I was looking at the MDLM part 2 pdf again. In both diagrams I believe his position has the advantage. It’s his opponent’s move and it “looks” like they have something. The thing is, if you can realize that they don’t have that move, which is “grasping at straws”, then you will also begin to realize the trouble they were in.
In diagram one, White is down 2 pawns and the exchange and needs 2 moves to get his rook to the back rank, will need to play Nc3 as ..Bf6 is probable. Black is 0-0-0 with rook out quickly anyhow, White is looking busted.
In diagram two, it is hard to find White’s reply of …Qh5 but that is also commensurate to the desperation of Black’s position in which not having Black’s “grasping at straws” move means it is obviously busted.
Not only that, but there is something else very important to note. White’s first move of the “combination” is to trade rooks on b8. Why? Well it’s the best move for a couple reasons but one is so that if Black tries to sac his queen he won’t be be able to recapture the bishop on the 8th rank with doubled rooks whilst still being able to push his a-pawn home. HE is CALCULATING well, not simply spotting the tactic, plus he has worked himself into the winning position, not something that happened in one move if you look at how far each side has advanced their pawn. His opponent replies to …Qh5 mate threat with the natural-looking …g6 when instead ..RxBc8 limits the damage to only the loss of the exchange. HIS OPPONENT is either NOT CALCULATING well or realized he is doomed and making a tongue-in-cheek reply. So, it’s not simply just tactics.
My belief is that calculating is the most important thing at the board. One reason I believe this is at faster time-controls I do a whole lot less of it and am a weaker player, can tell by results plus post-game analysis. MDLM is very right in a general sense, that tactics are huge. Also, calculation isn’t as useful when you don’t know a lot of ideas or you are not being creative. For example, if you have positional, tactical, opening idea, endgame knowledge, then it becomes easier to calculate. If you have knowledge of only tactics, let’s say, then you will primarily be calculating tactics and not so much some of these other components.
My own current tactical progress is that I am able to solve tactical problems which I went over quickly a year ago, often just looked at the answers the first time through, but it does take me considerable time to find them, and I do have the big advantage of knowing that they exist, so it does become more of a calculation exercise for me.
I am starting to study some opening lines in monographs. I got to the point where someone stumped me and I couldn’t figure out how not to lose with Black merely with Crafty’s help. Turned out there are book lines that address White’s idea, main lines in fact, and I really was only perhaps aware of them in passing, but didn’t understand at all how they worked, looked like it was dropping pawns, etc, so I had dismissed it out-of-hand. Big help and a lot better than ditching an opening variation right before a tournament. The ideas in main lines usually strike me as coming from someone who didn’t merely blitz it out of his hat, but really spent time on finding the secrets of a position.
After reaching 1800’s, I hit a roadblock on FICS and OTB. Given enough time to calculate in a game, time-control wise, it’s easy to simply dismiss as “Oh, just study tactics”, well that’s IF I have enough time during a game. Under 1800, I wouldn’t put as much focus on others learning openings because you really do have to improve calculation skills. Once you have calculation skills but are limited by time, then I think it is much better to not be clueless in the opening trying to figure out how to “invent the wheel” there, if serious about a jump in one’s ratings. But by then, just a little opening study, very focused, can help a lot. This is because it only applies to a certain position or two that one is having trouble with, and is not used as an excuse for a quest on gaining “universal positional knowledge”.
The right monograph can really impart some must-know general knowledge as well. Of 4 monographs I had, 3 were useless on a certain opening I was looking at – they were more repertoire-suggestion/game-collection books. The other one talked about general tactical strategic themes in key positions before getting to the games.