I have been floating around the 800-900 tactical rating on chess.com for a while. A few things I've noticed

  1. For a beginner I'm having giant swings in rating based on if I get a series that I can identify or not. It's not unusual in a single session for me to see a swing of up to 150 points between 820 and 970.

  2. For the tactics I fail on, I feel discouraged because repeating them doesn't teach me anything. Many of them have 3-5 steps that if I spend more than the alotted time I don't get any points, and if I fail I lose even more points.

I don't feel these types of tactics are instructive to tactical beginners.

Is there a better source of tactics? I feel entirely discouraged with these giant swings where I feel like I'm getting it, but I'll miss a sacrifice or something two moves in and be completely obliterated in rating. My strategy of doing each tactic I fail 3 times to get the idea doesn't really help.

What can I do here to improve? More tactics is obvious but how do I improve seeing so far down the road?

  • Are you well acquainted with some of the most common tactical themes in chess, like forks, pins discovered attacks etc.? Otherwise that is a good place to start for you. – Scounged Dec 5 '17 at 2:09
  • @Scounged I am, though I am a little weak on some tactics like desperados and such. But yes, I have a good command of the basics. My problem seems to be seeing the "middle moves" to create the situation two or more moves down the line. – user14142 Dec 5 '17 at 4:20
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    Don't care about the time in the tactics and also do not care about the "rating" for your puzzles - these two factors just make you guess instead of analyze the position. Focus on solve every puzzle correct no matter how much time you spend and just make your moves when you are 100% sure it is the correct solution. That way you will improve both in puzzle solving but also in your general play. What time control do you play on chess.com ? At your level you shall focus on the longer time controls e.g no bullet or blitz, Maybe you also should start to study some basic theory ? – U. Hjort Dec 5 '17 at 9:27
  • I generally do 15 | 10 or 30 minute games. Sometimes I will do 5 | 5 for fun because generally the person who spots the tactic first wins. I'm currently reading How to Reassess your Chess by IM Silman – user14142 Dec 5 '17 at 20:53

First of all, don't worry about your rating. Particularly beginners will have large fluctuations in rating and in the end who cares about that number anyway?

Regarding tactics training, doing online puzzles is a very good way. Many websites offer these for free. I like the ones on lichess, because they are taken from real games and therefore tend to be a bit more realistic/messy than composed problems. However as a beginner you probably prefer cleaner problems focusing on just one or two motifs. But in any case, any good website will present you problem close to your level so that should not be a problem.

When you solve these puzzles (or fail to solve), I suggest to not stop there, but analyze each puzzle a bit more.

Particularly you should figure out which tactical motifs are relevant in this puzzle. Chesstempo can help you here, as once you solve (or fail to solve) a problem it will show you the motifs as "tags". Make sure you can see all of the motifs in the solution.

Another thing you can try is to take the starting position and remove all pieces from the board that are not necessary for the problem. This will give you a cleaner/clearer image of the tactics.

The aim of tactic training is to store certain patterns (positions of relevant pieces) in your brain and associate them with a tactic. You only store the relevant pieces, not the complete position, because this way the patterns are re-usable for many situations. As an example, a simple pattern could be: two pieces on the same row, two squares apart (e.g. on d5 and b5). This pattern would be associated with a "pawn fork".

When you solve puzzles later, you can quickly check whether the problem matches any of the stored patterns. Often it will match more than one, giving you more than one candidate move.

At this point it is time for concrete calculations in order to find the best move among the candidate moves and also to make sure that the tactics works (that there are no defenses). This involves for instance checking whether there are any additional pieces (compared to your stored pattern) that defend essential squares or whether the opponent has intermediate checks, etc.

In summary my suggestion is to:

  1. do tactics puzzles (online or on computer or from books) and analyze them
  2. try to find and name all the tactical motifs in the puzzle
  3. remove pieces from the problem to get a clearer picture
  4. memorize the relevant piece positions
  5. re-check whether the tactic works
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  • Thank you for your detailed feedback. How do you suggest I handle multiple move tactics? I bought two more structured tactics books to start there but I find it so difficult sometimes to see the idea 3-5 moves ahead unless I'm explicitly told to keep looking. – user14142 Dec 5 '17 at 16:48
  • @rec What do you mean by "multiple move tactics"? Multiple motifs or just that the motif is longer than a single move? – user1583209 Dec 5 '17 at 22:04
  • Generally on tactics where the motif is one to two moves away, such as a distraction or removing the defender, I do fine. There are numerous instances of tactics on chess.com that require 3-4 moves of setup on something like a smothered mate. I find it difficult to look this far ahead, especially on messy boards. – user14142 Dec 5 '17 at 22:06
  • @rec the only tip here is “practice”. You need to develop pattern recognition. A few moves will “jump out at you”, for the more difficult puzzles you’ll need to calculate the likely sequence for a few of these. After a while you’ll “see” longer sequences. At my best I’m 2000+, but tactics is still the thing that can swing wildly because if you don’t practice your pattern recognition skills deteriorate quickly. If you say you’re weak in strategy, study that too. Many great tactics arise from good strategy so learn principles like “capture to the middle” and see how they surface in tactics. – Dennis Dec 6 '17 at 6:34

The site chesstempo.com has tactics training puzzles you can try, but you might benefit from a more structured approach. 1001 Winning Chess Combinations by Reinfeld is cheap and organizes the tactics by theme. Encyclopedia of Middle Games is more advanced but also by theme and is a must in my opinion.

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  • I will look into both these. I think the problem I'm having is "creating" the tactic by looking a few moves ahead and seeing exactly what I need to do. This may be because I'm still weak in the "theory" of tactics - but I'm not sure how to improve that part. – user14142 Dec 5 '17 at 4:21

I've only made it to 1500 on chess.com, but here are some suggestions I found helpful.

For "tactics theory", you could consider reading a book such as Winning Chess Tactics which goes over each basic tactical theme systematically.

I also recommend CT-ART (available as a mobile app for $10 from the Google or Apple app store, or as desktop software from Chess King). Level 10 (the easiest) in particular consists mostly of composed problems which focus on a single motif at a time. Practice it repeatedly until you can spot the basic motifs quickly. Level 20 is also great practice and it starts combining motifs a bit more. The higher levels are probably too hard at this point. I find that level 30 is already harder for me than chess.com's puzzles rated 1600.

One advantage of CT-ART over chess.com as a learning tool is that if you answer wrong, it shows you the refutation, and it gradually gives you hints as you try again.

Within chess.com itself, you can try using the analysis feature that becomes available after you answer the puzzle. It can help you figure out why certain moves don't work, especially when the move you tried was wrong and you can't see why no matter how hard you try, but also when you guessed correctly but aren't sure why some other move didn't work.

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  • Could you share a link to the CT-ART website? – user14142 Dec 5 '17 at 16:42
  • I've edited my answer with a link. If you have a Android or iOS device, you can also search the corresponding app store. – itub Dec 5 '17 at 16:59

I have 2200+ tactics on chess.com and I found two things to be the most useful:

  1. Take your time. Really solve the puzzle, even if it takes time. You will naturally get quicker as you get more familiar with different tactics. Don't worry about the points.

  2. http://www.chessimo.com/ is an absolute killer app for mobile (maybe for desktop as well), where they start with very easy tactics and repeat, repeat, repeat until you memorize them well. This is what took me from probably 1400 to 1800 in my tactical strength.

  3. Bonus item- don't get discouraged and try to do it daily. I saw massive improvements after about 2 weeks rather than straight away.

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Don't pay too much attention on your rating right now. As far as I can tell, you are having troubles identifying key "motifs". Even if you do a hundred problems your tactical ability won't improve ( your pattern recognition might improve though). http://www.chesstactics.org This site might be the thing that you are looking for. The author goes into detail explaining the reason for the occurrence of a particular tactic and how you can find them on the board. Good luck.

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