Positional versus tactical skills

This is sort of odd, but I want to explain my theory on why I got my rating jump by beating higher-rated players and not by beating lower-rated players.

Let me back up first. Two schools of thought exist on chess improvement. One is positional play and we’ll call this the Blunderprone school of thought. The second one is studying tactical diagrams. We can call this the Seven Circles guy’s school of thought.

IMHO, to beat the lower-rateds, you need to find the tactical shots, whereas to beat the higher-rateds, you need a solid positional game/understanding.

Why is this? Well, some of the lower-rateds, like I was once, probably read books on openings and study the greats, so they can get decent positions. Sometimes they are even unbeatable when they stick to their opening schemes so well.

Higher-rated players are usually better at tactics and endgames. Some higher-rateds are strong tactically and positionally (Neal and Show are two that I face in this respect). The rest I play against are mainly tactically strong. Like Anthony Ong is way stronger than me tactically, but the other thing is that some of these players like to mix it up so much that someone is bound to lose. This is where your having solid positional skills can make it harder for them to finish their attack, while also giving you great counter-chances should they not capitalize positionally.

My other theory, based on supposition really, is that most of the “just tactics” school of thought will begin to tap out around 2000-2200 USCF rating. I think the 2200 types are probably monsters of the endgame or of tactics. But beyond that are probably the types more like postal players, players who will have a lot more researched and I would think strong balance of positional understanding mixed with tactics. I would think the types to make it to a Zurich 1953 tournament would be the types that can keep it together positionally as well as tactically, although there are still imbalances like Keres was mad tactics guy, Smyslov more balanced, Petrosian and Karpov more positional.

I guess a better way of saying this is that you can be imbalanced between the two, but for example if “all” you knew were tactics, like that’s all you had ever studied period, then I don’t think you would have the positional strength to reach those positions in some cases, or you would have such a skewed preference that you would end up in losing endgames, and strategically botched middlegames. That I have seen happen before, then the person ends up saying something like “tactics don’t work!” and I do believe that is a quote.

On the other side of the coin is the person who is 1300 and reaches a won game against a 1900 player, but can’t “pull the trigger” correctly or possibly even loses on time (because tactics will eat up major time, if a person is not used to analyzing them) – incidentally, this last person was me. Stronger players analyze their tactics rather quickly, so calculation speed is part of the issue toward improving results as well.

Just had a look at Dana’s blog:
He is a Master with a neat combinative position. I love puzzles like that! I did fairly well, but didn’t play his initial move which is quite masterful. Now that is an instructive game fragment! You can also test whether you see how the final move is winning. This stuff is getting easier for me now as I am studying tactics from the ‘Combination Challenge’ book. It really is mostly pattern recognition. You can even recognize the themes like how the CC book breaks it down.

There is a less glamorous win in that position than the one he choose, so I’ll include it as a comment.

The best part about studying tactics is that it is the most time-efficient way to improve your results, if you are strapped for time and can only study one thing.

You guys may somewhat think I am joking with regards to these two positional players that I have to face. Found one game on the internet by Show. It was a maneuvering draw. Here is a game by Neal:

Giving this game the once-over, I think Black missed his chance to draw by not taking the bishop with 47… BxR 48. e7 Rf8 49. exR Kxf and now the king can rush over to stop the pawns from queening and the rook can aim to win the c-pawn. I think Black should have asked for a draw on move 40. I didn’t like where he doubled the pawns on e6 either instead of Rxe6, but this is what can happen when you play this guy. Scary. I think positional players do best against him, which means he does lose some games to a positional player of lower rating like Kurt beat him once recently (Kurt is currently 1651 but also has nearly 600 tournaments played to his name).

Kurt once told me it started out with him and his buddies playing. They would play not to lose in the opening, just set up their pieces unbothered, so consequently I don’t think he formally learned the openings so much as his strength during a game grows the longer it goes on. IOW, you don’t want to be waiting around until move 30 to try and get an advantage against him.

Charles was 2334, and Neal was 1990 at the time.

Here is the game I found of Show as Black. Actually, I think Black still has something to play for here, but White does not.


My tournament history goes back to ’93, but I’ve been fascinated by chess since ’84.

The only lingering thing that still doesn’t feel right is how when I play now, some people I can tell they really want to beat me instead of take a draw. But then again I think that attitude has percolated down now to all levels, the self-improvement ethic but with a serious industriousness. Another reason why I’d rather not play lower-rated players now. I see them in the lower section not talking to each other after their games, and really playing the whole clock out fiercely over some precious draw or little time left game.

Back in the days of Yore, when Chess was still big, I guess, and online games weren’t around, I remember that I would go to the donut shop after at least one of my games and analyze the whole game with an opponent, that was possibly more fun than even playing that game, silly as that sounds. Nobody does this anymore really, and it makes me sad. I think that’s one of the reasons I pulled back from tournament play many years ago. I would go in not taking it all deathly serious but I could feel that that was the general atmosphere; guess I was walking in out of practice some times.

Five years after I had started tournament chess I was still a low 1300 level player even! But I always loved chess and wanted to improve and have different adventures. Now I am a ‘responsible’ player and stick to what I know a bit more because I know that is what works, and that results are what people go by, it’s funny that I’m even consciously acknowledging this. It’s more stressful to play a game nowdays, but still enjoyable, if not quite as surprising as it once was when used to stumble into a loss in the first time control frequently enough.

When I say stressful, it’s not really the chess because that is something I do to myself, it’s the body language of a higher-rated opponent, more confident, a more judgmental aire, plus they are strong on the clock almost universally in the sense that they are thinking on my time rather than the other way around. Actually, I was lucky to win that first round game as I had a minute remaining (he had set 5 second delay) and he had about 50 minutes remaining, but this is common against these opponents. I must say though the fact that I can play strong chess takes a lot of the pressure off, as I was walking around during all 3 games looking at other people’s games, hadn’t been doing this recently.

I will suggests moves to my opponents now after the game, how they may have possibly improved, but most don’t reciprocate the same desire, instead it feels more like Cold War Russia where you don’t want to let your secrets out. I think I talk too much sometimes too.
Anyway, I think to myself that some people are also probably stuck like I was for five years, and I watch them play against me, and I feel like they are hitting their heads against the wall a bit and should open up more. But that is life I guess.

2.5 out of 3

Rollingpawns, good luck if you play tomorrow!

I beat an Expert, 2000 level guy. I had a clear win and then started botching the endgame big-time left and right. Eventually he probably even had a draw but thank goodness dropped a piece at the very end, which of course I was hoping for even though it seemed relatively obvious.

I drew against that little girl this time, didn’t take her seriously at first and made two obvious blunders in the French Advance var. opening (moved too fast, little too cocky). I was glad she accepted the draw. Lucky to draw as White, horrible game. I didn’t even want to play this variation because it didn’t look so good to me, but I read in a book once that such and such move is a mistake (that she made). Well, I am glad book authors have jobs because I didn’t find it to be a mistake. Worst part about playing the Advance French is you have to play the opening right, get your moves in on time, or it just plain sucks as White it seems. I wanted to play a quieter sub-variation and wished I had, but I am ecstatic that I got the draw.

I played Joe again. I was Black in a Milner-Barry gambit French. At one point I finally got tired and took a second pawn, and felt that something wasn’t right as soon as I made the move (plus I was trying to make up on time by this point). He sacked a knight and had a forced draw by repetition so I offered the draw. He refused and pointlessly went for the win which didn’t work and and since he was already down a piece, I won the game. There was a moment where I thought the combination might work and that I had lost the game. Luckily, I was alright!

Oh..my..gosh, I did it! I made A level player rating comfortably! Finally did it, not someday but today!! Wohoo! 🙂

My new rating is 1825.

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3

How _not_ to improve at chess

How not to improve at standard chess, for me anyway, is to play “B” level players with my B game (playing 15 0 time controls, which I am bad at). How to _improve_ is to play “A” level players with my A game (playing 20 30 time controls, or around there, where I play well at).

Exhibit A, ‘A’ level win:
Exhibit A

Exhibit B, ‘B’ level win:
Exhibit B

Game A: nice win, learned something more about chess, improved my game considerably especially after going over alternate variations with Crafty.

Game B: cowardly,atrocious game on my part where I offered a draw to my pawn-blundering opponent, right after I won back my pawn. He refused, of course, because I was low on time (a process which I like to refer to as the ‘red-neck video-game chess effect’ of which the classic example is blitzing on in opposite colored bishop-ending to try and win on time – happens all the time on FICS in blitz. Second only to that is when the other player starts playing 3rd rate moves on purpose in order to drag out a long game and win in your time pressure, at ‘standard’ chess mind you – again, does nothing for chess improvement, IMO ).

Reason I say cowardly is that I should have played Rc8 followed by Bb8 instead of Nc4 (which is really bailing out of the middle-game, and I knew that’s what I was doing as he gets initiative to compensate). This is not how I want to play chess.

Against the “B player” I probably lose about 4 points on FICS for a draw and gain 4 points for a win. He gains about 12 points for a win, which is like winning 3 games. Let’s see, yesterday I drew 2 games against said B players so lost 8 points. Whereupon I had to beat the A player to win back 9 points. This my friends, to me anyway, is an exercise in futility.

In conclusion, I think the time for chess improvement is better spent studying, analyzing, learning openings, tactics, endgames, rather than seeing who can pull a fast-one on who in online chess.


I worked through 1 of each 10 themes in Combination Challenge.

Played a Caro-Kahn fantasy variation as White on FICS. Black plays Bg4 on like move 5 or 6 and that blunders a pawn – simple check and fork. didn’t see it. But because I didn’t see it, I got saddled with a weak positional game. hehe. So much for that theory about combinations. But if you know your opening, the pull there tends to last longer than bang! tactic on a single move.

Wow, you want to see theory, study a few lines of the Accelerated Dragon. The goal is to find a spot around theory, because theory goes from the beginning to nearly the end of the game, almost 30 moves. Polly’s Qa5 isn’t necessarily the most challenging even, …a5 requires getting out of theory as White, pretty much.

I think I’m ready to step back from preparation until the tournament starts. I plan on playing U1900. They have U2100 and U1700 also, and more, not just Open and Amateur like the last tournament. Which means I would need to try and just about win it this time to have something to show for it, a very tall order but who knows.

The combination


You can go ahead and look for it, Black to move. On the face of it, it just looks like I played a stupid game against a stronger player, but a combination was the difference between losing and grabbing an advantage. I suspect that neither of us saw, nor would the casual examiner of the game, but it is critical.

Different position; again, Black to move – find the moves. Hint: If you solve position 1, it will make it a lot easier to solve position 2.


Pacific Southwest Open – Pt. 2

Game 3, round 5, I got clumsy at the end, not picking up either the a-pawn or g-pawn with my queen, but I was simply trying to make time control. He had one of those old clocks where the flag falls, and I didn’t want to get anywhere near close to the last 10 minutes, but really this something I should not have worried about.

He said he didn’t realize that he was dropping a piece because he didn’t think that my Bc1 move would be undefending something of his; and this guy did beat a master during this tournament, so he’s no slouch. I discussed the position and opening theory with him afterward. I feel like I was more up on the theory of what I played, since his Nc4 got him nowhere and he even admitted it needed to go back to e5, but he was right in that NxN on c6 would have been easier for me to play, as did Crafty. I asked him about the c3 sicilian and he said “I like to move pieces, c3 move seems too slow.” or thereabouts.

Round 5

Round 6

The end of the round 4 game is deceiving as I had simply not figured out the tactic to defend with. At the end I had played Nd5 to threaten Nf4 fork, and if he plays g3, I can play Nd7 to defend g6, but that is too slow. I was going to play hxg, almost did, but then blitzed out fxg for the happy-go-lucky swindler’s chances in time-trouble. After the game I asked him about hxg instead and he said “I’d probably play Nxg”. Crafty gives that move the big nod of > +2 or so, but we blitzed there and I found a way out of the mess, so he would have really needed to take quite a bit of time to get that one right. Then we blitzed to a “drawn” position, but he said he thought he stood better, so I exchanged bishops to see and he was right, winning the K+P ending. But I could have avoided the exchange there, and I believe even had the initiative.

The game I’m still kicking myself over is that round 2 game, I had and deserved the win, but threw it away instead of like walking over to Carl’s Jr. and taking a bit of a break to re-gather myself. Dumb that I tried to stick to the game so that he wouldn’t have to sit there bored, when he was the one that made me sit there anyway. He even said the next day I saw him that yes, it was an obvious win for me, and of course I had also played it out with Crafty, it _was_ rather obvious.

I can’t believe my rating actually went up from 1763 to 1771. I thought it would go down. It’s a lot easier to maintain a rating by playing at this section-level, IMHO or at least for me, nearly taking wins, draws, from stronger rated players, and sometimes getting them.

Oh no, I’m laughing. My fellow buddies who played in the amateur section, one got 4.0 and dropped down a point to 1742, and another got 3.0 and dropped down about 30 points, as he was 1771 originally. Now I’m 1771. This is like ‘Trading Places’. The difference in my favor is not “chess strength” but that my gimme win type chances came against stronger players. Sure, one or two of those 1400/1500 level players will drop a piece, but then you’re getting your gimme wins against weaker players, so it doesn’t really justify your time spent (if you are there for the rating points).

Another thing is that it is better, IMHO, to analyze in tough positions against stronger players. Against weaker players you will still need to use as much time, but mostly what you are getting out of the result is accuracy, and not actually having to step-up your game as much, nor possibly work against your weak points as much.

Polly mentioned something about playing in the seniors circuit. I met Carl Pilnick Sunday, Randy Hough was kind enough to introduce me to him (not the GM, that’s the other Pilnick from Argentina or such) but the one who famously drew Reshevsky in 1942. He mentioned some of the crap Reshevsky would pull to try and win a game, and some people listening were saying “I would never claim a win in that situation”, but I missed the story – apparently, one time Reshevsky wrote down an extra repetition on his scoresheet to claim draw by 3-fold repetition, but the spectators caught that attempt.

Famous draw. I believe he said that he was 17, and Reshevsky 18 at the time.
Carl Pilnick vs. Sammy Reshevsky