Chess Tactics and Calculation: Make Visible Progress!

There is no doubt chess tactics and calculation training are essential for anybody who wishes to improve in chess. Almost every chess player will come across Richard Teichmann’s famous quote, “Chess is 99% tactics,” in their chess career.

Chess Tactics and Calculation

Although that might be an exaggeration, it does an excellent job of emphasizing the importance of tactics in chess. A tactic decides many positional games.

However, it’s essential to remember that not every tactic is designed to win or capture material. Exchanging bishops to create an outpost for your knight is a tactic.

Often a tactic will involve sacrificing material, and you will find yourself having to calculate a few possible variations. Giving up material without calculating the consequences is not a wise approach to chess.

That’s why it is vital to improve your chess calculation skills.

Improving your calculation skills allows you to find the follow-up moves to play. Reading a book and learning you can sacrifice a knight on g5 to get a winning advantage won’t help if you don’t know how to win the game.

The good thing about tactics and calculation in chess is that you can improve through practice. As the GingerGM says, “Practice hard. Play easy.”

And here is the GingerGM sharing his wisdom on how to improve your tactics training in chess, taken from his best-selling Master Method course:

Improving Your Tactical Skills in Chess Takes Practice

There is no such thing as a free lunch in life! Getting better at tactics means spending less time in your day doing something else.

The first step in getting better at tactics in chess is solving puzzles daily!

Thanks to all the technical advances in our lives, you can find puzzles to solve in books, e-books, chess online sites, and apps. You can solve puzzles for free thanks to the tactics trainer at lichess.org.

Try solving the puzzles without moving the pieces to simulate a real chess game.

Of course, if you need to start by moving the pieces, then go ahead. As you become familiar with the common tactics, you will soon find yourself solving puzzles without moving the pieces.

Another tip is to calculate the entire sequence before moving the pieces. Don’t just make the first forcing move you find, that won’t actually help you improve!

When you solve a puzzle, make sure you understand why the tactic worked. What were the underlying themes in the puzzle?

Did you expose an overloaded defender or take advantage of a weak back rank? Understanding the themes will allow you to make use of the same tactics in other areas of the board.

You don’t need to wait until the position in the puzzle appears on the board when you understand tactical motifs.

Base Your Tactics in Chess on Sound Principles

Sacrificing material is not something to rush. Be sure that you understand the reason behind playing a sacrifice.

There’s nothing wrong with sacrificing the exchange on f6 if it opens the black king to a mating attack. What would be wrong is playing the sacrifice without knowing your follow-up moves.

Hoping you’ve exposed the king enough to checkmate him is not what you want. The time to use your calculation skills is before you play the sacrifice.

IQP Tactics Rxf6

In an isolated queen pawn position, a common tactic is establishing a queen and bishop battery aimed at h7. You notice that thanks to a rook swing you played earlier, you have 1.Rxf6 gxf6 2.Qxh7 checkmate!

Remember to calculate all your opponent’s possible replies. Captures are not obligatory in chess.

In this example, instead of 1…gxf6, your opponent might play 1…g6, blocking the checkmate. At the very least, you could retreat your rook and take the material advantage.

IQP weak g6

Or you realize that because Black played …h5 earlier, the g6-pawn is only defended by the f7-pawn, and you play 2.Rxg6 fxg6 3.Qxg6+ Kh8 Qh7 checkmate!

The isolated queen’s pawn position offers many opportunities for landing winning chess tactical blows. In this game, Gata Kamsky sacrificed his bishop on h6.

Kamsky, Gata – Beliavsky, Alexander G, 1994, 1-0, Linares 12th Round 2, Linares ESP

Tactics in Chess: Three Signs There Might Be Tactics Available

Here are three questions to ask that will help you spot tactical opportunities:

  1. Is my opponent’s king unsafe?
  2. Does my opponent have any loose pieces?
  3. If he doesn’t have any loose pieces, are any of them poorly placed?

Asking these three questions will help you avoid missing opportunities to play tactics in chess.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to ask these questions about your own position. Make sure the answer to all three questions is “No” before your opponent gets a tactical opportunity.

These questions will prove extremely helpful in your games and when solving your daily tactics puzzles. Applying them during your tactics training will help you remember to use them in your chess games.

Every chess opening has its unique tactics. In this famous example from the French Defense, you can use the first two questions to win a queen.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3

Tactics in the French Defense
Tactics in the French Defense

This move sets a trap for Black by offering the d4 pawn as bait. Yes, he can win the pawn, but it will cost him his queen after 6…cxd4 7.cxd4 Nxd4 8.Nxd4 Qxd4.

Tactics in the French Defense 8...Qxd4
Tactics in the French Defense 8…Qxd4

Now, if White asks, “Is my opponent’s king unsafe?” Yes, it stands exposed to a check on the a4-e8 diagonal.

White then asks, “Does my opponent have any loose pieces?” Yes, the queen on d4.

The answers to these two questions make it easy to find 9.Bb5+ with a discovered attack on the black queen.

Despite its reputation as being boring, the French Defense offers many opportunities for devastating tactics. Even in the French Defense Exchange Variation, there is room for Black to demonstrate the attacking potential of this defense.

In this game, Stefano Tatai was rated over 2400 and resigned after only 14 moves!

Tatai, Stefano – Kortschnoj, Viktor Lvovich, 1978, 0-1, Beersheba Round 6, Beersheba

Tactics in Chess: These Three Signs Also Work in the Middlegame

Sometimes you need to replace a piece with another before the piece becomes poorly placed on that square. Take a look at this position.

Tactics on d3

If it were White to move, Nxe5 would work fine, but Black can win material if it is his move. Once again, you can spot the tactic by asking:

“Is the white king safe?” Yes.

“Does white have any loose pieces?” No.

“Are any of White’s pieces poorly placed?” No, but they can be.

The moment you ask if you can force your opponent’s piece to a bad square, it becomes clear that 1…Nxd3 wins material.

White can only recapture with the rook, which is very poorly placed on d3. After 2.Rxd3 Black plays 2…Bb5 winning at least the exchange.

Remember, it is essential not to rush into releasing the tension with pawns or pieces!

If White plays 3.Red1, Black can keep the pin in place with 3…Rxd3 4.Rxd3 Qc4! which threatens to win not only an exchange but an entire rook.

Improving Your Chess Calculation Skills

Yes, it is true that not every line you calculate in chess involves tactics. You might need to calculate how to bring a piece to a more active square or how to defend a key square.

However, all tactics require calculation!

That is why you need to have a systematic approach you can use when a position requires calculation in chess. Using a system for calculating will help by building confidence in your approach.

Here are five crucial steps to help you calculate variations.

  1. Stay organized by calculating one variation at a time.
  2. Calculate with a purpose or aim in mind. What is your goal?
  3. If your combination wins the game for you, recheck it, and play it. There is no reason to calculate other lines.
  4. Use the process of elimination to move on to the next candidate move if your calculation proves an idea doesn’t work.
  5. Start your calculation with moves that make threats. The bigger the threat you can make, the better.

Final Thoughts

There is no need for despair when you are playing through an exciting, tactical game. You might think you will never learn how to play such a tactical game, but you can learn.

Improving your tactics and chess calculation are skills you can improve through hard work. The great attacking games you study will allow you to reverse engineer chess tactics to their base components. 

If you remain vigilant during your games and remind yourself to look for tactics, you will develop a great habit. The more you remind yourself to look for tactics during a game, the less likely you will miss tactical opportunities.

When practicing your calculation skills, remind yourself you are working on improving your tactics simultaneously. Every tactical blow, especially the ones involving sacrifices, requires calculation.

Another advantage of practicing your calculation is it will help you improve your positional play. You will calculate the most precise way to bring a piece back into the game, and this tempo saved might well prove vital in your attack succeeding.

As important as tactics and calculation are in chess there are many other essential skills you need to progress. The GingerGM Method 1 covers all the essential aspects of your game.

Better yet, this excellent course is designed with the busy chess player in mind. Along with vital chess knowledge, you will also learn how to cut down your training time.

This saving in time will give you more hours applying the winning knowledge you learn from this course.

Along with time, if you act soon, you will save 50% and get instant access to the GingerGM Method 01. This is 15 hours of comprehensive chess training from GM Simon Williams. Grab your copy now!

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