HEY NOOBS! Forget Openings, Study Tactics (The right way)

AntonioEsfandiari

Studying openings as a beginner is not only painful but it is pretty much a waste of your time.  As you get better at tactics and you absorb new chess patterns, learning openings becomes a heck of a LOT easier anyway.  It is also easier to learn positional play as you improve at tactics because you will start to understand where the pieces belong, and where they will have the most power/potential in relation to the position.

How important are Tactics?  95% of the games below the 2000 level are won simply because of tactics (calculation). It doesn't matter if you had a great opening, if you blunder a pawn a couple of moves later, your entire opening advantage is gone.  Most games can be won with merely an extra pawn or two. 

When we start out in chess, we all SUCK at tactics!  It is just the truth, there is no beginner who has ever started out being amazing at tactics, this is because first you must accumulate an arsenal of basic patterns, solidify them, and then you can begin to incorporate more complex patterns and ideas to your arsenal.  Even the advanced tactics in chess are often just combinations of simple patterns.

Most tactics, aren't that deep. If you look at a 600 level player's games, they are consistently missing tactics that are only 1/2 a move ahead.  (Undefended pieces, Mate in 1)  This is typically because the 600 player is not looking at their opponent's immediate possibilities.  Most players aren't in a habit of checking their opponent's resources after every move until they are 1200 or even higher!

Improving at tactics, is taxing on your brain.  It is not supposed to be a cake walk.  Tactics training is like going to the gym for your chess, if it is too easy, you probably aren't doing much. This is also why slow games are better for your improvement, you are straining and exhausting those mental muscles.  (I never sleep better than after an OTB chess tournament) 

How to do tactics correctly:

#1 Forget about your rating. Focusing on your tactics rating is MADDENING.  You can easily go up or down 100 points in a day but that is just temporary fluctuation and not a reflection of a 100 pt gain or loss in ability.   Rating always comes AFTER improvement in skill, and sometimes it can take a while for your rating to catch up with your skill. There is always variance in rating and your new data needs time to solidify in your brain.  I was stuck at the 1200-1400 level in tactics for almost a year.  I probably did 2000 puzzles staying around the same rating, I'll have to admit that I had lost some patience with the puzzles and I was spending less time on them, but I kept at it because I knew I was still absorbing new patterns and solidifying old ones

#2 Failed puzzles are your best friend. Correctly solving a puzzle feels GREAT, right? +15?! OH YEAH IM AWESOME, but then you fail two in a row and you are lower than when you started and then you say STUPID PUZZLES and immediately start a blitz game, forgetting about them as fast as possible (You've done it, we've all done it) STOP DOING THAT! You have to modify your own psychology on the issue.  After your initial frustration with PUZZLE FAILED, take a deep breath and open the analysis board. The entire point of tactics training is to get better at tactics, if you got every puzzle right, then you wouldn't be learning too many new things!  After each failed puzzle you MUST ANALYZE IT afterwards to gain the maximum benefit for your time.  Not analyzing your failed puzzles is like lifting weights every day, but not getting enough protein (or amino acids). When you analyze your failed puzzles, two things should happen. 1. You should try to figure out what was wrong with your move. (even more effective is to verbalize this out loud)  2. You should look at the correct answer and describe to yourself what type of tactic it is, and why do you think that you missed it.

#3 Take your time and be focused.  
Turn off the TV, put youtube on pause, go somewhere that is quiet, if possible. Don't be in a rush. When you first open a puzzle, get in a habit of looking at the entire position.  Count the material for both sides, look at the pawn structure, look at the pieces and the squares they can attack, count how many times everything is attacked and defended. Identify the weak squares.  Look for tactical themes https://www.chess.com/article/view/chess-tactics--definitions-and-examples.  

Now start picking  "candidate" moves.  Get in a habit of looking at checks and captures first, as they are the most forcing and allow your opponent a minimum amount of reasonable replies.  Go through 1 option at a time, and try to refute it yourself.  Does this check do anything?  What are ALL of their possible responses? If it looks powerful yet just 1 reply can refute your move, then your move is objectively no good at all.  Try to prove to yourself that your candidate move is bad as fast as possible so you can move on to the next candidate move.  After you have looked at every available check, look at all of the possible captures you have  and apply the same critical process.  Remember when you are evaluating a candidate move capture that is not a check, your opponent doesn't have to directly respond or recapture, so they likely have 20+ legal responses and now you have to look at THEIR checks and captures, you have to look at all of them, as just 1 good response can ruin your entire idea.   After checks and captures if you still haven't found anything promising, look for THREATS, do you have a candidate move that threatens a checkmate? Do you have a move that attacks a valuable piece with a less-valuable one?  can you threaten two pieces at once? Look at the geometry of it, are the enemy king and queen connected in some way?  Same diagonal, same file, same rank, a knight fork apart? Sometimes you even have to start going through EVERY legal move to find the tactic but this is how some of the most genius tactics of all time have been found!  How else would Shirov have found bishop h3, an empty square sacrifice that wins the game, in an otherwise, completely drawn opp-color-bishop endgame null

kindaspongey

"... For beginning players, [Discovering Chess Openings by GM John Emms] will offer an opportunity to start out on the right foot and really get a feel for what is happening on the board. ..." - FM Carsten Hansen (2006)
https://web.archive.org/web/20140627114655/http://www.chesscafe.com/text/hansen91.pdf

AntonioEsfandiari

Hey Spongey! Thanks for posting, but that's not that very good literature for beginners!  Doing puzzles with their time and doing them the right way would be much more effective!  I have coached close to 100 beginners and quite a few of them are becoming strong club players very rapidly.  Tactics Tactics Tactics, that is the #1 priority!

kindaspongey

Didn't say anything about tactics not being the #1 priority.

"... Review each of your games, identifying opening (and other) mistakes with the goal of not repeatedly making the same mistake. ... It is especially critical not to continually fall into opening traps – or even lines that result in difficult positions ..." - NM Dan Heisman (2007)
https://web.archive.org/web/20140627062646/http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman81.pdf

AntonioEsfandiari

@ilovesmetuna Yes!  They don't do enough tactics puzzles!  I have gone from complete beginner 800 level player to over 1800 in under 5 years!  I attribute most of it to staying hungry and TACTICS PUZZLES!

josephyossi

Antonio that is so stupid, you need to know openings coz if u dont you will lose piitfully and you need to study not only openings but midgame and endgame. Endgame is the most important part.

AntonioEsfandiari

You can get to the master level without studying openings really at all.  As long as you understand basic opening principles.  Develop efficiently, control the center, knights before bishops, castle, connect the rooks, pawn storm if opposite sides castled, thats pretty much all you need to know.  Tactics are what win or lose games, not which opening you picked.  Also it is much easier to learn an opening when you are 1500+ level as opposed to 1000 level.  The stronger you get tactically, the more patterns you have solidified and the easier it is to learn openings, because you will actually UNDERSTAND the moves and why they work, and you will be learning the openings instead of memorizing them.  Any 1000 level player devoted to studying openings is wasting their time.  Again what is the point of getting a perfect opening on move 10 you are +.3!!  but then you suck at tactics so you blunder two pawns by move 14 and you are in a lost position.

AntonioEsfandiari

@josephyossi show me one game you lost where it wasn't because of tactics my friend tongue.png (besides timeout)

josephyossi

What if I just won without tactics? Just skill? 

josephyossi

I will show you a game I won WITHOUT Tactics with one bishop. I will just show how the mate looked. I had no plan or tactic. 

 

Reb
AntonioEsfandiari wrote:

You can get to the master level without studying openings really at all.  As long as you understand basic opening principles.  Develop efficiently, control the center, knights before bishops, castle, connect the rooks, pawn storm if opposite sides castled, thats pretty much all you need to know.  Tactics are what win or lose games, not which opening you picked.  Also it is much easier to learn an opening when you are 1500+ level as opposed to 1000 level.  The stronger you get tactically, the more patterns you have solidified and the easier it is to learn openings, because you will actually UNDERSTAND the moves and why they work, and you will be learning the openings instead of memorizing them.  Any 1000 level player devoted to studying openings is wasting their time.  Again what is the point of getting a perfect opening on move 10 you are +.3!!  but then you suck at tactics so you blunder two pawns by move 14 and you are in a lost position.

So , why havent you reached master level ? Do you know any masters that agree with this ?  This one doesnt . I dont know a single master that didnt study openings before they reached master level .  I have never understood why some players think they are qualified to give others advice on how to reach levels that they havent reached themselves .  I do agree that tactics are the most important for beginners but I dont believe anyone can reach master level without also studying openings . 

josephyossi
Reb wrote:
AntonioEsfandiari wrote:

You can get to the master level without studying openings really at all.  As long as you understand basic opening principles.  Develop efficiently, control the center, knights before bishops, castle, connect the rooks, pawn storm if opposite sides castled, thats pretty much all you need to know.  Tactics are what win or lose games, not which opening you picked.  Also it is much easier to learn an opening when you are 1500+ level as opposed to 1000 level.  The stronger you get tactically, the more patterns you have solidified and the easier it is to learn openings, because you will actually UNDERSTAND the moves and why they work, and you will be learning the openings instead of memorizing them.  Any 1000 level player devoted to studying openings is wasting their time.  Again what is the point of getting a perfect opening on move 10 you are +.3!!  but then you suck at tactics so you blunder two pawns by move 14 and you are in a lost position.

So , why havent you reached master level ? Do you know any masters that agree with this ?  This one doesnt . I dont know a single master that didnt study openings before they reached master level .  I have never understood why some players think they are qualified to give others advice on how to reach levels that they havent reached themselves .  I do agree that tactics are the most important for beginners but I dont believe anyone can reach master level without also studying openings . 

Agreed

kindaspongey
AntonioEsfandiari wrote:

You can get to the master level without studying openings really at all. ...

"Every now and then someone advances the idea that one may gain success in chess by using shortcuts. 'Chess is 99% tactics' - proclaims one expert, suggesting that strategic understanding is overrated; 'Improvement in chess is all about opening knowledge' - declares another. A third self-appointed authority asserts that a thorough knowledge of endings is the key to becoming a master; while his expert-friend is puzzled by the mere thought that a player can achieve anything at all without championing pawn structures.
To me, such statements seem futile. You can't hope to gain mastery of any subject by specializing in only parts of it. ..." - FM Amatzia Avni (2008)

AntonioEsfandiari

Thanks for the Jabs REB! Keep me sharp! I am sure you aren't holding any grudges against me for calling you out on sounding racist in your anti-immigrant thread? 
        My coach NM Josh Sinanan has told me many times not to focus on openings, and he supported me each time I changed my main from 1.e4 to d4 to c4 back to e4.  Also my former boss IM georgi Orlov constantly stresses how much more important tactics are than openings before you are a titled player. 
  I have only taken chess seriously for 4-5 years, and I have been improving very rapidly, my OTB improvement is undeniable. Tactics are 70% of my improvement, at least.  And off the top of my head Jerry from YT Chessnetwork claims to have never studied openings and he got to NM level.  I've also heard lots of titled players give this same advice not to focus on openings really until at least 1600-1800 OTB.  When I reach master level as well, without having touched an opening book, I will let you know.  Also I have another friend who is already master+ level in blitz, he will be going back to tournament OTB soon for the first time in 10 years so we will see if he can get titled, and he has spent very little energy on openings besides from what hes learned by playing heaps of blitz and bullet.

Ok so you agree with me that TACTICS are #1 for beginners, that is my main point anyway.   What is your suggestion for the ELO to start putting significant energy into openings?  Because the forum audience on here is mostly 800-1500 players, the stronger players already know how to improve themselves.

HorribleTomato

What if yo a basic member and can only do 5?

kindaspongey
AntonioEsfandiari wrote:

... Any 1000 level player devoted to studying openings is wasting their time. ...

Is anyone advocating that a 1000 level player be devoted to studying openings?

AntonioEsfandiari

If you are a basic member here, there are plenty of other resources to do tactics...great free tactics on at least two other sites grin.png  Or you can just pay for a membership here on chess.com for a month, do an hour of tactics a day, and see if you notice a difference in your chess after a month

kindaspongey
AntonioEsfandiari wrote:

... My coach NM Josh Sinanan has told me many times not to focus on openings, ...

Is anyone advocating that a player focus on openings?

JordanNexhip
AntonioEsfandiari wrote:

@ilovesmetuna Yes!  They don't do enough tactics puzzles!  I have gone from complete beginner 800 level player to over 1800 in under 5 years!  I attribute most of it to staying hungry and TACTICS PUZZLES!

That's pretty slow tbh

AntonioEsfandiari

Paul Morphy never studied openings and he was easily 2500 strength haha.  So many BS chess authors out there trying to make money off of opening books... Post your last 10 OTB tournament games REB, I bet most of them were won or lost on tactics... World Champion Emmanuel Lasker said You can prepare and prepare all you want but when it comes down to it, it's going to be a matter of who is better at  "he goes here I go there"