How to Gain 100 Rating Points with No Extra Effort

Regarding some of the newsletter problems being “too easy”.  One reader (who has been rated over 2000 USCF) writes:

I just wanted to make a comment about the “too easy” sentiment of some players. Please don’t think that it’s just their egos talking. Until about a month ago or so I would normally get the Tactics Time tactic within ten seconds, it taking 30 seconds for some. (And there were one or two exceptional ones that I wouldn’t have been able to get for a long time.) I’m pleased that you began mixing it up a little the last month or so, and now a few are taking longer. But I just wanted to add my feedback that, for tournament players, most of them do seem pretty easy; it’s not necessarily that everyone is just assuming they’d get them.

      It might be that the reason simple tactics are missed in tournament games isn’t that the player couldn’t get them if he tried. I know that, personally, I miss a lot just because it’s more fun to look for tactics for myself and I often get sucker-punched because I’m just too focused on my own prospects to bother with my opponent’s. And of course you’re splitting up your mental energy to accomplish different tasks, and in the game no one tells you “okay, there’s a tactic here; now solve it” so you may be using up your time trying to figure out pawn exchanges to reach a favorable endgame when you should be solving that mate in two.

My response:

Hey thanks for the feedback!

Unlike being green, my chess tactics problems are easy :-)

Yeah it is a tough balance. 

I would say my “target audience” would probably be an adult player who has been stuck at the 1200-1600 level for years and years

The main reason that they are stuck at this level (in my opinion) is because they are not very good at recognizing basic tactical patterns, and are not diligently looking for tactics on each and every move.

Looking at your rating history, you have been over 2000, which says to me that at some point in your chess career you probably made a serious study of chess tactics, and have a good thinking process when it comes to move selection. 

So I would expect most of the problems to be pretty easy for you.  You are not really my “target audience”, although I certainly appreciate you reading my newsletters! :-)

I agree too – it is an artificial environment, where I am saying “Hey look here for a chess tactic!”

I have some people at the opposite extreme – asking me why some variation doesn’t work – when the answer is sometimes that it is an illegal move, or a pawn can block the check, or other relatively simple, “obvious”, move.  These are the people who will probably benefit the most from my newsletter.  And I never mind answering these types of questions.  We all have to start somewhere.

I think that once you have “pattern recognition” down, then the next step is just being able to calculate deeper and deeper.  I am focusing more on problems that develop the pattern recognition skill, more than the calculating skills.

If you are missing the patterns of things like back rank mates, loose pieces, or knight forks on c6, then there is no way you can get harder problems that combine ideas like this.

But, that being said, I am trying to throw in a few harder problems here and there.  I had another guy, who was rated about 2200 also telling me they were too easy lol.  I really would need about 5 different newsletters to really satisfy everyone :-) 

    • One for people who barely know how the pieces move
    • one for people missing mates in one
    • one for people on two move combos
    • then 3-4 move combos
    • etc.

Really one of the main problems with chess is that there is not the kind of structured learning that other subjects like mathematics have.

In math, there is no way a textbook or newsletter would try to appeal to people who need to learn basic addition, with people who are looking to work on their advanced differential equations!

I think that there is a major problem though with “good” players missing BASIC tactics in their games, and I would LOVE to help people solve this problem in their games.

For example this position comes from a rated USCF Game/90 I played in November 2011 in Colorado Springs.  My opponent is rated over 1600, and just played d5?? as black in this position.

White to Play and Win

I immediately played Qe5+ forking the King and the Rook on h8, winning a piece.

Now this “problem” is so easy, that I cannot include it in my chess tactics e-mail newsletter.

But this is exactly the sort of move that class players are making in their games!

  • My opponent was not in time trouble.
  • The position was not overly complicated.
  • We had played many times against each other before.
  • There was no stress like prize money on the line, etc.

So, my main objective in my newsletter is trying to get class players to eliminate these sorts of moves from their games.  I think if I can do this, each player under 1800 can easily gain 100 rating points with no extra effort.

I am not trying to “trick” anyone with the chess problems.

I am not trying to make the study of chess tactics seem like some overly complicated subject, when it really isn’t.

I am mostly trying to get people in the habit of looking for tactics on each of their moves, and if their opponent has any tactics as a response to their move.

I am also trying to patch any holes that class players have in their tactical pattern mental database.

That’s it. 

A lot of players play a game, make a simple tactical mistake, then just say “oh darn”, and think that they won’t do it again. 

But they do it again and again. 

The main problem is in their thinking process

I am hoping with lots of examples of “simple” tactics being missed over and over, people will see that this is how games are being won or lost at the Under 1800 range.

It is the Elusive Obvious, that is front of everyone, but no one ever talks about!

And my goal is to fix that :-)

Thanks again for the email!


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2 thoughts on “How to Gain 100 Rating Points with No Extra Effort

  1. Dear Timmy!

    You have touched very important topic. Showing that kind of position I am sure that your opponent (assume it was Mr X.) played “normal” move. Why am I so convinced? Here are the proofs:
    1) BEFORE that blunder (d5-move) Mr X. was thinking that everything is safe. I assume that the pawn was on d6 square.
    2) When he wanted to defend that d6-pawn he did not see/check (it had to be “lazy factor”) that moving that pawn uncover his King and you might be able to play Qe5+ with double attack (on the K and R)
    3) Playing d6-d5 was pretty “normal”, because doing that – the pawn center is superb (two pawns next to each other) and they might attack white King.
    4) If you have made check – he might have been convinced that after Qe5+ he could go to a8 and “everything is fine”.

    (Quote): “there is a major problem though with “good” players missing BASIC tactics in their games”.
    That’s absolutely right! Most “good” players are a bit fluent – they might play 10 moves like 2200 player (mostly openings), and after the 30th move, they might make horrible blunder – just like hanging a piece or do not answer to the threat(s). Most often – those kind of players play such awful moves because they don’t want to check what is (might be) the refutation (!) of their move(s). If they would have checked every move they are playing – they might have been stronger up to (most cases) even to (maximum) 1900-2000 level. I have seen those kind of players and I could not believe my eyes: they are able to work out really good position, and after 20-25 or 30 moves they just hang something without any sense. If they would stopped – their rating (after playing 2-3 months serious games) might have been improved much more (than they are assuming). This is REAL problem (for them).

    Summing up: you are absolutely right! Games are being won or lost at (under 1800 range) much often than they sould be!
    After 1,5 year of playing serious games (at FICS chess server) I was able to eradicate hanging and blundering and my rating grow up to 1900-1950. I might add that when I wasn’t checking my moves… I was not able to break 1800 barrier. And I have seen that most average players (I mean 1600-1800) are not able to hold the position more than 25-30 moves. The more they play – the biggest chance to lose their track.

    Anyway: checking our chess moves and doing that every time it is necessary – is much more important than solving combos at 1800-2000 level (especially longer than 3-4 moves deep).

    PS. The title is a great marketing trick ;). Without any efforts (changes) nothing can be done. This case is simpler – with a little effort there might be faster effects (than when someone makes more complicated combos and hangs material in 1-2 moves).

    • Hey thanks Tomasz!

      I have been studying some marketing lately, and the title is definitely a reflection of that ;)

      The main reason I say “no extra effort“, is that the player is already thinking about *something* when they make their move, they are just thinking about the *wrong thing*.

      So the idea is to replace the wrong thing with the right thing, which would end up with the person spending the same amount of effort, and possibly less.

      I like your outline of the probable thought process that went into that move – control the center, advance and connect the pawns, etc – all good positional considerations, and a reasonable plan.

      But failing to ask the simple question “If I make this move, does my opponent have any tactics”, cost them the game.

      If they asked this question first – they would immediately see that d7-d5 loses to Qe5+, then could immediately go on to look for another move.

      This really would not require any EXTRA effort, just DIFFERENT effort.

      Eliminating these types of blunders can be a very easy way to raise ones rating quickly.

      Thanks again for the comment :)

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