The following quote has been attributed to many chess masters; "Chess is 90% tactics" - from Teichmann to Capablanca. It has also been said that 90% of the games are decided on tactics and tactics are the foundation of positional play. And many other similar statements. My question is should a player commit 90% (or most) of their time on tactics as a recipe for improvement?
Although I agree that chess is 90% tactics when actually playing at the board, it really depends on where you are strenght-wise as to how much time you spend on tactics. By the way, when they use the word "tactics" there, I would say "tactics and calculation".
When you are beginning, I firmly believe that spending 90% of your time on tactics will be the best use of time, and you will get your biggest bang-for-the-buck time-wise. I once guided a 38-year-old from 1000 to 1850 on ICC in just three months by having him do 50 tactics problems per day, spending no more than two minutes per problem. He did nothing but tactics during that time, and play. I firmly believe in that immersion method of learning.
As you get stronger, let's say, 1800, you need to start spending more time learning about position. That will continue forever, but it becomes much more refined as you get stronger. You should still spend a lot of time doing tactics. I have found that even 2100 players are not that strong tactically, and even as a 2200+ for decades, I miss too much.
As you become a strong master, in particular GM, they need to work on openings more than any other group since so much is won at that level based on preparation.
I am going to answer yes, you should spend most [90%] of your time on tactics. Provided that this is done in the right way. There are different kinds of tactics for different reasons. Tactics in the endgame aim to queen a pawn, unless there are no pawns left which changes the aim to checkmate or forcing a drawn position. Tactics in the middlegame are different again; there is usually a positional aspect involved in attacking only when you are ready; for instance you can attack an exposed king. Tactics in the opening are the least common, at least to be decisive tactics, and are often best left to later because sound, balanced development is better.
IN short the context of a tactic and the purpose of it also matters. That's why I don't like Reinfeld tactics sets that have isolated tactics.
As others have mentioned, I think it depends on where you are at as a player. In the very beginning, I would say you need to know some very basic strategy right after you learn the rules, i.e. before the "tactical stuff". Examples are not mindlessly wasting tempi and controlling the center of the board. As for tactics: when my dad and I played together during my childhood, he won against me as often as I did against him. When I was 24, however, I bought a little book called "Chess Combinations" (pretty much only tactics), read through it, and my dad has never beaten me once since... that was over 20 years ago. So that was probably the single best time investment I ever meade.
That said, I think investigating advanced strategies such as when to recognize pawn formations as weak; how to take advantage of the bishop pair, etc. becomes just as invaluable when progressing to higher levels.
There's another famous quote you need to pair with "Chess is 90% tactics." Spielmann was reported to remark, after hearing one too many people exclaiming about an Alekhine combination, "I could find those combinations myself, just as easily, if I had his positions. But I never get those positions!"
And that's the rub. The game-winning tactics you see in the tactics books don't just magically appear in every game. Those that are not directly caused by blunders are the end result of planning and preparation, the kind of work missing from most tactics books.
How you devote your study time should change as you progress. Since it is the tactical stroke that is the culmination of any strategic plan in chess, you have to be able to recognize them when they arrive at the board, know what seeds they grow from. So as you begin in chess, you should devote 90% or more of your time to tactics.
But as your skill grows, and you more easily recognize the opportunities, the focus of your study should shift, reducing the time devoted to tactics and increasing the time devoted to studying strategic play, until you can as easily recognize the points in the position before you that call for long-term planning and maneuvering to create weaknesses.
It's a sliding scale, and I think the actual time amounts can be individualistic; maybe Player A (USCF 1800) needs more strategic study than Player B (USCF 1600). Use your own games to inform you. When you're missing lots of tactical opportunities over the board, you should probably bias your study time to more tactics. If lost opportunities are the cause of a minority of your losses, then you need to include more strategic planning exercises in your study.
Chess is 90% tactics; I'm sure of that because I've only seen a very few games that have ended without a major tactical flourish. But, especially among good players, those tactical flourishes would never have happened without the strategic planning that brought them about.
By all means study tactics; every player I've ever met could use more of that (Botvinnik once said "I need to be better at two-move combinations"). But remember tactics need to be supported if you want to be more than just another coffehouse player.
The statement is probably correct, but dangerous if taken the wrong way. Tactics are born out of strategy, and, during the game, you might be spending 90% of your time trying to find those tactics, but it will be fruitless if your strategic plan sucks. It should not mean that you must be spending 90% of your time studying tactics. Strategy comes first, if you master that the tactics will come easy.
If you track why you lose, where you missed a win, what stage (opening, middle, ending) etc. it will help you know what you need to spend the most time on. As most have said, that will probably be tactically for a lot of your games at the beginning. But if you keep track of it, then you might find you lose in longer calculation in the ending, as opposed to finding something creative in the middle game. If you do that, the data will tell you what you need to work on and help kill bad habits before they become ingrained.