  25... Nf6 26Qh6 Rg8 27Qxf6+ Rg7 28Qxg7#

  • 23 months ago


    didnt even find the first move!!!:p

  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    matvida   Sorry, but at the "variation from the game", if we look at the moves discovered, after the move Bd3, the comment "Bg5+the only way to avoid immediate checkmat!" it's not accurate, because white have the winning move Qxh7, checkmate!!! It's that ok, if i'm not wrong?

    Bg5+ is check, so white has to capture the bishop first, so he does not have time for the checkmate.

  • 2 years ago


    oh nvm. just noticed why.

  • 2 years ago


    why didnt black take the rook on e5 with his queen?

  • 2 years ago


    very useful

  • 2 years ago


    Hey I might b that GM,GM Serper was talking about.All correct in first try but it took me 20 minutes 

  • 2 years ago


    Please make more of these!!! I love them

  • 2 years ago


  • 2 years ago


    Sorry, but at the "variation from the game", if we look at the moves discovered, after the move Bd3, the comment "Bg5+the only way to avoid immediate checkmat!" it's not accurate, because white have the winning move Qxh7, checkmate!!! It's that ok, if i'm not wrong?

  • 2 years ago



    I'd say that a houdini +1.35 advantage is not yet such a clear win...I guess no engine has implemented every kind of remis. When I e.g. set up a position with K, R and K, R, engine gives an advantage of -0.96, although its clear remis. Or even up to +-2 with different colored bishops endgames and 1-2 pawns plus where the engine just kind of repeads moves => remis. So I'd say that about +-2 a kind of the border where you could still could achieve 1/2 points. 

  • 2 years ago

    IM DanielRensch

    I did not know that, you're right!

  • 2 years ago


    @ Daniel Rensch

    The Grandmaster Preparation series by Jacob Aagard is very good for practising those puzzles. The one called 'Calculation' is the one you are looking for.

  • 2 years ago


    Great article, well done!

  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    After speding half an hour thinking about it I decided that It would be nice to remove the black bishop from there and then double the rooks on the g file but sadly I could not find the tactical solution. 

    Thanks this is a good article. 

  • 2 years ago

    IM chesskingdreamer


    You can probably see that white should be winning in move 7 or so in your variation, as white is up a queen.

  • 2 years ago


    awesome game....

  • 2 years ago


    Not everything chess engine finds can be found under time pressure over the board.

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