MDLM may have invented “The Seven Circles” method of study, but his idea of tactics getting you to Expert wasn’t new, it’s simply how he implemented it. MDLM scored 6/9 and 8.5/9 in two consecutive World Opens.
That he got to Expert by playing a lot and suggesting you do roughly 50 tactics every day shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. The real surprise should be why did he quit? Here’s my theory.
First of all, that’s a lot of chess study and play to keep up just to do well in a big prize tournament. Second of all, it’s not often suggested that that is the best road to winning the under 2200 section. Third, and perhaps the smoking gun in all of this, is that after achieving his 2040 rating he was apparently given a floor of 2000. This of course means, no more prize money tournaments for playing in an Under 2000 section. Now, what I don’t know is whether or not this floor was added many years later after inactivity, but it’s there now in any case.
Ken Smith had an essay going way back where Masters told him the “tactics, tactics, tactics” meme. My book Combination Challenge by Hays and Hall has right on the cover the suggestion of attaining Expert or Master through tactics training – 1991, well before MDLM’s book, of course it didn’t add anything about adult improvement seekers to the tag-line. But the word ‘adult’ nearly implies having tried the hard way first of simply reading books, and not relying on natural talent or youthful energy.
Really, tactics or combinations is problem-solving. Solving problems tactically, okay, but that is mostly how you solve problems in chess. I have the Hays and Hall book, and for some of the more challenging problems even set them up on the chessboard. Even with the answers, sometimes it was not clear why, for example in one case, they won the a-pawn and not the h-pawn, but it was only after finding further tactics that I realized why they took one pawn instead of the other. So, a lot of these are really problems, and can you blame a chess problem for having a tactical solution?
In other news, I finally registered an account on one of these chess tactics server sites, Chesstempo. After getting adjusted to the board and how it works, I’m up to 1522 rating. hehe. This is kind of neat, and I see how it could become addictive. The interesting thing is you quickly come up with a methodology – “How am I being attacked?” “What are the balance of forces?” “Where is my attack?”. You do all of this and solve the problem in say half a minute. At first it took me a couple minutes, then I realized most of these are easy, but it still forces you to think creatively and not move too quickly.
These are what I think of as tactics problems – the ones in my book are often more heavy-duty combinations. Just did 44 problems, ended up with 1519 rating. Probably if one stayed at the same rating, I could see diminishing returns setting in quickly, but I felt it gave my board vision a real boost for the simpler stuff. One was difficult, involved a queen sac mate in the Scotch.