Tactics Time Comments/Feedback

I am continually amazed at how much feedback I get about the Tactics Time Books.

I see feedback via

  • reviews on amazon
  • tweets
  • facebook comments
  • blog posts
  • e-mails
  • etc

FeedbackimageNormally I don’t respond in detail to much of the feedback or reviews, because I don’t want to seem defensive, or appear that I value one person’s feedback more than another, or discourage anyone from giving their opinion.

I start to see some of the same comments get repeated, so I thought I would address some of them here.

Comment #1 The problems are too easy!

This is probably the biggest “complaint” that I get.

artworks-000048548880-16yr8e-originalThe funny thing is – I never had an agenda to use “easy” problems. I just wanted problems that were from real games. It just turns out that most of the tactics that are being played in class player games happen to be “easy ones”.

Players at the class level are not losing because they missed a 5 move combination. They are losing because they missed a 1-2 move “combination”.

Try this:

Pick 25-50 random games played between class players.

They can be USCF rated tournament games, correspondence games, blitz games, etc. Doesn’t really matter.

Make sure they are a random set of games – not someone’s collection of “best games”.

Put them into Fritz, or similar chess software, and do a quick analysis of the games.

For each game try to figure out why one side won or lost.

I would guess that 75-80% of these games are won or lost by a “simple” tactic (or could have been won by a simple 1-2 move tactic).

These are the types of tactics that are in the book.

When I first started doing Tactics Time as a column for the Colorado Chess Informant magazine I actually WANTED to have the types of brilliancies and complicated tactics that I saw in Reinfeld’s books.

51QPTPTRTDL__SY300_But I quickly found that these types of moves happen very rarely in real life.

I have found that “simple mistakes” account for most “problems” in the real world.

  • Most software bugs are simple mistakes that are obvious in hindsight
  • Most traffic accidents are caused by one person doing something stupid
  • Most criminals are caught because of something stupid they did
  • etc

police-blotter-mask1Now personally, I don’t mind when people complain it is too easy. Humans are social creatures, and this is like the chess form of “conspicuous consumption”.

It is like when you see a guy at a night club “complaining” to a woman he is interested in, that his brand new SUV gets such poor gas mileage.

It is just like a peacock “complaining” to a peahen how his long beautiful feathers are such a burden to carry around.

Beautiful-Peacock-cartoon-vector-materialAnimals do this all the time to improve their social standing (often not even consciously) in order to replicate their genes.

Basically the chess player’s “complaint” is really displaying to the world, “I am so smart and good at chess, that this book was too easy for me!”

Comment #2 Tactics Time doesn’t do XYZ

Here are some of the common ones:

There is no explanation about the common tactical themes

I felt that this was a topic that was covered in many different places. You can get a really good explanation of most of the tactical themes from Wikipedia, or any number of books. Ward Farnsworth, for example, does an outstanding job of covering this topic on his website http://chesstactics.org.

logo_topI didn’t want to “reinvent the wheel”, and didn’t really have anything new to add to this topic. I talk about different tactical themes in my e-mail newsletter, but the main focus of the book was to be a puzzle book. I pretty much assumed that most of my readers knew the basic ideas like “fork”, “double attack”, “back rank mate”, etc.

The analysis is shallow

This is true. I wanted to avoid the “analysis paralysis” that I see in too many chess books. Listing every possible variation or response I think would get in the way of the main idea.

analysis-paralysis-v2In the kindle book, you can download the game, and do a “deep dive” into the position, and look at variations, and I think this is a good idea if you want to examine the position more closely. In some cases, I have gone back and added more analysis, but I tried to “keep it simple” and easy to read in most cases.

There is no explanation about how to calculate

John Hartmann mentioned this in his “Happy meal” review. I thought this was kind of absurd. There are entire books written on how to calculate, such as “Think like a Grandmaster”, written by players much stronger than I am. No one would buy a book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku puzzles, and say “Yes, but it doesn’t teach me how to solve this puzzle!”. That would be an entirely different book. Tactics Time is a book of puzzles – nothing more, nothing less.


Why doesn’t Tactics Time include everything from this book?

There is no explanation about how to get these types of tactics in your games

For anything you can always find something it doesn’t do.

“McDonalds makes good fries, but they don’t have any Chinese food on the menu”.

“A Porsche is really fast, but terrible for an off road camping trip”.

Yeah that is nice and all, but it sucks for hauling bricks!

Yeah that is nice and all, but it sucks for hauling bricks!

How to Reassess Your Chess is really great for positional play, but doesn’t teach you how to defend against the Fishing Pole!”


I think when you try to make something for everyone, you can end up with a mess.

This happens a lot in the software world.

A company makes a piece of software. Then they start to get requests from the marketing department for new “features” that they want it to have.

So the software engineers start to add new features.

They might add a new feature that less than 1% of the users would even want.

Like this guy…

When you start to add too many features, you end up with this guy

Eventually they add all of these options and features to the point where the software is bloated and almost impossible to use for someone who just wants to do something simple.

I wanted to avoid this type of pork and bloat in the book.

I think part of the problem too stems from the famous Bobby Fischer quote

Tactics flow from a superior position.

Kupov_origin_1At the Grandmaster level, this is certainly true.

The grandmasters have mastered all of the basic tactics, and don’t fall for cheap tricks.  So in order to actually execute a tactic against a GM, you must first have an overwhelming positional advantage.

But at the class level this is not true at all.

Take this position for example played last weekend.

AntheaGunnarHere Anthea is white.  Her 2100+ rated opponent, Gunnar Andersen, has a “superior position”.  He has three extra pawns, two of which are about to turn into Queens.  All he has to do is not get checkmated.

But he “fell asleep at the wheel” (and had time trouble), and missed a forced mate.

Anthea found 47.Rc8 Re8 48.Rxe8 d2 49.Rg8#

The point is that in class player games – Tactics pop up all the time!  You need to be alert for them at all times.  NOT – I need to get a good position first – THEN look for tactics!  That is a recipe for missing lots of good tactical shots!

Comment #3 This book is too hard!

I have actually had a couple people complain the book is too hard.

Again, this is an impossible situation.

You can’t make a chess book for everyone.

With chess, everyone is at a different level.

Even people at the same level might have different skill sets.

For example, take two 1200 rated players. One has read Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, and the other has not.

Bobby-Fischer-Teaches-Chess-Fischer-Bobby-9780553263152The player who has read “Bobby Fischer” will have a very strong foundation when it comes to spotting a back rank mate.

So when they see a back rank mate problem in Tactics Time, they will think – “Oh this is easy!”.

The other player, who has not read “Bobby Fischer”, will not be as familiar with the pattern, and is playing “catch up” to the other 1200 player when it comes to learning this pattern.

A position like this is fairly easy if you have studied BFTC

A position like this is fairly easy if you have studied Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, but more difficult if you haven’t

New in Chess added the words “For beginners and casual players” to the cover of Tactics Time paperback.  I can understand this, because a lot of their books are quite advanced in comparison to Tactics Time.  But these were not my words.

Now personally, I never intended it for “beginners and casual players”. I intended it more for a club player, rated around 1200, who wants to strengthen their tactical foundation.

I do not consider a 1200 rated player to be a “beginner”.

Internet marketing guru Eben Pagan talks about creating a “customer avatar”.

This is where you picture the person that you are writing the book for.

Here is what Tactics Time’s customer avatar might look like.

Earl is a 59 year old male living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has played chess on and off for the last 40 years. He got into chess during the Fischer boom.

Earl now finds himself with some more time on his hands, now that the kids are moved out. He recently got a kindle, and is looking for a chess book that he can read on the kindle.

Earl has never been a “great” chess player, but has always loved and appreciated the game. He has studied several chess books, which has helped him get to the point of being a “weak club player”. He can crush a casual player, but if he was to play in the open section of a chess tournament, he would be the one getting crushed.

Earl has no aspirations of being a grandmaster or chess superstar. But he knows that he is capable of playing better than he does now. He understands how one’s rating corresponds to the level of respect one receives from his chess peers, and the idea of having a higher rating appeals to him.

He wants to get better at chess, and feels that a lot of the chess books out there are too cumbersome to get through. He owns more chess books that he hasn’t finished reading, than the ones he has finished. He isn’t a beginner, but there are still some holes in his foundation.  He knows the basics, but his tactical muscles are not as strong as some of the other players at his local club, who can beat him consistently, and don’t take him seriously as an opponent.

Earl has bought into the idea that the study of tactics is the quickest way to “climb the chess food chain”, but many of the chess tactics books that he owns are too complicated. Like Goldilocks, he doesn’t want a chess tactics book that is “too easy”, or “too hard”, but “JUST RIGHT”.


Comment #4 The tactics are in no order

This is one that some people like, others don’t like, and some people just mention.

It is funny, because some people complain they are “too easy”, then also complain that they are not organized by category.

Well, if they are “too easy”, wouldn’t it be even EASIER if I hold up a big sign that says “QUEEN SACRIFICE”?


Again, a problem that is easy for person X, might not be easy for person Y, even if X and Y have the same rating!

I have had some readers tell me that they like getting a “mental break” with some of the easy problems. After spending ten minutes on a tough “mate in 4 problem”, it is nice to get the “reward” of an easy “mate in one” problem they can solve in a few seconds.

In general, I try to stay out of trying to place tactics in different categories. Some people love to do this, but it just doesn’t interest me that much.

I had one person make a workbook for a chess camp that he was teaching using some of the problems from the books. He put the different problems into categories, and did a really nice job, and I could see the value in doing this, so I am not completely opposed to the idea.


I really appreciate all of the feedback that I have got. It has helped make the Tactics Time books even better, and I am very thankful for all of the people who took the time to read it, and comment!

I wanted to give some feedback myself on some of the “design decisions” and philosophy behind the book, and hope that sheds some light on things :-)

Thanks again for all the support!!

Want to Improve Your Chess Game?

Join my free e-mail newsletter today for tactics, tips and tricks!

Related posts:

2 thoughts on “Tactics Time Comments/Feedback

  1. sir, i purchased book 1 “1001 tactics”- I have some questions about a few of the puzzles- the answers don’t seem correct in a few of them: just one for example, #156 says 42.Nf7Kg8 . Why not 42.Nf7 Nh6Xf7 ? Is it alright to ask these questions?

    • Thanks Stuart!

      Sure, you can ask questions :)

      For this one, Black could play 42…Nxf7, but they get checkmated faster than with 42…Kg8.

      This is what the computer says

      Hong,E – Wermers,D, Class A Championship 2003
      r6k/4PNpp/7n/8/1p3p2/7P/7K/4R3 b – – 0 1

      Analysis by Fritz 13:

      1. +- (#12): 42…Kg8 43.Nd8 Ng4+ 44.hxg4 h6 45.e8Q+ Kh7 46.Qe4+ Kh8 47.Qxa8 Kh7 48.Qe4+ Kg8 49.Qd5+ Kh8 50.Re8+
      2. +- (#2): 42…Nxf7 43.e8Q+ Rxe8 44.Rxe8#

      (Brennan, Colorado Springs 17.05.2015)

      In general, I tried to avoid the “analysis paralysis” where I would give every possible variation.

      Hope that helps :)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>