Why Another Book About Them?

Since tactics are the most entertaining and important part of chess, it comes as no surprise that there have been many books written about them. This site—which amounts to another book, and not a short one—thus requires a few words of justification. It differs from all the prior work in several important respects.

Most books about chess tactics follow one of two patterns. Some describe important tactical ideas—forks, pins, etc.—and explain their logic a bit, then provide perhaps a dozen examples of how each tactic works. The other sort of book presents pages of diagrammed problems for the reader to solve; the answers usually are given in the back with minimal commentary. Both types of books are valuable, especially when used together, but I long have felt there was a place for a different approach. This project attempts to fill the gap. Its distinctive features can be summarized as follows:

Many examples, carefully organized. This site goes into greater detail than other books do in explaining each type of tactic and how to overcome the various obstacles that can arise in trying to make it work. There are about 80 knight forks here, for example, and they are broken down according to the different ways the tactic can look when it is lurking two or three moves away on an apparently placid chessboard. It may be that the square your knight needs is guarded but that the guard can be taken; it may be that the piece you want to fork is not very valuable but can be exchanged for a more valuable piece; it may be that you do not yet have a knight fork but that after you check the enemy king a forking possibility will come into view. All of these possibilities, and many others, are illustrated with about a half dozen explanations apiece and sometimes more. The process is repeated for all the major tactical motifs: there are more than 100 queen forks, more than 300 pins, nearly 200 discovered attacks—all subdivided into different ways each of these ideas can look when it is a couple of moves away from perfection.

This method of organization makes it easier to learn in a systematic way about tactics and the issues that come up in using them. Every idea is shown in several contexts so that it will sink in and the persistent features of the pattern become familiar to you. And the many examples of each complication also will make it easier to recognize patterns during your games: you will start to sense that the position on the board almost resembles a recognizable pattern and almost lends itself to a known tactical theme. Then you can experiment with forcing moves (e.g., checks and captures that require predictable replies from your opponent) to make it work. The idea guides the experimentation. But to have the idea in the first place—to see, for example, that conditions on the board suggest a possible knight fork, even if the exact means of getting there has yet to be worked out—you need a repertoire of known tactical patterns that can be stimulated by the positions you see. The patterns studied here, in all their little variations, are meant to go into the reader's store of visual knowledge and become the basis of useful intuitions and ideas.

Trains of thought explained. Chess tactics tend to involve the use of certain root ideas—cognitive riffs—that get repeated and combined in various ways. The explanations here are meant to explain and reinforce those ideas so they become a natural part of your thought process at the board.

Here is a slightly larger statement of the point. The quality of your chess is determined by the quality of your train of thought when deciding what move to make. The train of thought may be partly verbal, partly visual, or partly intuitive, but in any case it will involve a sequence in which you consider candidate moves and their pros and cons. The climb from novice to something better largely is a move from meandering, unsystematic trains of thought to more methodical and fruitful ones. For the beginner it therefore is helpful to see more than just a list of the correct moves that solve a chess problem; it helps to hear what questions one might have asked to spot the pattern and discover the correct moves for oneself. Thus every example here is accompanied by commentary explaining not just the right moves but a train of thought that leads from the position to its solution.

The trains of thought offered in the commentaries emphasize the use of clues: signs to search for during your games that indicate a tactic might be available. The explanations show how the same sets of questions, some of them simple, can generate impressive tactical ideas when they are asked and answered methodically. Some trains of thought thus are repeated many times. The repetition would be inexcusable if the purpose of the project were just to transmit information, for then once would be enough. But the purpose is otherwise; it is to help change your mental habits at the board, and for this purpose an extra measure of clarity and some repetition both are helpful.

This project especially is meant for those who like explanations in words. Not everyone does; some students of chess prefer just diagrams with lists of the moves required to solve them. But I suspect that those who do think best in words will find it helpful—more interesting, easier to understand, and more likely to improve their play—to have the solutions to problems explained out in English. These are matters of taste, and you, gentle reader, may not think the world really needs more words about chess. But if you do share this sense of mine, and have not found that most books about chess explain it in a way that speaks to you or affects your play, perhaps this site will change your relationship to the game.