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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crush Your A.N.T.'s and Play Your Best Game Ever!

Most of our work to improve at chess involves increasing our knowledge and skill of the game of chess. However, there is another aspect to the game - the game within our minds. Sometimes, our opponent isn't just sitting across the table (or the internet) from us. Sometimes, our toughest opponent is between our own ears!

I had a very insightful and interesting conversation with Greg Liberto - the HEAD Coach. Greg is a professional coach, author, and speaker who primarily helps professional golfers play their best golf ever. He does this by helping them understand and eliminate their Automatic Negative Thoughts (A.N.T.'s). In this interview, we discuss A.N.T.'s and strategies to face and overcome them and use them to our advantage. We discuss the similarities between golf and chess, and Greg coaches me through discovering my A.N.T.'s and developing several strategies to use when I notice them during my games.

Automatic Negative Thoughts


  • A.N.T.'s occur in 90% of our thoughts and are automatic.
  • It is impossible to perform at our best when we have A.N.T.'s.
  • By developing strategies that describe high-level thought processes we can stop A.N.T.'s in their tracks.
  • These strategies - which are simple phrases - can be repeated to yourself when you have A.N.T.'s.

"Hit My Target"

 

  • A strategy to focus on what matters - what we can control
  • The golfer vs. the sniper - similar goals, but the sniper is totally focused on one goal, while the typical golfer is worried about bad shots he made, responsibilities at home, and other worries that don't matter in the moment.
  • By learning to "Hit My Target" - golfers focus on what they need to do in the present to play their best. Chess players can employ similar strategies to their games - move by move!

Sample Strategies

 

  • "Play Real Chess" (a concept introduced by chess coach Dan Heisman used here as a reminder to consider your and your opponent's options).
  • "Play Your Game" - Don't worry about what your opponent knows or what surprises he has prepared. Focus on what you know and what you have to do to play your best.
  • "Have Fun"
  • "Relax"

Greg goes into more detail in the video on these concepts and several more. He was very generous with his time and I truly appreciate the perspective he brings to us.

Enjoy the video!




Your Turn


What A.N.T.'s do you suffer from? Share them with us, and then share 3 positives to counteract them. Also, Greg will be following up with us so if you have any questions let us know in the comments. Also, I'll be posting 20 questions that Greg uses with his coaching clients to help them discover strategies they can use to crush their A.N.T.'s - adapted for chess.

If you want to contact Greg, you can e-mail him at Greg(at)theheadcoach.us (just replace the (at) with a @).

Resources

The HEAD Coach (www.theheadcoach.us): Greg's site where you can find golf tips and strategies.

18 Holes: How to Stop the A.N.T.s from Stealing Your Game: Greg's book about golf is a quick read and all of his advice can be applied to chess.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Conversation with IM Christof Sielecki (Chessexplained)

IM Christof Sielecki
I had a great conversation with International Master Christof Sielecki on June 16th, 2014. Christof has one of the most popular chess channels on YouTube, Chess Explained. He is a prolific commentator on this channel, uploading daily blitz games as well as analyzing games from some of the strongest tournaments in the world. Christof is a professional chess player and coach.

In this interview, we discuss several topics:
  • Christof's start in chess and his journey to the IM title
  • The importance of studying the right things in chess
  • How to study the opening
  • His upcoming chess book and insights he gained from writing it
  • How to use blitz chess to improve (and his encounter with the world's best blitz player)
  • New and exciting content planned for Chess Explained
I'll be breaking down some of these topics in future articles which I will link to this page, but for now, enjoy the interview! Also, very soon I'll be linking to a game of Christof's that he will be putting on his channel specifically for Better Chess Training. Stay tuned!



Update!

Since my interview with Christof, he has been busy! He has published a book on the Nimzo-Indian and Bogo-Indian and he also has a regularly featured show on the Internet Chess Club.

Christof also is an author on Chessable.com. You can study repertoires he has created and practice them on Chessable.com.

So happy to see his continued success in the chess world!



Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Chess Experiment: Time on Task

When you play a long game, what percentage of the time do you spend actually thinking about the game at hand?

If you're like many tournament players, it's probably not as much as you think. You may get up, get a drink of water, use the bathroom, watching the other games or checking out an attractive person across the playing hall. During a 4-5 hour tournament game, you may only actually think about your game perhaps 50% of the time. Well, at least that's what I observed during the 50% of the time I wasn't thinking about my games!

There is a concept well-known in education circles called time on task. In education, it's the amount of time that a student actually spends on learning! Research has shown that the more time a student engages in a learning activity, the better the student learns the material - a fairly logical conclusion. Since this concept was introduced in the 1970's it was further refined into concepts such as allocated time, engaged time, and academic learning time, but we'll keep it simple for now. 

My hypothesis is that if players increase the percentage of time on task during their games, the better they will play. I have some casual data on this topic based on my observations during tournaments. Normally, playing halls during tournaments are set up with the strongest players at one end and the weaker players at the other end. If you stick around and watch what happens during a tournament round, the players on the "weak side" finish their games first and usually end up watching the top boards.

I had the opportunity to play in the same tournament as U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky. As I watched him play - yes, I was done with my game - I noticed a few things. First, he seemed very focused for most of his game. He would occasionally get up, but even then, he was looking upward slightly toward the ceiling - perhaps visualizing variations in his mind. Once or twice, he got up to get a drink or use the bathroom. He rarely did what I see many amateur players doing during these long tournament games.

Finally, I remember an old article by Canadian Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett (although the web site seems to be gone now) where he discussed increasing time on task (he didn't use the term specifically). He attributed his rise from an "average" Grandmaster to becoming one of the top players on North America - winning several of the largest Canadian and U.S. Tournaments - to reducing the amount of time he watched other games and talked to his friends during tournaments and increasing the time his butt was in his seat focusing on the game.

A Chess Experiment


To help test my hypothesis, I'll be conducting a little experiment over the next couple months with my long internet games. These games would include my team league games which have time controls of 45 minutes with 45 second increment as well as my ICC Tuesday Standard Games with a time control of 60 minutes with no increment. I will record my time on task as a percentage of total playing time and record my performance.
  • I will start a stopwatch when I am seated and thinking about the game. 
  • When I get up from the computer or do anything not related to the game (e.g. browsing the internet or e-mail) I will stop the stopwatch.
  • I will then divide this time into the total playing time of the game. I also include my opponent's time in this as we can think during our opponent's time as well. 
  • I will record the performance of these games, including not just wins, losses, and draws, but also rating performance.
After this experiment, which I want to have a sample size of at least 10 games, I will look at the data in several ways.
  1. Comparing performance for the top 50% of  games based on time on task to the bottom 50% of games.
  2. Comparing the average time on task for my wins, losses, and draws.
  3. Observing the change over time of my time on task.
In true scientific fashion, we will see if increasing time on task actually makes a difference. In two or three months, I'll write the follow-up article to this one with the results of the experiment. At the very least, it will probably help me increase my self-awareness during my games, which is a good thing.

Your Turn


Do you want to help with the experiment? Post your time on task, total playing time, the rating of you and your opponent, and the result of the game. I will include your data along with mine. Please, only games with longer time controls (at least 60 0 or 45 45). Also, if you want to post your observations from doing this experiment, feel free to do so!

Resources


Time on Task: A Strategy That Accelerates Learning: A concise discussion about the topic from the Florida Education Association website with further references on the research.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Top 3 Chess Channels on Youtube

Chess videos are a great way to increase your knowledge in chess. Because video is a visual medium, you can see the pieces being moved. Also, the commentators usually are a little more conversational in their explanations of the moves, making it easier to understand than the terse comments sometimes found in books. The videos are often very well indexed, so you can search for specific openings or players. Of course, the videos can also be fun.

There are commercially produced videos for sale, but there are also many chess channels on YouTube with free videos. In today's post, I will be highlighting my favorite YouTube channels that I feel have the most instructive content.

#3: kingcrusher


This channel is run by Tryfon Gavriel, aka kingcrusher, a British FIDE Candidate Master who is also a top 50 Rapid player on the ECF Rating list in 2013. His channel has over 5000 videos, making it perhaps the largest on YouTube. He is also the webmaster of www.chessworld.net.

Kingcrusher has many types of instructional videos available, including analysis of master games, analysis of his own games, as well as live commentary of his blitz games and other instructional videos. Tryfon Gavriel has a very engaging style of speaking, and he uses the chess engine well to assist him in his analysis of positions. When I say he uses the chess engine well, I mean that he doesn't just say "Stockfish gives this line a +0.51 evaluation." Instead he explores the lines and explains in plain language the reasoning behind the move, which is very helpful.

I think his videos are helpful to players of all experience levels, perhaps leaning toward intermediate and above.

#2: Chess Explained


Chess Explained is run by German International Master Christof Sielecki. He is also very active, many times uploading multiple videos on one day, particularly of his blitz commentary. A majority of his videos are live commentary of his blitz games, but he also has commentary on current chess tournament games - often highlighting one or two of the best games each round. Also, he has a couple playlists with opening repertoires, where he outlines the theory and strategy for specific repertoires.

I think the strength of this channel is his live commentary. He tries to give you his thoughts while he plays (which is amazing when many of his games are 5-minute blitz games). By doing this, you get a feel that you are in the game with him, and can understand why he makes certain decisions. In my opinion, IM Sielecki also explains positional ideas such as pawn structure or piece value very well in his videos. He is also quite humorous at times, and self-deprecating when he blunders. I think it's good to see that masters can be human also!

I think Chess Explained is good for players of all experience levels, although some of his commentary videos again lean more towards intermediate players who may have more exposure to some of the basics of strategy and tactics.

#1: Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis


This Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis Channel provides a rotating cast of titled players that give lectures at the chess club. They classify their videos by level: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Some of their presenters include Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Ben Finegold, and Irina Krush among others.

This channel has a variety of content. They have the Beginner Breakdown, which is very accessible to the less experienced player. As you know from my book recommendations, I am a fan of GM Yasser Seirawan, and his lectures are not to be missed! The videos cover current games, openings, strategy, endgames, and other aspects of chess.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis Channel is my favorite on YouTube because of the variety of lecturers as well as the quality of instruction and production value of the videos. In my opinion, they are currently the gold standard for instructional videos on YouTube.

Conclusion


There are many different ways to acquire knowledge in chess. Books have been around for a long time, but the internet and videos are are great source of material to help you improve in chess. There are many channels on YouTube that provide great material by excellent instructors. The three I listed are my favorite. Be sure to check them out as well as the Better Chess Training channel. In future posts, I will be showing you different ways to maximize the benefit you receive from them. Until then, best of luck and of course Better Chess!

Your Turn 


What Chess Channels on YouTube do you enjoy that I haven't mentioned? Post them in the comments!


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Interview with a Master: Jari Järvenpää

It is my absolute pleasure to present an online interview I did with Jari Järvenpää, a FIDE Master who lives in Tampere, Finland. He is an active player and chess coach on the Internet Chess Club and on Chess.com where he is also known as NFork. His current FIDE rating is 2285. He was friendly and generous with his time as he provided with some answers that I think will be greatly appreciated by those wanting to improve in chess. All of my questions and comments are in bold.

Tell us a little about yourself (age, home, profession, etc.).

I am 33 and I live in Tampere, Finland. I am at the end on my university philosophy studies. I like jogging, training at the gym and swimming. I also swim on winter time and yes, in the lake as well.

Do you find that your exercise (jogging and swimming) helps you to play chess better?

Well most of the long sport that lasts at least 1 hour should increase the stamina and help to get better results also in chess. After all the games last 4-5 hours and some tourneys may last over week.

In my case I don't swim long distances so it is mostly just enjoying the water element which is very love for Finns, because Finland is the land of thousands lakes :) And not to mention sauna! I sometimes do 1-2 hour jogging or gym workouts and they should increase the points in chess. I know many players who play very persistently and defend their bad positions very long sometimes even winning them. They may not be well-fit, but certainly if players would be then there are better chances to fight longer in chess.

When did you start learning chess?

I started playing chess when I was 10-years-old. I always lost to my big brother on start: It was good training and I was motivated to play and search for the mistakes in my games.

As you were progressing to your current chess strength, what was the most biggest obstacle for you during your chess development? How did you get past it?

I could say a couple. The first obstacle (when I was around 2100 rated, but I might have had it also before that level ) was to combine solid positional style with moderately aggressive playing style that seeks the initiative and actively uses it. There were times I played speculative attacks and luckily won many games, but also there was a phase when I didn't play enough actively. This obstacle was mainly solved with general game analysis and also with thinking about forming plans plus realizing that playing too intuitively causes many mistakes.

The second was to avoid all kinds of emotions during games, because they often cause tactical oversights. For example, a lot of players become scared of a menacing opponent piece or overexcited of an advantage. It's clear that these are partly reasons for mistakes although lack of chess understanding also has some impact. Without emotions, the mind is more sharp in chess. But you can and you should use your intuition as well. In the past, I have used some self-motivating thoughts like "this is only beginning of the game" and "Easiest thing in chess is to get the advantage, harder is to turn that into win" when I have had the upper hand but trying to avoid overexcited about it! General hints are to change my attitude before the game to fight a long game and also during the game to notice the emotions and somehow try to get rid of them - for example, by going away for a couple minutes.

I am quite focused on the 2nd obstacle because in one tourney I managed to avoid almost all emotions and I got good results. Because of that I am thinking it was not a coincidence.

Were there any "Ah-ha" moments in your chess development where you made great progress or knew you were going to become a chess master?
Generally, it's much about patterns in chess. It all started very slowly with realizing there are superficial and deeper reasons for mistakes and I knew that when I was perhaps something like 20, but I didn't work it out much. Deeper reasons often are some patterns that are to be seen. They cause lot of our losses. It's natural for people to try to forget (painful) losses, but it's ironic, because losses would offer lot of information and hints how to improve. Losing is painful and partly because of that it is easy to make up some superficial reason why a mistake or a losse happened.

I have made silly mistakes in the past and sometimes I still do, but in the past I somehow knew that some day I will overtake those obstacles that cause too many silly mistakes. Of course, I have to admit that generally my skills are much weaker compared to higher rated players and for example psychological aspects of chess doesn't explain all my mistakes.

Are there any specific training or study methods that you used as you were progressing in chess that you found very helpful?

Please try to avoid blitz and rather play at least 15 5 games and analyze them a bit. I have done that a lot in the past.

Were there any particular chess books that you found helpful when you were a younger player?

I think most important book for me was "Two chess geniuses." although I am not totally sure about it's English translation. Nevertheless it was about Alekhine and Capablanca. I think there were lot of beautiful games where players formed a plan but also followed the plan.

Do you have a favorite player that you study or emulate (from the past or present)?

I used to admire Karpov's games. He played good strategical chess and what I wrote in question 6 could also be about his games. Just recently I remembered advice of some GMs to choose strong player who plays sharp chess to emulate his style and I chose Anand. I followed some of his great games and they were inspiring! I try to examine them in future as well. The games don't have to be his new games but also old ones.

What is your best (or favorite) chess result in tournaments?

6½/9 from Heart of Finland which was played July 2011. I could rather say the result from start, 6/6, because I managed to beat many higher rated opponents. I would like to get other good results.
I asked Jari to share one of his favorite games. He was very generous to provide the following annotated game (all comments and analysis are his):



 

I see that you teach chess. What is your philosophy or method when you teach students?

Deep game analysis first totally without engine. This includes first writing thoughts and feelings about the processing during game and write time usage. These are the only means to gather as much information and details about your playing and then analyse the games.
Do you find that a lot of beginner/intermediate players use the chess engines too much in their analysis? Does this hurt their progress?

Yes, most of the players do! Generally there are some problems with using a lot engine:
First, the engine tells only tactical lines so it also takes some skills and understanding how to turn that into human language. What is the reason tactics are working for white or black? On human language one of the reasons could be partly based on some weak pawn, pin, etc.
Also, the engine says mostly when you lose that you made tactical mistakes and blunders here and there, but you have to find out on your own what were the more deep reasons. Weren't you enough focused on some part of the board that you should have? Were you too tired? Did you think one move was a good one, but anyway refused it due to menacing piece opponent had because you wanted to chase it away?
The idea is to analyze first on your own and also see is your thinking process good and how you choose moves.

Engines are mostly right what move is the best, it doesn't matter if engines or humans are playing, but they end up on choosing a move because of different reasons than humans.

However, it is also bad thing to think that engines evaluations don't mean anything. After own analysis it is good to check engine analysis as well, because after all it is strong player and adds more information what went wrong.

What final advice would you give to beginning and intermediate players to improve (players with ELO less than 2000)?

Focus on consequences of each move that is made on board or thought during a game and this includes avoiding a lot of intuition-based moves. Try to almost constantly question your views and habits and be open for new ideas.

Finally, what is the best way to reach you and on what online sites do you play/teach?
Feel free to find and chat with me (NFork) online on the Internet Chess Club (ICC) and Chess.com. You can e-mail me at Jari.K.Jarvenpaa(at)uta.fi (Bryan: I've taken out the "@" symbol so Jari doesn't receive robo-spam, so just replace it to e-mail him)

Thank you, Jari! I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you took to provide such insightful answers to Better Chess Training. Chess Friends, say "Hi" to NFork next time you are on ICC or Chess.com!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

3 Key Ways to Improve Your Chess

Help! I want to get better in chess! Where do I start?

This is a question I found in a forum post recently and some of the things I find routine may not be so routine to others - particularly those who have recently decided that want to get more serious about learning chess. So in this short article I list the 3 key ways that you can improve your chess whether you are a beginner or a master!

Study Your Games


“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” ― Lao Tzu

One of the simplest ways that you can improve is by studying your own games - especially your losses. If you don't know what you're doing wrong, it is very difficult to correct it. This advice is not original, Alekhine and Botvinnik became world champions by deep analysis of their own games.

Check out this detailed article on how to get the most out of studying your games, but here are a few points you want to look for:
  • The opening: Did you follow theoretical or repertoire lines? Who deviated first? Were you ahead, even, or behind after the opening phase? How could you have improved your opening. This is where you can look up your opening in your reference books or in an online database like that found on Chess Tempo.
  • Shifts in advantage: At what point in the game did the evaluation in the position change (e.g. winning or drawn to losing or vice versa)? Why did this happen?
  • Tactical errors: Why did you miss specific tactics (e.g. was it an oversight due to distraction or lack of thought process, etc.)? Was there a new tactical motif that you didn't know before the game?
  • Any points of confusion: It is important to note any positions during the game where you were confused or didn't understand what was going on.
Once you identify these points, you should try to figure out how you should have played instead. To do this, there are several options:
  • Your own analysis: This is often very insightful, but sometimes flawed.
  • Using computer chess engines: These are very useful particularly in tactical situations, but you must be careful not to develop an dependence on them, so I recommend first doing your own analysis.
  • Stronger players or coaches: If you can find stronger players or coaches to help you analyze the games, it can be very helpful, because they can explain why certain moves are better than others.
Once you have analyzed your game and feel like you've picked up some new patterns, ideas, and knowledge, it is important to store these nuggets of wisdom for future review. I find using a computer database program such as Chessbase very helpful - I'll be creating several videos on how I do this as well as writing articles about it. However, you can also use things like notebooks with notes or creating flashcards. However, you do it, reviewing the material is very important - read my article on the 4 Dimensions of Learning for more discussion of the time factor in learning. 

For more detail on analyzing your games, check out my 4-Steps to Analyzing Your Game for Improvement.

Study from the Masters


Before I could engage my creativity, I had to learn enough of the classical theory clearly evident in the great works of art of my heroes. - Greg Allen

Just like in art, music, and sports, we learn from those who are better than we are. Fortunately, there is a rich culture of preserving the games and thoughts of the masters through the vast number of chess books (and now chess videos) available. By studying the games and theory from the masters, we stand of the shoulders of giants and gain ideas and systems that we can use in our own games.

As a little example of what I'm talking about, here is a recent position from one of my games:



The idea of 27...Qh4! is not too difficult to find. However, it is made that much easier by understanding that I had recently studied the following position from a master game (Van Wely-Giri from the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year):



This type of example is common once you study many master games and positions from the masters.

There is an enormous amount of literature out there, so here are some starting points for studying the masters of chess:
  • Look for annotated books or collections meant for instruction on different aspects of chess such as openings, strategy, tactics, and the endgame (for beginners, check out my foundational books for beginners).
  • Look up games or books covering your opening repertoire (although make sure the books is at your level).
  • Look up games or books by or about your favorite players. My chess took a great step up after studying Capablanca's Best Chess Endings: 60 Complete Games by Irving Chernev. 
As you study the games, positions, and ideas from the masters, it is again important to store these for future reference. My recommendation is Chessbase, but there are other database programs out there as well as the old-fashioned index card or binder (although that takes a lot of work).

Study Tactics


Chess is 99% tactics.  -  Rudolph Teichmann

This is perhaps the most frequent suggestions for improving your chess, particularly at a beginner level. This makes sense because tactics are the foundation for everything else in chess. Just like fueling and nourishing your body with food, tactical study is the nutrient rich diet for the chess player. I write a more detailed article about how to improve your tactics, but here are a few considerations to get you started:
  • Do some type of tactical training daily. It is the same as eating your vegetables and fruit. It's good for you, but better to do a little daily than a lot only once in a while.
  • Start out with simple problems. At first, you are just trying to pick up patterns that you will apply to more complex problems and in your games.
  • Find a chess tactics server on the internet and sign up. This way, you can track your progress because many of these servers have ratings for you and for the problems you do. My favorite one is Chess Tempo, partly because each of the problems have comments by other users to help you understand the problems.
  • When you get a problem wrong, don't go on to the next one, until you understand the solution.

 

Conclusion


Studying chess doesn't have to be a complicated thing. These three ways to improve your chess can be the foundation of your study and training program for the rest of your chess career. As with getting better at anything, although the path may be simple, it doesn't mean it is easy. Come back often to this site as I will give you advice on how to optimally implement each of these training methods. Let me know if this has been helpful to you. Best of luck in your journey and as always I wish you Better Chess!

Monday, June 2, 2014

How to Improve Your Tactics

"In general I consider that in chess everything rests on tactics. If one thinks of strategy as a block of marble, then tactics are the chisel with which a master operates, in creating works of chess art." 
-  Tigran Petrosian

How can we sharpen the chisel which we use to create chess art? There are many specific regimens you can follow. I will approach this task from the viewpoint of what you are trying to accomplish, then suggest a template for a method you can use, but you can modify it for your own needs.

Two Main Objectives


When you want to improve your tactics, I think there are two main objectives that you are hoping to achieve. The first is to increase your pattern recognition. This is the ability to spot a tactical motif or operation in a position. The second is to improve your calculation and visualization in order to apply the tactics in a position. Both of these objectives are intertwined - tactical patterns are the bricks while calculation and visualization are the mortar that build a house of tactical mastery.

Here is an example:

White to play

1.Nf6+! here wins the queen after the king moves. The tactical motif is the ever popular fork. Spotting it should be fairly easy if you've ever been exposed to it before. This is a position that comes from a variation of one of my recent games. However, during the game I was presented with this position:

White to play

I had drummed up a decent attack on the king. Not wanting to exchange pieces, I played 1.Ne4+ which also leads to a slight advantage after 1...Kd5 2.Nf6+ Kc4 3.O-O Threatening Rxc1+However, I could have forced a resignation by deflecting the queen with 1.Bxe8! and if 1...Qxe8 2.Ne4+ Kd5 3.Nf6+ as in the first diagram above. If 1...Bh6 counterattacking the queen then 2.Nf6+ Kd5 3.Bxc6+ followed by 4.Qxh6 wins.

Although the pattern of a fork would have been easily found no doubt, the pattern of deflection (or decoy depending on what book you read) combined with the discipline of calculation and visualization was not with me when I played the game. Unfortunately, for other reasons I went on to lose (but that's another article for another time).

You need both pattern recognition and the ability to apply it through calculation and visualization to master tactics.

Training for Pattern Recognition


Although solving tactical problems will improve both aspects of tactical training, doing different types of problems in different ways will enhance each objective more efficiently. To improve pattern recognition, here are some suggestions:
  • Start with simpler problems that present individual or simple tactical motifs. Books like Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan do this nicely. Chess servers like Chess Tempo are helpful too, because of the number of problems available.
  • Solve the positions fairly quickly. Do not spend more than 60-90 seconds on any particular position.
  • Stop after 15-20 minutes OR after getting 3-4 problems incorrect.
  • Whenever you make a mistake, study the position carefully and try to understand the elements of the motif.
  • If you are using a book, continue until you can solve the problems almost instantly, taking no more than 15 seconds to recognize the answer.
After several months of doing this, you will amass a great memory for these tactical motifs and will be able to spot them easily in your games.

Training Calculation and Visualization


The other side of the coin of course is applying this pattern recognition through calculation and visualization. In this case, you are practicing the skill of calculating and visualization. Here are some recommendations on how to do it effectively:

  • Choose a book of problems or use a chess server.
  • Set a time for the training session (I typically do this type of training twice a week in 30-60 minute sessions).
  • Treat the position like a serious standard or long game. If you play mainly over-the-board, you may want to to set a real board up to simulate the way you play the most.
  • Try to calculate all of the possible forcing variations before you make your first move.
  • As before, if you get the problem wrong, try to see where you made an error - e.g. did you calculate far enough? Did you miss a forcing response by your opponent? Over time, you may find errors in your thinking process that you can
  • Occasionally, write down your calculations in a notebook. As you do this, you will find that your mind will get more organized about your calculations. Also, when you play out what you visualized on the board (or computer) you will be amazed at what you both saw and missed. Whenever I do this exercise, I gain many insights into my own thinking process. However, sometimes it is good to practice without writing it down too, as it can also be a crutch as you look over your writing (since you cannot do this during your games)

Stages


It is helpful to practice both of these types of tactical training. However, depending on your specific needs, you may emphasize one more than the other. For beginners, it is helpful to train mainly for pattern recognition because these are the foundation of your tactical ability. As you increase in strength, you will need to improve your calculation skills to fully apply the knowledge of your tactical patterns.

Chess Tempo


Finally, I wanted to recommend a great resource. Chess Tempo is a great site that you can use both of these training methods to improve your tactics. Of course, it is not the only one out there, but it is the one I use and recommend. Here is a video summarizing some of the points I made above and applying them using Chess Tempo.



Conclusion


Improving your tactics is one of the best ways to improve your chess strength. As Petrosian felt, it is at the very foundation of all chess strategy. I hope you can apply some of my advice to enhance your tactical training. If you have any other ideas about tactics training that you have found helpful, share them in the comments section. Otherwise, I wish you good luck and Better Chess!

Resources


Chess Tempo: In my opinion, the best tactics server on the internet. Besides training tactics, there is also endgame training and a large chess database.

Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan. A great book to teach you the basic tactical themes.

Building Your Tactical Shield: An article I wrote on GM Nigel Davies' Chess Improver site with additional methods to aid in transferring your skills from training to your games.