Saturday, May 8, 2010

Nationals Update and The Importance of Tictacs

After four rounds (out of seven) Richie has a score of 3.0/4.0. His early loss in the tournament was a bit of Deja vu from his last appearance at nationals. He obtained an objectively winning position up the exchange with just a queen and rook versus queen and bishop for the endgame but blundered badly and lost his rook. I think strategically he had the right plan to trade off the queens and shutdown his opponents counterplay, but he overlooked a simple response by his opponent in an almost forced position. This kind of blunder is probably one of the most common reasons for losing and I think the main reason for it is the natural human bias towards egotism. In a winning position we become fixated on our own attacking prospects and a little over confident. It's easy to stop looking at our opponents tactical resources and blunder away the game.

Every player knows the importance of tactics in chess. Some would argue that tactics is the single most important thing to practice to improve at the early stages of development.

The title of this post wasn't a typo. I've seen many different tactical training programs and books and the all have one thing in common: the vast majority of puzzles are posed as attacking motifs where you are looking for the best move for your side. That is to say the board is arranged from the point of view of the person to play.

I've often wondered why Richie can sometimes find really difficult tactical solutions when he is the aggressor but will overlook even simple tactics for his opponent. I think the problem has to do with not being adept at putting himself in his opponents shoes.

I decided to conduct an experiment with the help of's excellent tactics app for the iPhone/iPad. In addition to having a great selection of problems (not just mate in N, but also winning material) with this software you can flip the board to view the problem as if you had just blundered (I.e. If this was a candidate move the tactical refutation would be a reason to discard the candidate). Plus it has a score keeping mechansim that punishes incorrect guesses and gauges tactical strength. Interestingly i found that both Richie and I consistently score about 100 points lower on average just by flipping the board around. And just experientially it really feels harder to find the tactics (or tictacs as we took to calling them) when the board is "upside down."

So for developing players I highly recommend flipping the board once in awhile to improve your awareness of tactical danger which hopefully will translate into better move selection and fewer blunders in real games.

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