Chess Tactics Server ThoughtsI mentioned that I'd write about this a little while ago and I don't want to let myself down. I've been enjoying the Chess Tactics Server (CTS) and my feeling via casual games I've played recently is that it is helping me see more tactics. The long term effects on my USCF rating are to be determined. When I started out at CTS a couple months ago my CTS rating was not much over 1500. I am now rated a bit over 1600 and so I believe that one can improve CTS performance through CTS study.
What is good at CTS
CTS is for learning quick pattern recognition. The time limits at CTS enforce recognizing the tactical patterns quickly in order to improve one's rating. It is not possible to calculate every possible move and response (computer search algorithm style) in order to determine the correct play under the time limit. Thus it is necessary to recognize the tactical patterns, see the moves and understand their consequences subconciously, and perhaps calculate only narrow forced trees.
When we get a problem wrong at CTS we must consider the source of error, otherwise we are doomed to this failure forever. Shortly after I began at CTS, I was missing or taking a long time on problems that were well within the scope of my chess understanding. In large part they were double attacks with the queen, most often checks. Why was I getting these problems wrong? I simply did not see the queen move when first presented the problem. Upon recognizing this, I made an effort to see all queen checks. Slowly I began to see all the queen checks without effort! This is pattern recognition.
As a second example, I also began to overlook defensive resources (the piece I want to move is pinned or my king is already in check!) for the opponent. Sometimes I would see a fork or skewer or something that appeared to win material and be stunned that my answer was wrong. I had overlooked a defensive resources thwarting my tactical idea. The correct tactic was first removing the defense or something else altogether! Thus I made a conscious effort to look for defensive resources for the opponent. Slowly I began to see defensive resources without much effort at all, and be more confident that there is no resource if I don't see one.
The fast time controls are important at CTS. They enforce the understanding of the solution without effort. Most of the problems that are just beyond my range in 3-10 seconds are still solvable with the right effort. It is important that I continue to put in this effort until they can be solved without it, only then should I move on. Thus, the time control ensures my rating will remain low enough that I will work on these problems until they are solved with less effort.
What CTS is not good for
CTS is not for calculation training. Calculation, as in a real game of chess, requires time. It requires considering many possibilities, some of which will include patterns like the ones learned at CTS. Thus, what is learned at CTS can aid in calucation, but it does not teach one to calculate.
CTS is not a game simulation. Every problem in CTS has a clear tactical resolution. I estimate that perhaps 10% of the time there is a clear tactical resolution during our move in a real chess game. The majority of the time, we are preparing our army to be ready for the tactical resolution. There will almost certainly come a time in our game where there exists a tactical blow, and certainly what we have learned at CTS will help us, but for the majority of the game, this is not as immediate as it is on the problems at CTS.
As always, we must have a balanced approach to learning chess. CTS alone cannot be enough. Studying deep tactical problems that require calcuation is necessary and studying positional ideas is necessary.
Rating and Percent Success
Some people are concerned with rating and percent success. My opinion is that in large part these things do not matter. Your CTS rating is not there for your ego. It exists so that the problem set you try to solve is taylored to your needs. It is not necessary to try to get a high rating, nor is it helpful to your chess playing ability. Your CTS rating will increase when your pattern recognition improves, presumably, so will your overall chess ability.
Of course we should strive to get a problem correct when it is put in front of us. Putting in this effort helps us learn the patterns. But we should not fear getting problems wrong. Often this most stern reprimand is the best way to open our eyes to our faults. Once our eyes are open, then we can work on the repairs.
Labels: chess tactics server