Why some Chess Tactics Problems are like Playboy Magazine

I recently had an interesting e-mail discussion with one of my customers, Matt S.  You can read excerpts below (emphasis added by me).

Matt signed up for my free chess tactics e-mail newsletter, and tried out the sample of 25 chess problems that I include when you sign up.  Matt wrote to me

Nice work, I tried the sample database this morning, odd… I am over 1600 at Chess.com in Tactics, but got 9 out of 10 wrong in your sample database..

I’m now officially intrigued.

I think I’ll give your product a whirl tonight.

I wrote back:

Hey Matt,

Thanks!

I like to do problems on chess.com too. My main problem with their problems is that a lot of them are a little too “perfect”, and composed.

So it is easy to get in the habit of getting good at solving their problems – for example sacrifice the queen for mate, but these are not really transferable skills to “the real world”.

They do have some problems from real games, and you can normally tell the difference after a while.

That is why I try to focus on “real games” from “real players”.

Also the ratings on chess.com are based off of the time it takes you to solve. So you get a “bonus” if you solve it fast, which may or may not always be good, if you are just guessing at the answers trying to inflate the rating.

Overall though I do like the chess.com tactics, and I use them myself sometimes. Their iPhone app is cool too.

So that is probably the main way that my problems are different. A lot of games between amateurs end up with “messy” positions – uneven material, questionable and dubious openings, etc.

I have noticed too that a lot of books and sites are just copying the same problems over and over.

So you might be good at solving a problem, but it is really because you already saw the exact same problem before!

I try to have all original problems.

Thanks again for your note!

Cheers,

Tim

Matt responded with a real eye opener and cautionary tale:

The really sad part of all of this? I’ve done over 10,000 Chess.com Tactics, and while I’m great at finding smothered mates and crazy queen sacrifices my Chess hasn’t improved that much..

Imagine if I’d done 10,000 of your Chess Tactics over the last year and a half..

Sigh.

Thanks!

Matt

I responded:

Matt,

Yeah, I kind of noticed that A LOT of tactics collections have way too many “cool” problems like you mentioned -

  • smothered mates
  • under promotions
  • queen sacrifices
  • etc.

These are great, but in reality don’t happen that often.

Then people see my tactics problems from real games and then complain because they are kind of boring in comparison (which is true).

It is like if a guy reads nothing but Playboy magazine, then goes to a real bar, and complains all the women in real life are ugly. lol :-)

I think it is good to have a balance, so I don’t think your time was wasted, but I am trying to fill a niche that I think the chess world is missing (real tactics from real games).

I am constantly working on improving the database, and tactics that are included. There are a lot of problems in the database, but also quite a lot in the newsletters and eBook that I include. The newsletters and eBook have a lot more of the “cool” and “beautiful” type problems, and the database has a lot of the “ugly” tactics that are happening in real life all the time – pawn forks, hanging or under defended pieces, missed back rank mates, etc.

Cheers,

Tim

 

Matt asked me a little more about the database and I responded:

There are 10,001 games in the chessbase database, and each has at least one tactics problem in them. There is also a PDF eBook with about 240 problems in them, which is basically from the “Tactics Time” column I have written the past 8 years or so for the Colorado Chess Informant magazine. There are also 160+ newsletters on there each with a tactic in them as well.

The updates are all free for life :-) I am on version 2.0 right now. I am constantly gathering new games, and doing analysis on them. People give me suggestions and feedback too which helps (like the idea for the User’s Guide came from a customer suggestion).

And if you don’t like it for any reason there is a no hassle 100% money back guarantee as well, so no risk (and you can keep all the stuff as my gift for trying it) :-)

Matt checked it out, and reported back “Nice work Tim.” and that working through the problems was a “humbling experience”.

So remember, just like you don’t want to spend too much time reading Playboy magazine, you don’t want to spend too much time on unrealistic chess problems :-)






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One thought on “Why some Chess Tactics Problems are like Playboy Magazine

  1. (Quote) So that is probably the main way that my problems are different. A lot of games between amateurs end up with “messy” positions – uneven material, questionable and dubious openings, etc.
    * – This is great, because if you want to see how strong you really are, you should check this out! These problems are not “just the easy and common”. Most of them is not as trivial and might give you a bit frustration – not because they are really hard, but because you should understand the tactics – not just repeat what you have seen in other sources!

    (Quote) I have noticed too that a lot of books and sites are just copying the same problems over and over.
    * – It is a pity, but at least nowadays (last 2-3 years) the excercises are much more original examples. Most books cover the same examples and when you are seeing in 7th or 10th chess tactic book the same problem again and again… you might wonder – are those authors writing the books together? ;).

    So you might be good at solving a problem, but it is really because you already saw the exact same problem before!
    * – Excatly! In some cases I did not solve any problems, just because I have seen them in another book. It is not a bad way to repeat what you know (and see if you are really accurate and fast), but when you want to see other books problems you should get most original ones, do you agree?

    I try to have all original problems.
    * – Yes, you do Timmy! I love your approach because it is a FRESH change and a chance to THINK about the position and tactics (tricks) involved. I might bet that 99% of your examples are not repeated in any book!
    How can I know? Just because I have tried to solve your examples and I am stunned (shocked?!) every time I am trying to “remind” where I have seen this (or that) example.

    Maybe I should note that I have solved about 10.000 examples of chess tactics. It was 10 years ago (when I was quite young), but I can proove every time I am going to solve your tacticstime problems – I am challenged to THINK and seeing what unusual solution has this position. It is not an easy task, but I am tasting average woman in real bar ;). I do not repeat them and I hard recognize any of them!

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