How many tactical study problems do we really need?

May 31, 2012, 8:53 PM |

Or a Shortcut to chess Improvement.

I will try not to waste your time and keep this short. But I think the approach suggested below offers hope and a logical method to improve quickly.

This is for those players rated below 1700, given that most games are lost due to tactical advantage. As you may already know tactics is the main key to improvement, then openings and then end game play.

I believe the tactics trainer we have here on is the best, because it gradually increases the difficulty of the tactical positions and reduces it when prior problem is not solved. It has a timer, I don’t like it either, but still it is a good measure of chess performance. To make better use of this practice tool you might want to keep a copy of positions not solved so that you can review them offline. And take special note of those counter-intuitive solutions hard to see.

During tactical practice I see many tactical problems that seem different but have the same theme. In effect many tactics are redundant and then there are transpositions which I see as another form of redundancy.  How many examples for tactical study do we really need of smothered mate, or double check, or decoying, or discovered attack, or remove defender, or pins or forking with rook, knight or pawn etc.?

My guess is that we don’t need more than 150 tactical problems for study. I believe if we truly understand the pattern of each problem, and select them carefully we have enough chess knowledge to break the rating barrier of 1700.   

So if we add to this 30 position problems of your favorite opening and use a similar defense opening and then another 50 position problems for end game, we have a total of 230 key study positions. Assuming you have re-selected and re-screened the key tactical deck to your specific problem positions. In effect, you have developed a tactical practice deck custom made to your tactical weaknesses.   

I think it would really be cool if we only had to study 230 key positions to have a rating better than 1700. (BTW, all the tactical problems in your index card deck need not be deeper than three moves.)

This might make much sense given so many tactical transpositions and repeating tactical themes.  And your tactical practice deck is custom made to your specifications.  

We probably need some hard test data to show that this is possible.  For me, it gives me hope that I might only need to study 230 key positions. Maybe some grandmaster might show this idea to be true and useful. Or even show that less is more.


UPDATE 8/9/12 (I have recently developed a collection (165) of basic key tactical positions on index cards. If interested, I can send you a free sample of these cards to your post mail address. You can send me a message through (SamV) or e-mail at