Novice Nook on Chess Tactics

I am a big fan of Dan Heisman’s Novice Nook column on, and have been reading it for years.

Dan has some really excellent ideas on the subject of chess tactics, and I would encourage you to check out the following articles:

Dan Heisman deserves an award for his great articles on chess tactics!

Tactical Sets and Goals – I really love the story that Dan tells at the beginning of this article where he has a student that his gives some tactics problems to solve.  The student says that the problems are “too easy”, and then proceeds to miss similar types of moves in his own games.  I think this is part of the “I know that” syndrome that surrounds many subjects, and prevents people from getting better.  The key is that you have to overlearn the tactical patterns, until you can just recognize them, and not calculate them.

I also love Dan’s analogy to recognizing a tactical pattern is similar to knowing that 8×7=56, instead of calculating 8+8+8+8+8+8+8.

Dan also discusses various levels of chess tactics abilities, and recommends various resources for chess tactics study.  He says that there are about 2000 basic patterns that you should know.  These basic patterns are what I try to use in my chess tactics newsletter.

The Most Common and Important Use of Tactics – In this article Dan talks about how a really good understanding of tactical patterns can make up for having a faulty thought process.

Again Dan mentions how:

“I have seen hundreds of games lost by intermediate players who allow a basic tactic that was too easy for them to study.”

Too many chess players refuse to study basic tactical patterns because they are too "Easy"

I think that this is such an important point.  In looking over thousands of class player games myself while working on my database, and newsletters, I am often surprised at the simple tactics that “good” players miss.  Often the tactics are “too easy” for me to include in my newsletters, and I have even heard “complaints” that my tactics problems are “too easy”, so I understand what Dan is talking about.

This paragraph is wonderful also:

The moral of the story is clear: you want to be as intimately familiar with as many tactical ideas as possible, not just be able to solve them when given a “Play and win” position. That may require you to practice an enormous number of “easy” play and win positions, but, just like knowing the multiplication tables, this repetition will come in very handy each and every game!

This is basically why I created Tactics Time – to provide an enormous number of “easy” play and win positions from real games that chess players could study, so that they could become familiar with the basic tactical ideas with lots of repetition.

Dan also gives a model for how often players make a basic tactical error in a game based on their rating, which I also agree with. 

A Counting Primer - This is a VERY important topic, that I had never seen discussed before.  Knowing, and really understanding this idea, can save you a lot of time in games, and prevent you from making simple mistakes.

I love this piece from his quote at the beginning:

study tactics, not openings, until you almost never lose pieces to simple tactical motifs.

 Dan defines counting as:

the process of determining whether any sequences of captures on a square might lead to loss of material. If not, the piece on the square is considered “safe.”

Make sure you master counting in your chess games

I see this happen a lot in games between class players.  They put a piece on a square that is not “safe”, and it is simply taken.  Or they spend too much time calculating if a square is safe for them to put their piece on.  They may even waste time making a square safer than it needs to be for what they are trying to accomplish.

I like how Dan starts with a very basic example of a rook attacking a pawn and asking if the pawn is safe.  The answer is “no”, then he adds a defender, and the answer is “yes”.  He builds upon this example.

This example is great, and is something I had never seen explained this well, even in books like “Chess for Dummies”.  You should not be studying more advanced tactical ideas, if you have not mastered the idea of counting. 

Dan has a great followup to this article called: The Two Types of Counting Problems which gives more examples of counting, and common mistakes that players under 1800 commonly make.

There are many more great articles on the subject of Chess Tactics in Dan’s archives, which I will take a look at in a future blog post.  Be sure to read and study the above articles, and take ACTION to apply the ideas in your games, to help RAISE your chess rating!!


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