Analyze 3 Positions for 20 Minutes Each
After completing the five month long Seven Circles tactics training program back in December, 2013, tactics are still the reason I lose most games to higher rated players. Often I lose to a tactic, not because I couldn't see it, but because I didn't look for it. In other words, my thought process broke down and I became momentarily lazy, reverting back to what NM Dan Heisman terms Hope Chess.
When I put together my current weekly training plan back in July, 2013, I knew Hope Chess was one of my bad habits--a habit that had kept me in the sub-1300 rating gutter for almost 16 years. So, an important part of my plan was to practice my thought process, tactics, and calculations skills every week in a cohesive manner--as close to game like conditions as possible.
I set up a training method, inspired by a suggestion from GM Lev Alburt in his book Chess Training Pocket Book, that I call "Analyze 3 positions for 20 minutes each." Here's how to do it. Find a set of positions that contain relatively complex positions. They could be tactics that are challenging for your level or they could be open positions with a lot of possible variations.
Then, choose three positions from the list. Set a chess clock or timer to 1 hour. For each position in turn, set it up on a physical board and analyze the position. Look at all the variations you can until you think you have found the best one. Write down your candidate variation in a notebook and include every subvariation. (It is important to be thorough.) Once you are done writing it down, stop the clock and check your evaluations against either a book's solution or a computer's.
Do this for all three positions. But, you must complete all 3 within the 1 hour. So, for instance, if the first one is easy and you finish in 5 minutes, you still have 55 minutes to complete the final 2. But, if you take 40 minutes on the first problem, you'll only have 20 minutes to finish the final two!
To score: 3 correct is a win. 1-2 correct is a draw. 0 correct is, unfortunately, a loss.
I dedicate 3 hours a week to this training technique (so 9 problems per week) and I am using both Chess Training Pocket Book and the Manual of Chess Combinations, 1B by Sergey Ivashchenko. After I complete these2 books, I may take a look at either Positional Chess Handbook by Gelfer or Practical Chess Exercises by Cheng, both of which are more strategically focused.
This technique has been very effective in improving my tactical vision, calculation, thought process and clock awareness. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
To end, here is an interesting endgame problem from my Analyze 3 positions for 20 minutes training session earlier today. It is from Chess Training Pocket Book: