The Compulsion Scale of Chess Tactics

   Anthea Carson wrote an interesting HubPage article entitled “Chess: How to Spot Tactics”, which I really enjoyed.  I posted a link to this article on, and it got a 100% up vote score, with no down votes (which is very rare).
   The article is available online here, and I will try to summarize the high points.
   In the article, Anthea lays out the thinking process she uses to find tactics in her game, and uses a specific example, which is the position above.
   Anthea writes:

   “Lee Simmons of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Chess has a method of calculation that he teaches called “The Compulsion Scale.” Using the Compulsion Scale I found the right move in this position during a real game.
   Finding a tactic in a real game is actually a lot harder than finding one in a tactics puzzle. In a puzzle you know it’s there, so you know to look for it.
   In a real game you don’t know it’s there. But if you use the Compulsion Scale you will find it.”
   She then goes into details about the types of moves that she looks for.  These include:

  • Checks
  • Threats of Checkmate
  • Heavy Material Threats (Queens, Rooks)
  • Light Material Threats (Bishops, Knights, Pawns)
  • Threats to Improve your position

   I am a big fan of using mental checklists, and most importantly looking for tactics on every move.
   Anthea’s idea about Tactics Problems being a lot easier than finding them in a real game are spot on.  If you can treat each move in a game as if it is a tactics problem this can help as well, as long as you realize there isn’t always going to be a tactic there.

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One thought on “The Compulsion Scale of Chess Tactics

  1. Nice Anthea’s article. I think we can improve “the system” a little bit. There is nothing new, but it might be new perspective of looking at finding tactics problem.

    I think finding tactics (especially at the higher level of complexity) is MUCH difficult than this one. Nevertheless I will try to give some clues why that position might be “tactically good”. Please just notice some important elements:
    1) White King has not made castle yet (either as his rival)
    2) None of the (black) pieces might take anything. I mean – you can not take any material: no matter if it is good or bad move (just it have to be legal). The main exception is the Knight and the Queen. Knight is “eyeing at” one point (b2), and the Queen at two points (c3 and a2).
    3) There is a absolute PIN on e1-e5 diagonal! The Knight is absolutely pinned against King (by black Queen).
    4) You can see that the noble Kight is able to attack some pieces in just one move: it is very CLOSE to the other pieces!

    Summing up those observations (coming from knowledge of the above elements) – what should you look for? Just see:

    A) Main threats (“the first level” of threats)
    Knight is able to take on b2:
    Queen is able to take on c3 and a2.

    B) Now “the second level” of threats (you are checking two moves in a row! – as your opponent’s army would have been frozen):

    Knight is able:
    1) to go on d2 (and make a fork (to Q and R),
    2) go to a3 (threat to R),
    3) go to e5 (threat to Q),
    4) go to b2 (threat to take with check B on d3)
    5) go to e3 (threat to take the pawn on c2 and g2 – both times with check) and simultaneously stopping making any castle!
    [you should do it with other pieces too; for example: Bc8-g4-f3 (taking Q), Be7-b4-c3+ (taking N), etc.]

    Now there are a few variations to evaluate:
    1st: Qxc3+ bxc3: (-6 – with the perspective of black’s)
    2nd: Qxa2 Nxa2 (-8)
    3rd: Ne5 Bxe5 and Ne3 Bxe3 (-3);
    4rd: Nd2 (!) Bxd2 or even Kxd2 (-3)!

    And the most important (or just interesting) to us:
    1) Na3 (!?) and if bxa3? then Qxc3+ Bd2 Qxa3 (winning a pawn), but when white does not react impulsively and Rook goes to d1, than black is worse (until white does not play not reasonable moves)
    2) Nxb2 (the best one – no matter how white react) and if:
    – Rxb2?? then Qxc3+ and QxR (winning easily)
    – Bd2 (threatning taking N), black has nice “intermezzo” (in between) move: Nxd3+ and come back Q to d8.

    In practice it is sufficient to see no more than 2 moves ahead (it is 4 plies: one ply is just one side’s right to making any move); most authors says: 4-5 plies is in most cases (85-95%) absolutelly sufficient (up to 2000-2200 level).

    In conclusion: even simple position might hide its secrets ;). The better system we will produce (based on actual knowledge improved on analysis/syntesis of many examples), the easier it is to find tactics. My opinion is like that one: if you know many patterns and you have solved many examples (building on many conclusions), you might be able to see and understand all the complex tactical positions. It is other story if you are able to do it in the time of playing.

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