Chess is All Tactics

In my short chess career, chess has seemed like many things.

When I very first started, it felt like it was all about openings, if only I knew a good way to start the game, I could have an advantage that would culminate in a victory.

When I couldn’t win a game even if I was a piece up (still sometimes can’t!), chess felt like it was all about end games.

Then chess was all about not blundering pieces, if I could just avoid doing that, surely I could win.

Now chess is all about tactics. I think this one is here to stay for a while, perhaps to be replaced by positional play if I ever get that good. Everyone always says tactics make the difference between players for most of the ‘teens’ 1300-1900. It took me two and a half months to get from 1300-1400, but less than one month to get up to 1500. I think my tactics were improving the whole time, but eventually I stopped blundering pieces (now it’s much, much rarer!). It doesn’t seem like a 1300 player has tactics much worse than a 1400 player, but the 1300 player will occasionally just lose a piece for no reason.

Each phase had a sort of distinct learning curve for me, although tactics always played a big role:

And my actual rating:


April 30, 1025::850

May 31, 1056::1130

June 30, 1206::1114

July 31, 1268::1269

August 31, 1361::1293

September 30, 1328::1365

October 31, 1455:: 1445

At present, 1636::1565

I’ve done 2214 tactics on, passed a little over half, and spent 25 hours and 4 minutes on them (though sometimes I start a tactic on my phone then close it and forget and the clock keeps running, not sure if that is factored in).

It ties in nicely with the famous saying from Lasker:

Emanuel Lasker, World Champion from 1894 to 1921, asserts the following amount of time is required to educate a novice “to the level of one who, if conceded any odds, would surely come out the winner.”

  • Rules of Play and Exercises: 5 hours
  • Elementary Endings: 5 hours
  • Some Openings: 10 hours
  • Combination: 20 hours
  • Position Play: 40 hours
  • Play and Analysis: 120 hours

I definitely qualify for #1, #2, #3, #4 — I’m not sure exactly what #5 is, and am probably at least double the 120 hours of play and analysis.

It seems like 20 hours was some kind of very useful number, I noticed myself finding tactics much more easily and more accurately during games and during tactics training in the last few hundred tactics I’ve done.

The tactics training has translated directly to my game, I’m spotting potential tactics, prepping one tactic on one side of the board and another near another weakness, and when something opens up, I win a piece and usually the game.

There have been a few other big shifts I’ve noticed, with a special shoutout to the John Bartholomew youtube channel, but I’ll save those for another post.

Reviewing 1. d4 Nf6 after 9 Games.

The sample is too small to tell me much, but probably big enough to start spotting trends. Almost all of these games have been played against people between 1300-1500 on

The first thing that is interesting is how different the e4 vs d4 split is in my opponents vs. the database of “master” games.

Damn near 3:1 and then basically nothing else. As you’ll see below, the masters play much more balanced. I guess this makes sense, d4 is more drawish and generally less exciting. And you can’t get a scholar’s mate.

Practically speaking, this means if I’m black in half my games and playing against d4 in a quarter of those, I only get to practice my Gruenfeld in 1/8 of my games.

Alright, so checking out my 9 games, (actually I thought there were 20, but 11 of those were, ahem, bullet) we see something interesting. Let’s start with the master distribution of second moves for white:

Now what have we gotten so far?

I’ve seen what is by far the main continuation 2/9 times and the top two continuations that make up 90%+ of the master games just 33% of the time.

Let’s dive into Bf4, since this (with a tiny sample size) appears to be a preferred line for people rated 1400 on but is apparently very unpopular. Perhaps I just happened to miss some tactics in 2/3 games, but maybe I’m not replying appropriately.

I’ve been playing 2…g6 which is clearly fine, the other main option seems to be d5.

Incredibly, my opponents all played a different third move:

3. Nf3 is the clear main line. Stockfish gives near equality after black fianchettos (0.21 @ depth 23).

3. e3 is the second most common line (although <10%). Stockfish gives the game (0.08 @ depth 23).

3. h3 is total equality according to the engine.

In all cases black can continue with normal plans — castling, d5, or c5, and be just fine. Upon further review, I was ahead in the two games I lost, just bad defending in one game and bad end game play in the other. The Gruenfeld is looking pretty good.

A tale of 1400 ELO Tactics

I recently played a game that is pretty typical for my matches these days. Some tricky missed tactics from both sides, some errors with things like which piece to take with, etc..

It’s pretty amazing how many tactics I miss during the game. I go through most of them with the engine after and end up seeing most of what I miss, but there are always more than I expect.

Gruenfeld Defense & Game Analysis

As I alluded to in a post earlier this week, I’ve been feeling some chess opening wanderlust. While I have loved learning 1. d4 f5 (and almost exclusively following it up with 2 … Nf6 3 … g6), something about it was feeling a little stale.

I recently picked up Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul Van der Sterren and after popping around a bit, decided I’d like to try the Gruenfeld.

I started with a little memchess to get a few reps on the basics. I focused on the exchange variation, both because that seems to be the most popular, and because it seems to me likely that my opponents will play it most.

It should be very interesting to go from playing a very uncommon first reply to the most common one.

I’ll be very curious to see how my opponents in the 1300-1400s reply, whether they will know the lines quite well or whether they will have common quirks such as their habit of playing 1. e4 c5 2. Bc4.

I imagine that one of my struggles will be facing unusual replies and trying to determine how to best take advantage; whether I’m simply supposed to proceed as normal, or when they’ve made a unique misplay I need to capitalize on immediately.

It should be a fun experience learning a new opening now that I’m playing slightly better opponents, though I think I’m still far below a rating where we will be playing theoretical moves for very long at all.

Training Methods

When I first started playing all I did was play and watch the chessbrahs stream on twitch. I was actively aware that watching awesome chess players play bullet wasn’t going to add much to my game, although it did help me understand what was possible, and was definitely useful for motivation.

I decided to get a whole bunch of games under my belt before I did much else, and I’m not sure exactly where I switched over, but probably after 100-200 games.

After that point it’s been a pretty steady diet of the following:

  • Playing 10 minute games
    • and (fairly lightly since my mistakes are usually clear) analyzing the vast majority of them afterward
  • Working on my openings with memchess
    • I’ve found I have the best results when I focus on a smaller number of variations at a time
    • This also has gotten substantially easier now that I have a better understanding of openings in general, I’m not sure if I started too early or if slogging through was something I needed to do eventually no matter what
  • Working on my tactics
    • Almost daily
    • I use, but have tried other sites and like them, too
  • Watching St. Louis Chess Club videos:
  • Working on some chess books
    • I have an end game book I started working through but stopped because I didn’t have a dedicated space for the board I need to walk through them — I now have the board space but am still procrastinating
    • I have a book of famous and interesting games lent to me by a friend that I walk through
    • I recently got a book that explains openings
  • Playing with friends
    • I have one friend I play over the board with and one I play online with, it is way more fun to play games and discuss them with the person you are playing

I spend the vast majority of my time playing and then immediately analyzing that game. From time to time I’ll also utilize the database to see what I’m losing to the most or what people are playing against me and improving specific variations, such as my issues against 1. e4 c5 2. Bc4 that I talked about in this post.

I still watch the chessbrahs channel a lot, it’s just so fun to watch people so good.

My History of Chess Openings

After bumbling through a whole bunch of games I decided something that I imagine is pretty common, that I wanted to learn some real openings. On of the most popular chess tropes has to do with learning end games before openings, and I’m sure this is fine, but having at least an idea of what normal development looks like was extremely useful to me.

So I looked some things up, mostly playing e4 as white and e4 e5 as black, and playing some terrible slav against d4. This phase didn’t last very long — I have 171 blitz games in the book opening with e4, and have played it seldom since.

After getting terribly confused by all of the possibilities with e4 I decided to switch to d4, this time I studied up, using memchess. It’s really hard to learn openings when you barely understand the game, and even harder when you are playing below 1000 rated since your opponents will still be playing what might as well be random moves and it is hard to know how to best exploit them, especially if you still don’t really understand what it means to take the center and develop.

I have played about 250 games starting with d4 as white, and got very comfortable with QGD, QDA, and Slavs, though I found myself rooting for QGA pretty heavily. As a note, at the same time I started playing d4, I started playing the sicilian as black, also practicing heavily on memchess to get the variations down. I’m pretty certain this has paid huge dividends. Another funny side note, here are the most popular replies I have seen to 1. e4 c5:

If we switch over to master games, you’ll notice how unpopular and unsuccessful 2. Bc4 is:

I ended up studying this line a decent bit trying to figure out what I was doing wrong that the masters clearly were doing right. Eventually I came to the conclusion that 2…e6 and replying to nearly anything with 3…Nf6 was a pretty good idea, and that seems to have worked over the sample I have.

This brings me to my current stage in openings, and probably through about June 2017. At some point around then I watched many videos from St. Louis Chess Club, random youtubing, etc.. and decided (with some credit to Simon Williams I think) that it was a good idea to start playing the dutch defense against d4 and the english as white. This idea wasn’t as much to confuse opponents and steal wins, although I admit that is satisfying when it happens, but more to give myself simple (hah) opening systems that don’t require a lot of theory and that can give me lots of repetition of tactical and strategic themes as I try to improve my chess.

Going back to my games as white for a benchmark, I have 230 games starting with 1. c4, so about a third of my play to date.

The english and the dutch and sicilian defenses have seen me through most of my progress, and I’m quite happy to have dabbled with them all, though the prior pattern of switching things up seems to be strong, as I am currently experiencing some wanderlust.

Chess: Beginnings

I started up a new hobby that has replaced most of my other competitive gaming pursuits (although I did go to TI7, keeping my streak alive of being at all the best internationals).

That new hobby is chess. I’m not sure why it captivated me now, I’ve known the rules since I was a wee lad, and even played it a couple of times in middle school before class (mostly trying to Scholar’s mate people — I read some book that called it ‘blitzkreig’ and made it sound like the best attack). In any event, sometime in March I started playing in earnest, and boy was I terrible.

I started rated about as low as get gets, and March was basically flat for me. As you can see, eventually there would be some progress.

I’ll begin to cover what I’ve been up to so far, what I’m doing now, as well as some miscellaneous stuff, perhaps game review, etc. in future posts.

Robot Tax

What is this daft discussion about taxing robots as if they are people? Companies are already taxed on the efficiency gains if a robot takes a human’s job.

Company A employs one human to whom they pay $100 to produce one widget that costs $100 and that they sell for $1000. The company earns $800 and pays taxes on it. The human earns $100 and pays taxes on it.

Company B fires its last employee, replacing him with a robot. The robot produces one widget that costs $100 and they sell it for $1000. The company earns $900 and pays taxes on it. Sure, you get to depreciate the robot, but you had to buy it in the first place.