Another method to reach 2000 USCF, Part 5: Tactics
Now let's discuss how to improve your tactics to the level needed for a 2000 player. In principle I agree with de la Maza and others.
I want to make an important distinction here between tactical sight and combinational vision. You don't need to see deep combinations to reach 2000 -- you just need to see the easy stuff consistently.
What do I mean by "easy stuff?" Basically, 1-3 move tactics. That includes things like hanging pieces, a 1-2 move sequence that sets up a double attack, a 1-2 move deflection that sets up a back-rank mate, or a mate-in-3 -- just to give examples.
In other words, you don't need to be "good" at tactics. Just competent enough to spot simple mistakes by your opponent, and the foresight to not make such mistakes yourself (too often).
A lot of people recommend doing tactics so that you can use them offensively. While this is certainly possible, I recommend tactical study so that (1) You don't lose because of tactics in most cases, and (2) You can punish imprecise play from the under 1800 crowd efficiently in tournaments.
Trying to "memorize" tactical patterns misses the mark. Studying tactics is different from studying openings, or middlegame planning, or technical endgames. What we are going to do is develop "muscle memory."
My suggestion is to solve 50 to 100+ tactical puzzles per day for at least 3-4 months. The expression I like to use is: "make your eyes bleed." Do tactical problems until you get a headache.
I constantly hear advice like "do 15 minutes of tactics a day." Yeah, sure, if you want to peak at 1700 this advice is ok.
Immersion is key!
Given the choice between doing an hour of tactics a day or seven hours per day once a week, choose the latter. With almost all other aspects of chess, prefer one hour a day every day. Again, tactical vision is a different beast.
You shouldn't think about tactics, you should simply "see" them. The thinking part is merely calculating to see how to implement your idea (we'll cover calculation soon). Automate tactical identification and concentrate on choosing moves and plans.
In my opinion, you should not concentrate on a particular "theme" or a particular difficulty. Just solve a variety of puzzles of all difficulties, simple as that. Chess.com's tactics trainer is fine, as is Chess Combinations Encyclopedia or CT-Art (the two pieces of software I used before I joined Chess.com). I'm sure there are other sources of good material as well.
I would suggest to solve tactics on a computer and not from a book, so that the machine gives you immediate feedback and keeps firing questions at you automatically. You should be mentally tired after your tactics session.
The reward for this torture? Tactics will simply jump out at you in games -- and that's what we're after.
To be continued...