You can read the blog here: http://chessbookreviews.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/the-happy-meal-of-tactics-books/
Now I don’t want to seem like I am defending myself, because I agree with a lot of what the author says, and I think it was a very well written, and well researched and fair review, and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to check out my work, which the reviewer clearly did.
But I would like to clarify a few points…
With any body of work it is easy to pick out a few things that are wrong, exaggerated, bad examples, etc.
At this point I have written several books, hundreds of newsletters, dozens of blog posts, magazine columns, podcasts, tweets, etc, etc.
This adds up to thousands of chess puzzles and thousands of words.
Not every tactic problem I have put out into the world is “great”.
Not every sentence is Shakespeare.
I know this, and my readers know this.
But despite the occasional “egg”, I receive emails almost every single day from people all over the world who tell me that “Tactics Time” has helped them. Maybe they read a newsletter, and saw a tactic and remembered the pattern, and saw it later. Often just the idea of focusing their study on tactics, even if it isn’t from my materials, helped them gain hundreds of rating points.
Many people told me this is the first chess book they actually finished.
I could go on and on about all the positive feedback I have received about Tactics Time. Every story is slightly different, but the point is that I have received hundreds of these types of emails the past few years.
Some details on a few of the points the reviewer mentions
Some people hated the fact that Tactics Time 1 included examples of “Scholar’s Mate” and even “Fool’s Mate”.
Of course, I could have left these out with the assumption that “everybody knows these already”, but I didn’t.
There is a somewhat famous chess teacher in Denver who REFUSED to teach his students Scholar’s mate. He felt this wasn’t the “right” way to play chess, and didn’t want them getting into “bad habits” or playing for “tricks and traps”.
So he taught these little kids proper “sound” openings that the Grandmasters play, advanced endgame theory, and reviewed the middle game plans of the greats.
So can you guess what happened when these students went to the State Championship and played against the kids who DID know Scholar’s mate and all the related patterns?
They got their BUTTS KICKED by Scholar’s mate!!
So yeah, I agree the Scholar’s mate problem is dumb, and probably could have been left out, but it is such an important one to know that I put it in there for completeness, and so these poor Denver student’s could actually learn it from someone!
The reviewer mentions how I love Tony Robbins, which is completely true.
Tony Robbins CHANGED MY LIFE
Years ago I found out that my wife, who I loved more than anything in the world, had been cheating on me for years with one of my best friends.
Needless to say after this I was really devastated.
I started a downward spiral.
I was barely functional.
I would go into work and sit at my desk and cry.
I would be in meetings with tears rolling down my face.
One time I had to ask the admin for a hug because I was so sad inside.
I started to develop a bad drinking problem.
I spent most of my spare time drunk, hungover and depressed.
One day as I was driving home from work I saw a huge billboard off of I-25 with a picture of Tony Robbins. He was coming to Colorado Springs to give one of his “Unleash the Power Within” seminars.
It was like the Buddhist Proverb
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I realized I was close to “rock bottom”, and needed to get my shit together. So I signed up ASAP for the seminar.
When I walked into the seminar I was an emotional mess. When I walked out of the seminar, I had more confidence than I ever did in my entire life.
Robbins had us walking on hot coals in our bare feet, jumping up and down and chanting and screaming. There was hugging and crying, goal setting, and all sorts of “self help” type of stuff.
It sent my life on a completely different trajectory.
I drank the self help kool aid big time, and starting consuming everything I could get my hands on in the areas of self improvement, success, motivation, psychology, etc, etc.
Flash Forward – Now I am a best selling chess author, I have a beautiful girlfriend that I love, and I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over 1.5 years.
Most importantly I feel HAPPY and not BONE-CRUSHING DEPRESSION.
It also taught me that improvement in an area of your life doesn’t have to be a long and painful struggle. Robbins is about getting results FAST – and he delivers.
So people can make fun of “self help” and the “Tony Robbins” of the world as much as they want, but I know what he did for me personally, and there are millions of others who will also attest to his ability to help people.
Once I “got my shit together”, I decided I wanted to give something back to the world. So I started a free chess improvement e-mail newsletter.
Now granted, I am not the strongest chess player in the world, but I feel like I am at least “above average”, and felt like I had something to say.
I felt like most of the stuff written for chess players was WAY over the heads of average players. And even if you could comprehend it, it wasn’t likely to actually help you WIN GAMES.
The chess world was filled with people cooking “filet mignon”, with a total lack of things like a happy meal!
I had been writing my Tactics Time chess column since 2004, and it was a pretty natural progression to take it to the next level.
While writing this column I discovered that MOST of the games I was looking at were decided by a simple tactic. Since the column only had space for 9 problems, I had to throw most of these simple ones out.
But with a kindle book I now had plenty of room, and could include these “simple” ones – the ones players were often missing.
I am not claiming that doing these puzzles are a “magic pill”, but I think that often just a simple shift in mindset, or a new habit such as “look for tactics on every move”, or “look at all your forcing moves – checks and captures”, can just be the small nudge that helps a player make rapid improvement.
Like Robbins, I am about getting results. Doing tactics gets results. If doing “XYZ” got results better than tactics, I would be the first one recommending “XYZ”. I have never had a single person tell me – Hey Tim, I followed your advice and my chess game got WORSE.
The review mentioned how I often sound like an infomercial.
This also made me laugh out loud – because it is 100% true!
Many times I DO sound like an informercial!
What is an informercial?
It is information + a commercial
If I just did the commercial part and only told people to buy my books, then it would be annoying and obnoxious.
If I only gave out free information, there would be no reason to buy my book.
Why are there informercials on TV?
Because they WORK!
Infomericals get people EXCITED.
Informericals teach people.
The people in informericals have PASSION for what they are selling.
I have a great passion for helping chess players, and if that makes me sound like the Sham Wow guy, I can live with that
Of course you have to calculate in a game to win. I am not claiming that you don’t.
I think that calculation can be made much easier when you already have a huge collection of patterns stored in your brain, but you still have to “crunch the numbers”.
No one should be saying “that looks somewhat similar to a back rank tactic mate I saw in Tactics Time – not sure if it will work or not, but let’s go for it!”
That would be ridiculous!
I don’t really consider myself qualified to be giving others advice on the topic of how to calculate, so I don’t really get into that subject. I also don’t give advice on openings, middle game planning, endgames, etc, etc.
It doesn’t mean those aren’t important, I just don’t feel qualified to be teaching that kind of stuff, and I am not interested in it enough to be writing books or blog posts or anything else about it.
I found my niche, and I enjoy it, and that is what I am going to keep focusing on. There are thousands of books written on chess, and I don’t really have anything new or insightful to add on the topic of calculation.
This is basically a hobby for me. I have a full time job as a software engineer. I am not a “chess professional”, or “professional author”. I am just a guy who loves chess tactics from amateur games, and feel that they can help a typical chess player improve their game.
Other tactics books
I have no problem with people reading other tactics books. I have read (or at least looked at) most all of them. There are not a lot of “bad” tactics books, or ones that won’t help you. I don’t believe Tactics Time is “the only chess book you will ever need”. Chess is supposed to be fun. If you want to study tactics by theme – that’s great – there are plenty of books that have that already, and they have been around for 100 years.
I think the “unique selling propositions” of Tactics Time are that
- The positions come from real games
- The positions come from games of amateur players
Most other chess books are going to show you a million queen sacrifices (“sac, sac, mate”), which are fun as heck, but don’t really happen that often in the real world.
It is like the reviewer is saying the problems are too easy, but then they should be sorted by theme and level of difficulty. Wouldn’t this make them even easier? If you already know there is a tactic, then someone says, and BTW it is a knight fork! AND it is about a 5 out of 10 on level of difficulty!
You are already giving a huge hint just by saying there is a tactic to begin with (unless you throw in “trick questions” like Lev Albert, where some problems the tactic doesn’t work).
Anyone can do this!
This part cracked me up. Yeah, this is true! ANYONE could have written Tactics Time.
It isn’t “rocket surgery”.
And just because an idea is obvious in hindsight, doesn’t mean it was obvious to begin with.
Remember we put a man on the moon before anyone thought to put wheels on a suitcase!
I have spent hundreds of hours collecting games and going over them. I have spent countless hours learning how to use the computer tools, to learn all the various software programs involved, to learn about self publishing, blogging, design, marketing, etc, etc.
It reminds me of the quote “I’m a 10-year overnight success.”
Reverse engineering what someone else did, and duplicating that, is not hard. Coming up with the unique idea and actually IMPLEMENTING it in the first place is the hard part.
Many authors will tell you that writing the book is the “easy” part.
Anyone can throw a book up on amazon these days. The “barrier to entry” is non existent.
Most first time authors have this “If you build it, they will come” mentality, that doesn’t work outside of a Kevin Costner movie.
Getting a book to be #1 in your niche for over a year, from a first time author, is almost unheard of.
This is another reason that I like the McDonald’s analogy. McDonald’s is #1. It is incredibly easy to make fun of McDonald’s, but not their results. McDonald’s has loyal fans that LOVE it, and others who HATE it, and love to tell others what crap it is.
Anthea and I realized and predicted a while ago that there was going to be some “backlash” from the Chess Intelligentsia at some point, because the book had been so successful.
Obviously you can’t please everyone. Even Harry Potter has hundreds of bad reviews.
It reminds me of this Winston Churchill quote.
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
Sorry for going off on a rant here.
I hope I didn’t seem too defensive.
I just wanted to touch on a few of the points, and give “my side of the story”.
I truly did enjoy the review, and I am super impressed at how much research the author clearly did, and I respect and value his opinion.
It also made me appreciate my fans and supporters even more than I already did, which I didn’t think was possible! I am really fortunate to have so many readers and fans, and supports, and I REALLY appreciate that!!
THANK YOU for your support!