OPINION

Breaking the Myth of Chess Tactics and Solving Chess Puzzles

The game of chess is having a moment right now. The interest surrounding the game has been hyped to great new heights because the Netflix’s recent TV show, The Queen’s Gambit, according to Washington Post. This has resulted in a lot of people taking up chess and spending hours browsing Facebook chess groups or chess forums to go through posts that suggest how to raise one’s rating. 

The problem is that most of the answers suggest that the only way to raise one’s rating from, say, 1.000 to 2.000 is by doing tactics and solving puzzles. A lot of commenters on these forums believe that below 2.000 level is only about tactics. But, there cannot be a bigger myth than this in the world of chess. The best chess players of all time cannot harp enough that tactics cannot alone help you win the game, but you have to blend strategy with tactics to improve your ranking. 

Even then, at the lower levels, tactics are given too much importance and strategy doesn’t get its due. It is utterly underestimated. If you’ve downloaded the chess game app and want to improve your rating without falling for the trap of tactics and only doing puzzles, keep reading to find out where this myth regarding tactics being all-important comes from. 

What is the origin of the myth regarding chess tactics?

Typically, online chess platforms feature a built-in engine that helps players to assess their game by seeing all of their missed tactics and blunders. Unfortunately, the engine isn’t smart enough to show strategic or potential mistakes like when you make a bad exchange or when you weaken a pawn. Since the engines only show tactics and blunders, it naturally makes amateur chess players think that their tactics are weak, and to improve their tactics, they ought to start doing puzzles. 

The picture would be completely different if chess engines were capable of highlighting strategic mistakes. Then the myth around chess tactics and puzzles wouldn’t have started in the first place. It would have helped players to understand the reason behind their moves and why the move is a good or a bad one. As the engines only explain tactics, players are unable to understand why their move would make them lose control over the d5 square or open the “b” line for their opponent’s Rook. Also, players won’t get any information regarding why their initial position gives them space advantage or why they should try to keep some of the pieces. In chess, a few bad moves can completely ruin the game and put you in a position where you might be checkmated early on in the game. So, you cannot only rely on tactics or the analysis of the engine because it isn’t in a position to explain to you why a move is a bad move and what happens if you go ahead with the move. It will also not tell you what would be the correct plan. 

In case both of you have made certain strategic mistakes and you’re in a position where you think playing 24.e5 would be a logical move so that your opponent’s strong Bishop can be limited on g7, you’ll find the engine yelling at you to show that you’ve missed 24.Ra1. The engine might tell you that you could have won the game had you used the tactic suggested by the engine. And you might be swayed to believe that it’s true and only if your tactics were better, you might have won the game. While that might be true, the engine won’t explain to you about all the horrible strategic mistakes that you’ve made which could have been avoided and that should have helped you win the game.

As the engine convinces you that your tactics need improving, you might go ahead and subscribe to platforms where you’ll get to solve puzzles for hours. After months of solving puzzles, you find that you’re still making the same blunders. If that happens, don’t be confused. Just know that you need to master strategy, as well as, chess tactics. Because strategy will teach you how you can play with a 2 Bishop advantage or you can use your pawn majority. 

Your tactics will never be perfect – here’s why

In chess, there are certain topics where you can achieve perfection while there are others where you cannot. For instance, you can learn the Philidor position and know how to make a draw. Or you can learn the skill of checkmating with a Knight and Bishop. But, perfection in tactics is a distant dream and even players like Aronian and Carlsen haven’t been able to master tactics. Similarly, perfection cannot be achieved in positional chess but you can only aim to become better and better. As a matter of fact, even engines sometimes blunder tactics. 

Final thoughts 

Solving chess puzzles is fun, and therefore, if you want to have fun, you can go ahead and spend hours solving chess puzzles. But, don’t solve puzzles thinking that it will make you a chess God because it won’t. Simply learning tactics is not the only way to climb up the chess ranks. You need to sharpen your tactical vision and also learn how to strategize. Strategy and tactics go hand in hand, and you cannot master one without the other and expect to win chess. You must give both of them equal importance and only then can you hope to increase your chess rating. So, make sure to keep this in mind if you are hoping to become a great chess player.

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