Chess Tactics with a Real Board

I got an interesting question today from one of my chess tactics e-mail newsletter subscribers. 

Timothy S wrote:

hi, i have a major concern on how to solve tactics. should i do them on a real board , because i had a Master tell me that was a good way.

really i hate that way because you can imagine the time it takes just to set up a problem.

so what was your method? did you do the same over and over or just ripped through as many books fast as possible?



chess tactics over a chess boardMy thoughts:

To me this seems like a real waste of time and energy. 

One of the nice things about doing chess tactics is that you can do them almost anywhere.

I have studied chess tactics:

  • on the bus
  • on trains
  • on airplanes
  • while waiting for appointments
  • during lunch breaks
  • during commercials of tv shows
  • during bio breaks
  • etc

And now with notebook computers, iPads, eBook readers, and smart phones it is even easier than ever.

Everyone is super busy these days, so you want to maximize your time and energy. To me spending ten minutes to solve 10-15 chess problems from a diagram makes much more sense than spending those 10 minutes to set up the pieces on a chessboard for maybe 3-4 problems.

Personally I have never studied chess tactics with a real board, where I set up the problem before solving it.

You want to get to the point where you are looking at the problems and the solutions are just jumping out at you, which means lots of repetition, and working on pattern recognition. 

The only reason I might suggest an approach like this is if for some reason the knowledge from the board is not translating to over the board play.  Like if you can see the problems in a diagram, but for some reason you cannot see them when the board is set up. 

Everybody has different learning styles, so if you are a real “kinesthetic” learner, who needs to be able to feel and touch something to really learn it, then this may in fact be the best approach.  Wikipedia describes this as: Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning) is a learning style in which learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration.

So you have to figure out what works best for you.  But I have never done this myself.  I have done some “drills” in the past, such as the “knight sight” drills that Michael de la Maza recommends, where you physically take the knight and move it around the board, pointing to the squares that it can jump to.  These can be helpful, especially since the knight can be a tricky piece to work with.

There are a lot of benefits to studying chess tactics with software, such as the Tactics Time Training Database that I sell. 

You can:

  • Check variations or answers with a computer program
  • Play through the entire game and see how the position was reached
  • Play through the end of the game to see how it ended
  • Search for different types of tactics
  • Play the position against a computer program to see if you could win it
  • etc

I am not really sure why this Master would recommend this approach.  My guess is that he is “old school”, and that is how he did it “back in the day”.  Maybe he has a good reason, so you might ask why he recommends this approach.  If he has a good reason, maybe you can try it for 20% of your tactics study, and see how it works for you.

 I would love to hear what other people think about studying chess tactics with a real board and pieces.  Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Chess Tactics with a Real Board

  1. It is very individual: some people love to touch pieces, others do not need to do it and solve excercises from “outside source” (books, electronic format, screens of electronic devices, etc.,). Personally I tried both ways and there are many adv and disadv.

    A. Solving excercises from “outside” sources:
    1. You can “set up” and choose positions instantly.
    2. You can check your variations (and answers) against many different engines.
    3. You can classify, group and filter all the positions in any way you wish.
    4. You can review them very fast with no effort connected with setting up.
    5. You can solve them everywhere (with the help of your Kindle, Ipad, Ipod or even more modern mobile phone)
    6. You can store (save) many thousands of positions (excercises) and have some statistics showing how fast and accurate you have solved them

    B. Solving excercises from “intside” source (position set up at real board):
    1. You can simulate perfect conditions like in real (OTB) game.
    2. You can see the positions as you see them playing (picture of 3D).
    3. You can feel the pleasure of pushing pieces (when you solved the excercise and want to check if you have done it correctly).

    The biggest disadvantage with setting pieces is HUGE waste of time (especially when the position is more than a few pieces) and problems with a possibility of playing out these positions. The biggest advantage is amazingly fast review of all the positions and seeing variations back and forth (as you wish) without the need to restore the positions “from the start”.

    • I think there is a place for both methods. Using an ipad or a book while on the bus is great way to get some tactic training in ( i do it everyday), however there are some great advantages to using a a real board. You can kill many more birds with the same stone.
      This is what i do
      1 Look at the tactic in the book or on the computer.
      2 shut the book or minimize the page on the computer
      3 try to recreate the postion on a real chess board from memory
      4 repeat steps 1 -3 until correct
      5 solve the puzzle just using the real board. ( don’t forget to sit on your hands) use your mind.
      6 maybe try taking an active piece or two off the board then redo the puzzle visualizing the the missing pieces.

      Just my opinion

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