Monday, January 9, 2012

Tactics Should Never Take a Backseat

“Chess is 99% Tactics” – Teichmann

Last year I wrote a well-received article on how I gained over 400 USCF rating points in one year. The bulk of my hard work during that year span was related to intense tactical training. My tactical acumen got sharp, really sharp. I showed a few of my games to an International Master who told me that my tactical ability was equal to an expert.

Since that time I started focusing on improving other parts of my game. I began some intense endgame training, as well as trying to improve my middlegame play. I have been studying Capablanca’s 60 Best Chess Endings as well as 100 Endgames You Must Know. I have also been reviewing hundreds of annotated Grandmaster games throughout history.

My understanding of chess has reached a level I never imagined, and my rating has plummeted over the last six months. In my last 30 rated, long games I am 8 wins, 17 losses, and 5 draws. At one point during the last six months, I realized a span of six losses in a row. This of course is very frustrating to someone who is as intensely competitive as I am. Not to mention considering the amount of work I put into chess, the results are very disappointing.

A worse fate than constantly losing, is not being able to accurately pinpoint the problem. So it finally occurred to me in one of my recent losses that just about all of my 17 losses in the last six months have been due to miscalculating a combination, not seeing a line that gives my opponent an out, or underestimating the strength of my opponents possible response. In short, my tactical vision has gotten soft.

What used to be a strength in my game, that forged the way for me to experience a 400+ point surge, is now contributing to my dwindling rating. Yes, it’s true, I have not done any tactical study or exercises in nearly a year.

I foolishly thought that my tactical ability had reached a strong place and that effort in other parts of my game was now required to improve. I made the mistake of putting a sharpened knife in a case, and leaving it there to rust. I realize now that endgame study, middlegame study, and continued tactical study was required to improve.

At the beginning of this rant, I reference the Teichmann quote that “Chess is 99% tactics”. It seems silly to me now that I forgot about the 99% and started focusing solely on the other 1%. I truly believe that the 99% that Teichmann references separates 2400 from 400. The other 1% separates 2400 from 2800.

There's nothing wrong with spending some time, learning about the other 1%, but not at the expense or detriment of the 99%.

So here’s another quote for you:

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm” – Sir Winston Churchill

This article’s purpose is two-fold. One is to let others know about an easy mistake to fall into, and to hopefully avoid themselves. And secondly, this article serves notice to all of my future opponents, that when you sit down across from me over the board, no opponent you have faced will have worked harder at tactical study than me. You had better be prepared, because I certainly will be!