Making Tactics Work

1. A chess tactic is an unstoppable threat.  Often you can Avoid, Block, Capture or Defend your way out of a threat, but if you can't, you're probably on the receiving end of a tactic.

2. Tactical themes include:

  • jumps, mates, forks, nets, pins & ties

A fuller list of tactical themes might be:

  • Jumps: discovered attack (unmasking), discovered check, double check (which is always also a discovered check)
  • Mates: back rank mate, Greek Gift sacrifice, double Bishop sacrifice, smothered mate, stalemate, perpetual check
  • Forks: knight fork, pawn fork, queen fork, really any double attack
  • Nets: no retreat, trap
  • Pins: pin, skewer, X-ray attack, X-ray defence
  • Ties: removing the guard, undermining, overloading, decoy, deflection, interference
  • Pawn breakthrough, passed pawn, promotion, obstruction

[You Just Might Find a Nifty Powerful Tactic]

There are examples of all these at the start of the Canon

3. A combination is: a sequence of forcing moves, possibly involving a sacrifice, leading to a material advantage.

The punchline to a combination is an unstoppable threat (or double threat).

4. The things that make a combination work are forcing moves (checks > captures > threats).  Purdy calls them smites: "Examine moves that smite!"

5. The clues that a tactic is available are:

  • Loose pieces
  • Unsafe King
  • Geometry

EXAMPLE showing all three: 1.Kxh2 e4+ is no good for White, but put together the other loose B on a4, the unsafe King on g8 and the attack on g7, find the meeting point of the fourth rank and the g-file and play 1.Qg4! winning.

6. The way you make a tactical combination work is:

  • combining ideas
  • trying moves in a different order
  • in-between moves
  • once in a while, you might need a quiet move [EXAMPLE]

We've seen a few already this summer:

  • Charlie's Knight forks
    The Tarrasch Trap - one long sequence of tactical threats, which exhausts Black's defences [EXAMPLE]

7. The ways you get better at using tactics include:

  • reading about tactical ideas and rehearsing them in your mind - there are books at all levels of difficulty
  • testing yourself with puzzles - in particular, ones which are hard for you but not impossible
  • habitually looking for tactics at each move in a game [EXAMPLE] - not just for you, but also for your opponent - every tactic found is also a tactic missed by the victim!
  • leaving yourself time to look in a game
  • be aware of hard moves to spot
  • 8. Preparing for combinations

    • Put your pieces in strong advanced central positions
    • Build up pressure against your opponent's weak points
    • Occupy open lines with your Rooks and Bishops
    • Break open lines for your Rooks and Bishops
    • Open up lines of attack against your opponent's King

    ...and the combinations will come!

    "The master places a Knight on e5; mate follows by itself" - TARTAKOWER

    In particular, learn about the combinations that turn up in your openings.  Do you usually park your Bishop on c4, on the diagonal leading to f7, or on d3, which points at h7?  Peter Lane studied the typical French Defence sacrifices against f2, played into the relevant lines, and they started turning up in his games.

    9. There are lots of books to rehearse and test your tactics, of various levels of difficulty.

    Online resources include:

Chess Quotes

"At that time two opposing concepts of the Game called forth commentary and discussion. The foremost players distinguished two principal types of Game, the formal and the psychological."
— Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game