Rapid Tactical Improvement… How and When to Pick Your Puzzles

As I explained, I’m letting the secrets out in no specific order. Today’s subject is picking the right kind of puzzles to solve. When you go to a site or a book, there are 56 themes that you can choose from to study!?! (Strange) On Chess.com of those 56, 8 are for checkmates. There are basic, advanced, mating net, smothered mate and then mate in 1, 2, 3, and 4. Over complication and over simplification are 2 of the biggest challenges when trying to teach chess, so please forgive me as I do a little of both depending upon your skill, experience, and strength!?

This is supposed to be a beginner book

Image 1 - Encyclopedia of Middlegame, Vol. IV, chess software

This is supposed to be intermediate and advanced

Advanced Chess Tactics by Lev Psakhis chess book

This is supposed to be advanced

With their being more chess books than any other kind of book in the world, there are still a couple every player needs to have in their library. 5334 tops my list because the book is a reflection of the owner, not the author!?! When one of those people who’ve never read a chess book cover to cover in their life say’s, ” it’s a beginners book”, ask them as if you know, ” So how many errors did YOU find in the 600 games section!?” By the way, if you want to know how many, which ones, and the corrections, contact Coach Mike for a copy! Asking what books a chess player has read cover to cover should be one of the primary questions you ask and get answered before you ever accept chess advice from anyone!!!

1st we need to talk about the goals and how choosing the right puzzles gets us the most the fastest. The primary purpose of puzzles is to improve visualization. The problem we all have is keeping the imaginary future position clear enough in our heads to determine if the course of action we are considering is desirable! Giving players of all strengths 56 themes at once is one of the most rediculous and overwhelming training concepts I’ve ever seen. After visualization what is the most desirable characteristic that will automatically improve your tactical ability? I’m sure my answer will be enlightening and agreeable to players of every strength. To become good at combinations and to add length, surprise, and stealth to your attacks and intentions, you must desensitize yourself to material!!! A few examples;

There are players that will never solve this puzzle because they keep looking at 1…b6-f2!! and saying, ” That’s stupid, they’ll just take my queen?!” After 1… b6-f2!! white will be checkmated whether they accept the queen or not!

Fischer vs Spassky Game 28 1972

World Champions have no material sensitivity at all!! Fischer had just played 18. c3-d5! If Spassky takes the knight with either pawn white gets the advantage! He played 18…e7-g5! and the game ended in a draw!

White chose h2-h4! over g2-g3 because opening the h file is decisive and black must avoid it at all costs!!

In the midst of complications you better be desensitized!! The game continued 17. h2-h4! f5-f4 18. h4-h5! c8-f5 19. 0–0–0 b8-d7! 20. g2-g4! f4-e3 21. d2-e3 d7-c5! 22. g4-f5 c5-b3 23. a2-b3 g6xf5 24. h5-h6 g7-f6 25. g5-e6 +-

So, how do we the select the types of puzzles that will prepare us for consistent superior play? By understanding what the game is about. The game of chess is about checkmate! Beginners and intermediates will tell you that it’s about winning enough material to eventually turn your attention towards the king. Just because that’s all you know how to do, doesn’t make that what the game is all about! When you reach the advanced, expert, and master levels, all of them will tell you that virtually everything is more important than material!! Everything!! So here is the secret: You will improve your visualization and future position imagery faster by learning how to chase, protect, and trap the king!! Chasing the king will teach you the other 48 themes, but learning the other 48 themes will not make you efficient at chasing, protecting, or trapping the king!! Why? Because all the other pieces have 4 choices and the king only has 3!?! the pieces have run, take, block, or sit there. The king only has run, take, or block. Learning to chase, protect, and trap the king is the fastest way to learn what causes the other pieces to not be able to just sit there!!!

Checkmate puzzles have another unique advantage that can not be gotten from solving other types of puzzles. Checkmate puzzles anchor better because there is no wondering if you would have won or had the ability to win after you get the correct answer. “And white went on to win”, or “and black went on to win”, or “and the rest is a matter of technique”, robs the student of verification and closure.

Checkmate puzzles teach defense and playing with imbalances!! All the books out there are teaching how to attack. Less than 5% of the books out there teach anything about defense at all!! Puzzle books that have errors are a great way to learn defense. The errors in books published before they verified with engines is as high as 25% and 33%! Don’t let that discourage you. The correct and the incorrect solutions are both instructive! Today’s tournaments are mostly Swisses. Look at the following examples and tell me whether the player should resign or fight their way out;

White to play

This is number 4464 in the 5334 book. The solution given was 20. f1-f6! g7-f6 21. b2-f6 resigns. I picked this example because it shows how impatience, material sensitivity, and aesthetics can make errors look beautiful and instructive!?! One of the biggest lessons you can learn from checkmate puzzles is to throw away your, “you take me I’m going to take you back” mentality!! That’s checkers not chess. lol

Black had to refuse that sacrifice with 20…d5-d4! 21. f6-f2 b7-c8 22. d2-e2 c8-e6 23. b2-c1 d4-d3 24. e2-h5 e6-c4±

Should black resign? Not a chance!!

The last step is to put the puzzle into an analysis engine. When I did that with this puzzle I found that 20. f1-f6?? is a blunder!! There are 3 better moves… 20. b2-f6!!, 20. e4-d5!, and 20. c4-d5.

Now black has to take or face certain death!

20. b2-f6! g7-f6 21. e4-d5 d8-d6 22. f1–f5 c7-d8 23. g2-e4! The cage is opened and there just isn’t any way to prevent a robbery! This bishop coming into the game from g2 always ads intensity to the attack. 23…g8-g7 24. f5-h5 f6-f5 25. e4-f5 h7-h6 26. f5-e6!!+-

Need I say more!?! Wow!!

You’ll have to check out the other 2 moves on your own. Our next example came from The Philadelphia Inquirer! My mom used to clip the puzzle and game every Sunday and send them to me when I was in the Air Force. I nicknamed this one, “The Junk Yard Dog”

The Junkyard Dog!

The newspaper’s solution was 1…h4-h3?! 2. f5-e3?? b7-g2 3. d1–g4 h3-g4 4. e3-g4 g2-f1 5. g1-f1 f4-e6–+ That’s a nice smash and grab! Black is up a pawn and an exchange.

Can’t quit. Gotta play…Right!?

The fun comes again in never believing the solution!?! Black went in guns a blazing with 1… h4-h3?! but if white had that Junkyard Dog attitude, this is what would have happened!! 2. d1-d7!! e8-d7 3. f1–d1 d7-e6 4. f5-d4 e6-e5 5. c1-f4 e5-f4 6. g2-h3 f8-c5 7. b1–c3 a8-d8 8. c3-e2 f4-g5. Damaged, but materially intact. This is a lot better than being down a pawn and the exchange!

Black is better, but they aren’t winning just yet!

Now for more fun and learning. When you study mating attacks you will learn that sometimes the strongest piece is not the one that’s supposed to lead the attack. The mating attack was actually a decoy, a threat that was not really ever intended to work and another combination is the real point. Better than 1… h4-h3 was 1…f4-h3! 2. g2-h3 h4-e4 3. f2-f3 e4-f5 4. c1–e3 0–0–0–+ White’s position is destroyed. Further material losses are unavoidable.

Sometimes the smaller gun does more damage!?

If your next question is when do you start studying other than checkmate puzzles, the answer will be in a future blog or part of your lessons… Whichever comes 1st.

I hope you enjoyed this brief and instructive tour of Coach Mike’s Laboratory. lol I could go on all day about this, but there are many other secrets that I must blow the dust off of to get ready for the next blog. Like I said, I’m coming at you with all of my best secret stuff! This is the tip of the iceberg!? If you want the rest with no waiting and no filters, call me and get a free consultation about lessons. If you are not ready for lessons, we will get you ready for lessons for free! 804-426-6058. Now get out there and beat the snot out of somebody!!!

Ready For Coaching? We Get You Ready For Free!?!

59 next month!? I’ve become the old dude. It’s terrifying! Not because I’m closer to leaving, but because there’s still so much left to do!! If I’d known just how much I was going to have to get done in this life, I’d have taken more vacations, and planned for a lot more time off!?! lol Having to get a stint put in to relieve chess pain and blockage is life altering. Life, all of a sudden feels like having an hour glass where you can see the sand coming in the bottom, but you can’t see the top anymore. So many leave with so much more at the top that I’m just grateful for the time I’ve had and the time I have left. I’m one of the lucky ones that got a warning!!

So, it’s time to make some changes. The 1st thing that’s changing is I work with and for tournament players only! Tournament chess is the only proof that will bolster a school application, college application, or resume!! It is also the only chess that matters for a scholarship!! I’ve got more secrets than Russia and the US combined and the only way to not take it with me is to declassify everything!! I’m putting all my best stuff out there for everyone to see, learn and improve from!!! There is no order because all of our lessons, group and individual, have always been custom. If you’d like an invitation to this FREE Learning Group, a free 90 minute assessment/consultation is required. You must be a, Rated Tournament Chess Player!!

Rosen 2425 vs Chow 2232 from the year 2011

As mentioned in the 11 yr old section of “Arena or Playground the 60/40 Rule”, you must be ready to play against your older opponents peak rating. Here in 2011 at the North American Invitational, Eric Rosen is just 18 years old. Albert Chow reached his peak rating of 2456 all the way back in 1993! Here black must choose between 16… g5-g2, and 16… g5-h6. The answer to that question will tell you if you are ready to be coached. Write out what you think the next 5 moves will be for each side. Write out as many continuations as you think are relevant. If you can’t write out continuations, you need coaching! If 5 moves is too far, you need coaching!! Move the pieces around as much as you like before you ask for the answers.

Callaham 1863 vs Cohen 1990 From the year 2014

The next position is from the 2014 Virginia Senior Open. This is the 3rd round of the day. My peak rating is 1943 achieved in 2003. Harry’s peak rating is 2199 that he achieved in 1997. 2 old farts fighting it out if you must, but instructive all the same. I stared at this position for 35 minutes before I finally made my move. Here you have 5 choices 16. d1- e2, 16. c2-d2, 16. g3-f5, 16. h4-f5, and 16. c1-h6. Write out the next 5 moves for each side. Move the pieces around as much as you like. If you can’t write out 5 moves for each side even when you are allowed to move the pieces, you need coaching, but you may not be ready?!

Checkmate Drills

White has just played 20. f1-d1?? Because of this blunder, black has more than 20 ways to checkmate white!! Yes, I said 20!! If you can write out 20 or more without moving the pieces, you should be coaching. These and many other practical exercises to improve your chess await you.

If you think you are ready for Tournament Coaching, we offer a free 90 minute assessment/consultation. We will discuss your goals, play the potential student, and then give you our assessment. If your student is ready, we will give you a quote. If your student is not ready for lessons, we will help you get them ready for FREE!! Rated Tournament Chess Players Only!! Call, write, or email. No texting. Coach Mike 804-426-6058. Call anytime!

Online Chess Ratings Are Accurate? True and False!?! (Strange)

The last year and a half has been absolutely devastating. When everyone started staying at home, guess what game’s popularity soured? That’s right chess! Then we had the outstanding movie, “Queens Gambit” by Netflix! I think it is TVMA! Do not let anyone through K-12 watch this movie alone!! The interest sparked is good for chess. The challenge comes when trying to help these new, and many experienced players, put their online activity into a real world perspective!

To me, this has been a challenge for a long time! I’ve read this article, that article, Chess.com this, Lichess that, ICC is the best, no, Chess Live is the best, and so on, and so on, and so on. Winter hit the nail on the head when he said that each site develops a culture. Over the board chess also has a culture. The average ratings of all of those sights and US Chess are within a couple hundred points. The higher the rating, the narrower the margin. With that in mind I do boldly declare that when properly considered online chess ratings are accurate!

Let’s get into that properly considered part and that will help you better understand. For people on line, chess is a pass time. Some of them may go days, weeks, months, or even years without playing a single game of chess and they don’t feel like they missed out on anything. For others online chess has and will continue to be a part of their daily, weekly, and even perpetual growth in the game. How can you tell which one you are playing with? You can’t! Sometimes you are playing against their computer and you can’t tell!

Online chess is not real chess!! Online chess is a chess substitute that is so close to the real thing that it has people comparing the incomparable!! Did you know that all the conversations about online ratings and how they translate to over the board ratings is based on Blitz, Bullet, and Lightning time controls? Did you know that a game has to be 30 minutes or longer to receive an OTB regular rating from US Chess? This is only part of what I meant when I said properly considered. At US Chess you can have a Regular, Quick, Blitz, and most recently an, “E” rating. So yes, if you play 5 minute games all the time, your rating should be relatively accurate. I’ve only heard of Bullet and Lightning being side events at a real tournament. There are no Bullet and Lightning championships in the real world!

What this means is that while everyone has been trying to see if they are accurate by comparing the general, the only accurate and advantageous comparison would require data from each time control!?! You’d never be able to get one of the chess websites to give you that information!! Why!?! Because they don’t want everyone to know that online chess is not very serious! Go to your favorite site and pick tournaments. If they aren’t holding tournaments that are longer than 30 minutes, it’s because no one plays in them. 95% are 5 minutes or less.

My rating went from 1225-1236, for solving this 832 puzzle

Let’s start with the puzzles. You can not earn 11 points for beating someone that is 393 points below your rating in any OTB Rating System!! The puzzle system is designed for immediate gratification. For each correct 1/2 move answer you get a prompt to continue solving. That’s like having a puzzle book and looking in the back of the book each time you make a half move to see if you were correct. That’s not helping you build visualization, concentration, or stamina! As a matter of fact, the prompting is an interruption that will make it impossible to build those characteristics. It may have been a great puzzle but you needed to write out the entire answer and any variations before checking for accuracy if you want your brain to remember anything. lol When you get an answer wrong, the puzzles get easier and the points you get for a correct solution get ridiculous again!

1507-1518 for solving this 1150 puzzle

They have your immediate gratification covered on both ends. While all of websites will give you puzzles to solve that are 200, 300, and even 400 below the rating you have, they almost never make the puzzles 200, 300, or 400 more than your rating! To add insult to injury, how do you give me 11 points when they are 300 and 400 below me, 14 or 15 points when we are equal, but just 16 points when they are 200 higher? If points are your only concern, it helps to get one wrong every once in a while so that you get more points per puzzle.

1588-1604 for solving this 1772 puzzle

They don’t just do this to the weaker players!! I just looked at Nakamura’s history for puzzle rush survival. He got 75 correct answers before a 4000 puzzle knocked him out the box. When I went to his last 25 puzzles, I saw that his rating had fluctuated between 3259 and 3331. 11 of the last 25 he did had ratings below 3000. The highest puzzle he was offered was 3384. With a 400 point difference at that level he still gets 10 points for a 3 move problem!?!

3284-3294 for solving this 2873 puzzle

Online Chess sights are designed to appeal to the masses. Pass times have to be fun, or people won’t come back. The difference between a tournament and online chess is that online chess has to be fun whether you ever actually get better at chess or not! It’s a playground, not an arena, it’s a batting cage, not a baseball game, you’re using a ball launcher, it’s not a tennis match, you are bowling without keeping score! Playing serious chess is not the main attraction!

If websites weren’t for fun, how would a 2000 and a 1900 player get to have Nakamura on their stream? He beats masters blindfolded, he’s not there for the challenge?! If online chess was supposed to be serious why would a player with a rating of 2242 be 8th in the world for hours her stream has been watched!?! Irena Krush is ranked tied for 99th in the US at 2519. The top 10 year old in the country was rated 2259 in March of 2021. Get serious?! lol

Remember when Bots looked like this?
The new Bots are fun and instructive!

If you haven’t already, you must conquer the bots. Don’t believe the ratings they give them. Bots don’t have real ratings because they haven’t been to any tournaments either! lol I make all of my students play the bots for 6 reasons!?! 1.) The bots never resign! You either win or lose. 2.) There is no way to offer the Bot a draw. 3.) There is no time limit, so there is no clock to lose to or time pressure. 4.) When you lose and ask for a rematch you have to change color. We all need a balanced game. 5.) The Bots vary their opening responses enough to learn many variations. 6.) The Bots play harder after they have made a mistake. Now that you have an advantage, you must learn to convert it. I can’t tell you how many times I was leading and let the Bot back into the game. While it doesn’t offer or accept draws, the Bots will force a draw to keep from losing!

I couldn’t take any pride in this at all unless these people were preparing for a tournament!?

Adults and children alike failed miserably when asked to sit at a screen for 45-55 minutes, then take a 5-10 minute break, 4, 5, and 6 times a day, and then be responsible for what was covered. All of a sudden everything required concentration, stamina, memory, and interest! That’s where over the board chess and online chess part company. One of the things I’ve noticed about on line players, is they think they have gotten somewhere, and they think they have changed into something great when all they’ve been doing is having bad practices and failing the practice test. Could you imagine a coach or instructor that holds 15 minute practices or coaching sessions and expects documentable change and improvement?! I laugh when I hear about serious chess lessons only lasting an hour. At a real tournament they have to play 2, 3, 4, and maybe even 5 games in a day! The games start with 40 minutes each and go longer. Yasser used to lock himself in his study for 5 hrs at a time! His reasoning was that his study sessions need to be as long as the games he was going to play. According to him there was no other way for him to judge his concentration, clarity, and stamina!! That has always stuck with me!

Toys are a pass time requiring no documentation.
Tools transform the time that has passed into documentation!

Online chess is like having the best toys and the best tools in the same place. If someone new comes in and doesn’t know which is which you’ll have people tooling with the toys, and toying with the tools. It’ll be a lot of fun, but nothing meaningful will get done. “Over the board”, “in person” chess, has one major and differentiating distinction that websites will never be able to match…IT MATTERS!!! Even today there are stigmas about the accomplishments people make on line. Just about every type of online accomplishment is less valuable than what is accomplished in person. When it comes to chess, only playing, coaching, directing, and organizing in the real world is worthy of the, “Accomplishments” sections of school applications, college applications, scholarship applications, and resumes. If everything you ever do with chess is online, it will wind up in the, “Hobbies and Interests” sections of those documents. If you ever get asked about having played in a tournament and you say no, their curiosity about how your involvement with chess can help their school or business will be over!

Online is the Gym of Chess

You can’t be serious if you wear whatever you have on just because you want to go to the Gym!? That means you must play with longer, real world time controls. Study using a board, books, pencils, and paper. Hold yourself accountable for accuracy and results instead of aesthetics and speed. The true grit, metal, character, fiber, strength, skill, and worth of a serious chess player is in there ability to draw and win against strangers!!! The only test for that is on the road!

Online Ratings are accurate for whatever time control you play in. Online, that’s 5 minutes or less!!! They reflect your level of interest and can give you feedback if that’s what you want. Unfortunately nothing about online chess can be considered a result to anyone except the player that is getting them. Online chess results don’t mean or prove anything because there is a form of chess that does mean and prove, and it’s not played on line. Online players will always lose to over the board players of the same ratings because the OTB player expects results based on how they play, not how much time is left!!!

If you’d like our help turning your playground into a gym, If you’d like our help in making your chess activity worthy of the, “Accomplishment” sections of your life’s documentation, you know how to reach us!

Hope you got the message. Declare and enjoy. We love tools and we love toys! lol