Are Chess Exercises Worth the Time?

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"Chess is 99% tactics" - Richard Teichmann


Many players wonder whether studying chess exercises and puzzles are helpful. Some players wonder how the training will transfer into their own game. 


From my experience, solving puzzles is one of the most rewarding things you can do to improve at chess. Over 50% of games below master level are decided because of a tactical error. So, if tactical vision is increased, you could be soaring to the master level very quickly!


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I think players don't like to study exercises because there is no immediate or tangible benefit from studying them. For example, you're not walking away saying, "I memorized 30 moves of the Dragon". Although, if you consistently solve your tactical prowess and calculation skills will far exceed your opponents. In addition, patterns will be memorized without you even trying.


Bobby Fischer


There are a couple ways you can solve puzzles. One is to just solve exercise after exercise and the other is to do the same but redo those exercises over and over again. The latter is called the "woodpecker method" and is an excellent way to improve pattern recognition. I have covered the basics of this method in my first post "The Quickest Way to Boost Your Rating". But the former may be better in terms of improving calculation. 


The Woodpecker Method


There isn't a universal way of calculation or thinking, and every player has their own way of analyzing moves. Though, there should be some structure and I will share things that I do to help me find the correct combination. 


1) Observing the position. While just looking at the board, moves may start to pop up and those thoughts shouldn't be underestimated. Intuition is one of the most powerful tools in finding good candidate moves. In addition, looking at the position will eventually give you a feeling of what both sides are trying to accomplish.


2) Analyzing the forcing moves. Forcing moves are moves that either check, capture, or threaten. If you see one, then it is a good idea to start calculating. Typically, they don't take a lot of time or strength to calculate as every move is forced. It can also give you more tactical ideas to work off of. 


3) Set a goal. This is the whole reason why you calculate. It is to accomplish some goal and you have to ask yourself what the goal is. It could be: analyzing until you find a certain evaluation such as equal or slightly better; achieving something concrete such as winning a piece, taking control of an open file, or carrying out a pawn lever; achieving a particular position. 


The goal is important as it will change the way you think and what moves become candidates. For example, if you are trying to win from a lost position, you may never find a candidate move because every variation has been rejected.


4) Candidate moves. These moves usually come automatically, but in complex positions, it is important to know what moves you should be analyzing. Actively find these moves, then begin sorting. By sorting the candidates, you keep your thoughts and variations organized. 


5) Comparing. Humans can't evaluate like engines do. People have to compare positions with each other to find the best continuation. Compare the ending positions you got with your candidates and find the position that best achieves your goal. 


6) Blunder check. Before committing to a variation, do a blunder check to make sure you don't miss a tactical oversight and throw the game.  


*Want a chess thought process checklist that you can work off of? Click here.*


Below are 6 tactical exercises, categorized by difficulty. Try to use the structure mentioned above if you are having trouble.


Easy



Intermediate



Advanced



That concludes this post and I hope your calculation and thought process has improved because of it!


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