03 May 2017

Breaking Down Tactics

Some tactics training sessions are long; others short. Yesterday morning, I attempted three problems on Tactic Trainer on my iPad. This app, which sells for $2.99, is one that I have used off and on for several years. As the database of problems are stored on my device, it is useful when I go off the grid--away from internet service. Using this app a few years ago on a fishing trip, I was able to spend three hours solving exercises while making coffee and breakfast for everyone. I reviewed this app in "Chess Tactics Training on the iPad" (February 2013).

I cut yesterday's training session short because it seemed necessary to review. I solved the first problem quickly and correctly. What did I do right? How did I see the combinations? It is worth breaking the problem down to understand what I saw and understood in a matter of seconds. I failed the second problem by choosing the wrong second move. My move was clearly winning, but there was a better move. Was I hasty or shallow in my thinking? The third problem was another success, but I thought that the twenty to thirty seconds I used was unreasonably long for such an easy problem. Why did I require so much time?

One drawback of this app, in contrast to ChessTempo, Chess.com's tactics, and similar training tools on several other websites, is that it does not record my solving time.

Black to move


Instantly I saw that Black attacks the knight twice and White defends it twice. That alerted me to a possible tactic if the king could be driven away after an exchange on d3. It took a few seconds to see Black's control of d2 and e1 with the bishop, and also to see the possibilities of thrusting the f-pawn forward. Is the rook on f8 necessary to the combination? It is.

2.Qxd3 f3+ 3.Kf1

3.Qxf3 is also possible, and that reveals the importance of the rook on f8. 3...Rbxf3. I recall calculating also 3...Rfxf3 and observed that both the bishop and rook cover f8 to meet 4.Rc8+.


Black has won a bishop.

It seems that quickly recognizing the deflection tactic was the key to solving this exercise. Some calculation was necessary as well.

White to move


The first move was obvious, as the exchange either decoys Black's queen into a pin or removes the defender of the knight.

1...Qxf6 2.gxf4

I chose 2.Nf3 and failed. I overlooked 2...h6, although then White is still winning and still has 3.gxf4, although 3.Rg1 is better. I saw one pin, but missed possible pins on the g-file.

Acoording to my computer, the best line continues 2...Qxf4 3.Bxg5 Qe4+ 4.f3. I do not know how far the exercise would have extended had I played 2.gxf4.

What causes me to see one pin and miss another? What causes me to overlook 2...h6? Distraction and haste could be factors. I solved this exercise quickly. Also, in the morning during coffee time, my wife and one or more dogs are with me in the living room. But, I think there is something else. Something curable through training.

Black to move

1...Rg1+ 2.Kxg1 Qh1#.

This problem was easy, and I solved it correctly. However, I first started calculating lines that begin 1...Qh3+ and also glanced at 1...Bh3+. It became clear that these lines did not produce checkmate quickly. Only when these lines appeared futile, did I see the correct solution. That may have been after twenty seconds, or it may have been as long as a minute.

As in the previous exercise, I saw a move that looked good and began to pursue it. In both cases, there was a better move. In the third exercise, I found the better move before making my move. In the second exercise, I played a good, but not the best move.

It is good to remember the adage frequently attributed to Emanual Lasker, and pushed back a few years by a reference on Wikipedia, "When you see a good move, look out for a better." As an historian, I must point out that Domenico Ponziani should be credited with the saying.
[I]t is necessary always to bear in mind these prudential rules, viz.: having a good move, to seek for a better; having a small but certain advantage, not to risk it for a greater but uncertain one. Dominico Ercole del Rio, The Incomparable Game of Chess, trans. J.S. Bingham (London 1820), 35-36.
Bingham incorrectly attributes this work by Ponziani to Ercole del Rio, as is pointed out in "Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani," The Chess World, vol 2 (1867), 327-336, an article reprinted from American Chess Monthly.

As a chess student, these historical forays chasing footnotes are less critical than the advice itself. Through three exercises yesterday, I have identified an area to work on: flexibility in calculation. Seeing one pattern, I need to remain alert to others. When I do my tactics exercises, I must slow down. Parts 3 and 4 of David Pruess's video series, "4 Exercises to Become a Tactical Genius," offer suggestions for exercises that specifically address these calculation errors.

1 comment:

  1. In your last puzzle, 1...Bh3+ is not bad: 2.Kxh1 Bg2+ 3.Kxg2 Qh1#

    The other thing calculation responds to is consistency. You see more ideas, and miss less stupid one move defenses, when you are sharp from doing tactics every day for a month. That said, my ChessTempo account has been super inactive for the past couple weeks...