10th July 2007.
1. Chess is 99%
, said Richard
Teichmann.nbsp; However, 90% of the time, there is no tactic for
either side.nbsp; So, as well as any difficulty presented by a
complicated position, we also have to counter our natural laziness in
not looking out for a rare event, as if each move we are crossing the a
quiet country road, and not bothering to check for oncoming
traffic.nbsp; When they think it's a quiet position,
best players miss things
2. Tactical ability can
improved, says Dvoretsky. He described two elements: vision and analysis. Both can be
developed by completing
exercises. [An uncomfortable corollary: If you don't exercise,
don't expect to get better!]
3. You need to have a good understanding of the varieties of tactics. There are different ways of classifying and naming this variety; Purdy gives six simple headings of:- Jumps, Mates, Forks, Nets, Pins and Ties. These building blocks can be fitted together to make a combination, a set of more or less forcing moves, often with a sacrifice, resulting in your advantage.
4. The more combinations you see, the more you will be able to see. Real examples are very helpful in developing your imagination, throwing up ideas that you can analyse. Euwe doesn't call it imagination, he calls it combinational vision, but he and Dvoretsky both agree that looking at different problems helps. The most obvious thing that it helps, which you would expect, is that you can develop depth and accuracy the same way; keep pushing yourself on speed and depth.
5. Purdy also advises us, when
searching for combinations: examine moves that smite! These are
checks and captures; both are forcing moves which limit the range of
reasonable responses. The move that
is right when a tactic is available is usually the opposite of a 'normal'
6. You should always examine every position for
tactics, but look especially hard if you think you have an advantage
(if your position is better, your better pieces are more likely to work
up a combination between you) or if you notice the clues for a combination: an
unsafe king or loose pieces.
7. You should also be aware that there is another, less
well-known, list: the list of difficult
moves to spot:
Coming back from
('creeping')moves in noisy positions,
Hesitations, and in John Nunn's uneuphonious coinage,
moves (throwing yourself on the sword).
8. So much for the theory. You can be good at a
that stuff and still lose games because of tactics. You have two
other pitfalls to avoid:  Going
to sleep and ignoring the approaching fin until a shark
bites your leg off, and 
the issue, trying to make combinations happen in positions
which are not ripe. If you have the first problem, you need to
become more paranoid: they
really are out to get you!
9. I have been
bellyaching for a
while that books of puzzles don't test
you properly, because every position has a solution, and you can often
guess what the answer is just because you know it has a solution.
One author in particular has tried to get around this problem, namely
Ward; an example is Chess
Choice Challenge 3, but even here, the vast majority of the 80
positions have a ! or !! solution.
10. The last thing you need to do is make checking for
and combinations part of whatever routine you have for choosing a move. I have
written simply about a
 checking for threats (and dealing with them if you have to using
checking for your own opportunities (and using them if you can), 
think about how you can improve your position, and , if you can,
play with a plan. Playing with a plan is hard, and your opponent
will get in your way, but it is something to strive for.
11. I've been saying and writing things like the above
years. What's new? Well, ten years ago, there we didn't all
own computers, and there wasn't the online help available. There
online tactics servers, tactics
databases, websites where you can
software which can administer tactical tests, and free
engines which can show you what
happened in your games.
12. There are still many good exercises for the
computer-free. In many magazines, you will find a feature like Spot the winning move;
there are books full of these things.
Another good thing to do is try analysing real games: Byron Jacobs and
Graeme Buckley have both published books of tough analytical exercises
which are quite different to the 'spot the move' variety. Another
good idea is setting yourself 20 minutes to find all you can of some
analysis in a known GM game which has been analysed; these rich
positions are to be found in books by Kotov, Nunn and Dvoretsky.
13. Lastly, the best clues are always in your own
For example, having just started playing the French, I notice that I'm
very likely to overlook
combinations against my apparently solid pawn chain.