Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tactics Practice OTB vs. Diagrams

I had a subscriber ask me my preference for tactics training, and thought I would post my views on the subject on the blog. Prior to Christmas, I worked with my son exclusively over the board for tactics training with Lazlo Polgar's book called Chess. The book itself is a must have for any chess enthusiast, and it is a massive book for a very low price from all online book retailers. The sheer size of the book is amazing by itself, but the content is even more so.

So how do I feel about doing tactics with a diagram exclusively versus doing them with a real chess set? From my experience, prior to Christmas I was stronger on the board tactically in my online play due to the practice we were doing on the real chess set. Looking at a real chess set is quite a bit different compared to looking at a diagram. The big difference that I found is the depth of variations that you think about. Seeing the pieces on the board, from my experience, makes you look into more options in detail. When I look at a diagram, I find myself looking for the "quick fixes" to a position. This might be in a large part from the online chess time controls we all play under. I consider myself on the upper end of the time control spectrum as I play most of my matches at 30 minutes per player. The most popular time controls are 15 minutes per player or less.

So with shorter time controls looking at online chess games (which are basically diagrams) I found myself thinking things through a bit faster than I would over the board. But speed isn't the only thing that I noticed when comparing using a real chess set to a diagram. There was also the more careful approach to analysis in general.

On a real chess set you don't have the pieces laid out in 2D glory for you to see the open lines, diagonals, and files instantly; consequently, you have to invest more mental energy looking out for them. Otherwise you might miss something important that your opponent is working towards or something blatantly obvious that you would never let slip past you when analyzing a diagram or playing an online match against someone.

I think this extra effort translates into better practice overall, in terms of both looking for possible tactics along with remembering tactical positions from the practice sessions themselves.

Anyway, back on track. After Christmas time was very short for the family, so the real chess set came out less frequently, and instead I used more diagram practice when I had the time. What was the consequence of this? I firmly believe my technique has suffered. It hasn't been horribly bad, as working with diagrams exclusively is better than nothing at all, but it has been noticeable.

Starting this week I will be going back to the tactics practice over the board, and I am going to try to cut back working solely with diagrams.


Paulo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paulo said...

I have the exact same book! Currently I'm finishing up the book written by Susan Polgar, the name is Chess Tactics for Champions or something like that.

Playing games on diagrams is harder than on the board, I would say. I have an easier time concentrating on a board then in front of a computer (where visiting other websites and videos on youtube is tempting instead of waiting for the opponents move)

jrobi said...

That's awesome Paulo - I have that book from Susan Polgar also. Both are very good. For people just starting out with tactics and chess in general I recommend Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, which was the first book I read and it has some straight forward yet important tactical lessons in it.

hpawn68 said...

If you want to practice tactics online and track your progress with a rating, try It has 2 different rating systems--blitz and standard. One word of warning: it only rewards you for finding the single best move, not for finding any move that wins. It can be frustrating at times, but the long-term payoff can be huge.