Solving tactic puzzles are fun, but there’s one caveat: you know that there’s a tactic available. You have no such luxury in an in-game scenario. If you think you might be able to execute a tactic, what steps can you go through to find it?
Think about the following considerations:
- Which pieces (pawns) are undefended? Which pieces protect two things?
- Can you visualize a position in which you would be able to win material or checkmate, and try to bring that about?
- Do you have any defensive concerns you might need to worry about-for example, if the other side is about to checkmate you, anything you will do will have to either solve the checkmate or check your opponent. If you don’t have any defensive concerns, you don’t need to worry about any threats.
- If you don’t see anything right away, look for a “quiet move”, which doesn’t do anything this move but creates a deadly threat that the opponent can’t escape from. For example, a frequent tactic is to cast a “mating net”, i.e. where you move to threaten checkmate, and your opponent can’t stop you or must give up substantial material.
- If you see something that almost works, try switching around the move orders.
- Take into account ALL of your pieces and ALL possible threats you might perform. That bishop on your backrank that you’ve ignored all game might be the key to your situation.
- Make sure you understand the different types of tactics: Forks, pins, skewers, deflection, decoy, double attack, overloaded attack, discovered attack, double check, zugzwang, in-between move / zwischenzug, smothered mate, backrank mate, etc.
- If you think you might be able to checkmate, try moves that restrict where the king can go-that is, don’t let the king escape.
- Look for open lines.
- Try threatening a good move, like a discovered check-often, they will have no good response.
- Most importantly, look for opponent responses to your considered move-especially “in-between-moves”, which turn your brilliancies into fodder for your opponent.
If you still haven’t discovered any tactics, your next move must be instead dictated by strategical considerations.
- Whenever you look at a position, you should have a plan and carry it out by assessing the imbalances of a situation, i.e. the plusses and minuses of each side.
- Plusses include: control of center, mobile pawn wing, outpost, superior development, space advantage, bishop pair, half-open file or control of open file, rook on 7th rank, passed pawn, outside passed pawn, protected passed pawn, advanced pawn (which cramps the opponent), two pawns v. one in the center.
- Minuses include: weak pawns (backward pawn, isolated pawn, doubled pawns, crippled pawn majority), bad bishop / space disadvantage, unsafe king, holes / weak squares, and king stuck in the center.
- See if your advantage is static-i.e. pretty permanent or long-term-or dynamic (temporary, such as an advantage in development, where your opponent will catch up if you don’t act quickly).
- Determine a plan to maximize your advantages and limit your opponent’s advantages. This is the hard part, and what chess is all about.
Remember, you can convert one advantage to another. This is a very important concept: try cashing in your dynamic advantage for a static advantage, and several static advantages for a pawn.