Tactical Vision

I’ve been doing lots of tactics training this week, and hope my tactical vision is improving.  The same cannot be said for my ocular vision.  I’ve got a double organometallic chemistry lecture over lunch this year, and the lecturer is rather unreasonable with his lunch breaks.  Today we were released ten minutes late and told to be back in seven, so I rushed to the café to grab something.  Unfortunately all the good things were gone, and in severe time trouble I made the dubious choice of a chicken, jalapeño and cheese panini.  Upon my return to the lecture I decided that the jalapeños needed to be picked out, before rubbing some sleepy dust from my eye.  Chilli in the eye is not a pleasant experience, and my immediate attempt to wash it out with water from my bottle proved unsuccessful as I’d already used all the water to quench the fire in my mouth.  Fortunately my friend Nicola was on hand with another bottle, and I spent the remainder of the lecture trying to wash my eye, and pouring most of the water into my lap.

Anyway, on to the chess.  I’ve been doing tactics training in two different ways so far: with ICC’s TrainingBot, and with Playchess’s Tactics training.  The former consists solely of mate problems, and gives you 20 minutes to solve them (so essentially unlimited time).  I’ve been trying an interesting method promoted by Jim Grange, where as soon as you make a single mistake you erase the record of which problems you’ve done and return to the start.  The idea as I understand it is to ‘hard-wire’ common tactical motifs into your brain, so that seeing them becomes automatic.  His video can be seen here (may not be working at the moment), and an interesting article about a similar technique for the game Go can be read here.

Playchess’s Tactics training is a little different.  You are presented with tactical problems – sometimes mates and sometimes just the winning of material – and given a minute to solve them.  After solving each you are immediately presented with the next problem.  In addition to the minute for each problem another clock is counting down from five minutes, and when this reaches zero the session is over.  The aim is to solve thirty problems within the five minutes, but I haven’t come close yet.  This approach puts you under pressure and forces you to try to think quickly, but on the other hand I am sometimes obliged to ‘guess’ the right move rather than calculate everything out (generally calculating everything until you are sure is what I hear recommended).

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of each tool, your opinion of ‘hardwiring’, and tips for removing spicy things from eyes in a hurry.

10 thoughts on “Tactical Vision

  1. Will I think you are a brave man to over come the inertia every improving player feels towards tactical training. We all know we gotta do it but rarely do. At least I rarely do. I’d always defer to some worthy tome describing Strategy and Technique. Or play a few blitz game on ICC in the misguided notion that forms some kind of tactical training, playing game after game losing to the same bunch of cheapo tactics.

    I have done research on the literature on Chess Tactics and I can find no better book than “Imagination in Chess”. An unlikely title but this unassuming book sets out fairly completely the different thinking models used in chess playing and gives exercises for the reader to practice the techniques and hints given in the text. Whilst ploughing into the mechanical tactical training positions is good. This book gives you roadmap for the various themes and tactical thought patterns you will require to overcome and solve the problems. Repeatedly attempting to solve a chess problem and then given the answer doesnt necessarily teach you the art of tactics. The book is wider than just tactics and discusses any position in which systematic analysis is required.

    Also something entirely different from the above and more akin to the “muscle memory” you talked about in your blog, is CT-ART software and the Rapid Improvement. Two good links for Part 1 and 2 of this programme can be found here http://www.chesscafe.com/text/skittles148.pdf and http://www.chesscafe.com/text/skittles150.pdf

    I think both approaches would work well if like me you need to understand the chess tactical landscape, techniques, thought processes and models etc. Then just practice and practice and practice…..

    1. ‘Imagination in Chess’ is a book I bought last year some time, having done some research and reached the same conclusion as you. However, the problems are very difficult so I haven’t used it much at all yet.

      The method in the articles you linked me to looks interesting, and though it’s aimed mainly at weaker players I’m tempted to give it (or a variant) a try.

  2. I’ve not tried the ICC tactics trainer and the playchess one only once so I can’t really comment on those. My preferred method of training though is chesstempo.com Make a (free) account and you will be given tactics problems suitable to your level. I try to do 30 minutes a day on there and have to say it has helped immensely. It has a large database of positions so not much repetition but a wide variety of problems.

    I think the method that Jim Grange suggests is an interesting one but I am not sure it is the complete answer. Something that has been recommended to me is Chess Training Pocket book by Alburt. It has 300 “must know” positions which I think are ideal for the method he suggests. I would consider combining training with that sort of source (or with Jims method) with training of random positions that you only see once to open yourself to as many possible positions/motifs as possible.

    1. Random positions + JimGrange method or similar sounds like a good idea to me. I’ll have a search for Alburt’s book – I assume it’s small enough to carry around if it has ‘Pocket’ in the name, and I could do with a portable tactics book.

  3. http://chess.emrald.net/
    Have you seen the above link? It’s free to use after you register; you have to solve tactics in a few seconds not to lose points; this has the advantage that you try a lot of tactics in a very short period of time; the server gives you problems according to your strength; it helped me improve by 150 Elo points in a couple of months (my rating is worse than yours); the problems are computer generated, so many of them don’t look like real life chess but it definitelly helped me improve my chess vision very quickly.

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