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Jan 10, 2010
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Supporting member since Jan 20, 2012

These Tactics notes tidied June of 2016.

The point about these notes is - our methods don't have to be so black-box intuitive.
A science can be made out of this.
How did I discover this?  As follows:

Most of the comments in the Tactics forums concern things like screenshots - results - arguments - or calculated lines ...
There's only a very small percentage of comments about ...
how to actually view the positions! 
But they're there nonetheless.  To find out about that and other things - click "more" below

People do comment occasionally about counting material before calculating -
or looking at the two Kings and their available squares -
or the huge clue of the previous move played -
or noting that certain pieces are loose even though they're not attacked yet -
and many other ideas.
Then I realized that all of these ideas could be compiled - and organized into priorities ...

"But player! - people are going to go through all these checklists when doing problems??!" 
Or:  "People make their own checklists - if at all. -
But even there - those checklists could grow - get complicated."

Answer (1) That's right on the latter - that's why better checklists are better. 
And this is discussion of ideas.  Not some kind of 'instructions' ...

Answer (2): It takes a few seconds or less to actually view these things -
compared with several minutes of actually verbally describing them.
How? Because the brain is a marvelous thing ... There's lots of things like that. 
Including outside of chess.

Answer (3): It takes an awful lot longer to do extra wasteful 'calculations'.
Some of the calculations are necessary - or not wasteful.
But that speculative "if I go here - then he goes there" stuff is so often either premature -
or downright inappropriate for the position!
Leads to inaccuracy - not just gross inefficiency.

So hard facts about the position First!   Money in the bank!
There's also something I call 'lookahead'.  Which is different from 'calculations'.
Lookahead involves observations again - but after a move or moves in the future.
Anyway - on to the ideas!

After players have been through the first four phases of observation -
and early analysis/observation - then its time for 'candidates' -
when one starts to itemize moves that are candidates for calculations.
Before getting into those: I should comment about those first four phases.

In games - we're already aware of material balance - but not in Tactics problems.
So its got to be counted.
May 2016 - best order so far: after the opponent's entire previous move is noted -
then the positions of the two Kings are next -
Position of one's own King first - defensively - then opponent's King -
Then all material on the board should be compared from the top ranked pieces down.
Opponent's Queen and pieces - then one's own Queen and pieces -
then opponent's pawns - then one's own pawns.   Why this order?
 Because of defense and priorities and efficiency.
These ideas could be used in games too ...
Regarding viewing the opponent's previous move - it should get extra attention initially -
Where the piece came from - what it took if anything -
where it now is and the effects of all three.
Not just why we think the opponent made this move.
Why?  Because the previous move is the top-ranked clue in tactics ...

After these three initial and vital observations steps:
Then some analysis of other clues and outstanding features of the position is in order.
For example - observing there's a Pin and its effects -
that is NOT calculation - its part of observation and early analysis.

Then viewing the candidates' options is in order - but again - is Not calculation
These have a hierarchy - or order of priority as follows:

Options for:
Checks - mate threats - promotions - captures - other threats and attacks - other tactics - positional moves.
Seven groups.

#1 When surveying available checks its better to see early -
how many of one's pieces can check.
In this way checks are not missed.  That's a modular approach.
If the Kings have been viewed even earlier and their flight squares noted -
and current square (King's squares for short) - (Including a second time)
then the selection of which check or checks to examine first - is often greatly enhanced.
Whether in lookahead or on the current move.
As are other factors in the general process.

Item #2: options to threaten mate.   The most overlooked thing in all of TT. 
Especially in endgame positions.
When checks don't look good enough it should be examined next. 
And again there's a method.
Each piece could be considered one at a time from the highest-ranked down.
Example:  Can my Queen create a mate threat?   What about my rook?  Other rook?  Bishop?
And so on.  Why do it this way?  Because Tactics is all about finding Killer Moves!
A slight subtlety:  When you move the piece to create the mate threat -
its not necessarily that piece - that is then threatening the mate!
Mate threats and the options to make them take many forms.

#3 Promotions.  Usually not available. Amazing that they're often overlooked anyway.
And seen as one option.  Its actually four options Q - R - B or N.
But such an easy thing to notice -
one of the reasons its fairly high on the list.

#4 Captures.  One of the pitfalls with captures is -
the fact its a capture is often secondary or superfluous ...
where its the square (arrival or departure squares or both) that's key - not what's on it.
Or that its much more important its a check or a mate threat or other tactic! 
whatever the case.
Even a pin already in place - could also be an available capture.

#5 'Other threats and attacks'.   A huge category.   Before starting to assess it -
one first should've viewed what holds what and what is loose and what attacks what.
Two more things easily missed within this category are:
"next-ranked target" and "piece-relevancy"

Example 1: coming up empty on 'king hunts' and promotions and captures -
so start looking at hunting the Queen -
then hunting the rooks and so on - all the way down to pawn-hunts.
Scalar (hierarchical) priority of targets.

Example 2: many many problems are so so Resistant! Putting it mildly!
So now after 'hunts' are also not working ... then each group of pieces -
starting with the two Kings - then the Queens and so on down -
can be examined for "relevancy".

There's a refinement with knight-relevancy. If the knights are not too far away -
they're probably relevant but the trick is noting the colors of squares -
as in color of square the opponent's King and other major pieces are on!
And the color of square your knight or knights are on. 
This is NOT calculation.  Its observation.

#6 'other tactics'.  Another big category.
For examples - zugzwang - opposition - blocking a promotion -
and various defensive actions to name some.

#7 positional moves. Our chess should not be 'over-tactical'.
Don't positional moves actually outnumber tactical moves?
Developing pieces - the center - restricting the opponent's development - and -
King-safety - Q-position - pawn structure.

Pitfall: to put positional moves and tactical moves in entirely separate boxes -
a common mistake.  Even semantically.
Many moves can be both positional and tactical!  And when they are very distinct -
they still go hand in hand!
Meaning - we might use tactics to obtain positional situations -
and we might use positional play - to obtain tactics.  So might our opponents!
And even when these situations are not thusly intended -
they come up over and over again ANYWAY - either way.

may2016 - issues: when forming the candidates options -
does one have to look at the opponent's candidate-options too?
Yes. Put it this way - if you don't - you're getting clobbered in games. 
As to how this affects the order - that's another issue.  Although to some extent -
your opponent's counter-options can be taken care of during calculations ...

Next issue: after noting the candidates options - what's next?
more ongoing analysis of observed information and clues -
preparation of calculations which requires selectiveness -
then the calculations themselves -
which require shallow-wide initially with deep-narrower to come in later -
and which also require constant monitoring -
and returns to both analysis/decision and more observations
Much of this happens anyway - but we're often not consciously aware of same.
And that's the POINT. We're not completely aware.
So - That is where some opportunities for change come in.  By making this a science.

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