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.