Right now, I feel like I am standing in the shoes of Michael de la Maza, and looking over the shoreline. I know where he was coming from. Lock yourself in a room with a board, tactics book and throw away the key.
Today I studied 24 diagrams of the pin motif, and solved all of them to a varying degree. Often I missed a motif, even after spotting the first couple of moves. This one problem was like let the queen hang for 7 moves or so, just adding more pins and attacks against he king. Lots of themes in one combo. One I recognized from the Encyclopedia of the Middlegame (combos), it went like this:
Move 1 – remove the defender with a pawn sac.
Move 2 – threaten the kingside, forcing an f6 pawn defense, then work off the pinned bishop on e6 which just lost it’s f7 defender, and win that bishop. In a way, this one isn’t even too difficult, and yet none of them are in some way.
What I am getting at is, okay, yes I am solving the problems, but for all moves combined to solve it, it is often around 10 minutes. A Master can find these in blitz. Little problem I have, a blitz game doesn’t last 10 minutes, no wonder why my rating is only 1400 at blitz! (but 1800 OTB and at Standard).
What does this mean? It means that what MDLM was getting at, I think, with this “board-vision” is that you need to recognize these tactics quickly OTB. It’s not just an ability issue, it’s also a time issue, and so it’s really both. With games at faster time-controls, this becomes a significant difference in practical ratings-strength (i.e., you may be “better”, yet still lose to the quicker player).
Energy can ebb and flow, too. One moment, one can solve a problem quickly, the next the obvious seems to take forever to recognize.
My conclusion is this: Forget everything else, tactics should be number one until you can solve tactics problems quickly.
I like that I have a large set of problems as this is not a perfect system. For example, the goal might be “pattern recognition”, but there is a better chance that you will simply remember the answer to a problem you’ve seen before more easily than you will recognize the patterns in the problem which were the point of studying all this. I even recognize the positions from famous games, but overall it is working as intended, I am working my way through and repairing all of my chess tactics “blind spots”, one little, yet significant blind-spot at a time.
BTW, I don’t think that even looking at an engine’s analysis compares to this. Looking at analysis is great for passive learning, but at some point you have to “make it your own” and become proficient at it. Rifling through a book doesn’t cut it either because you will be too tempted to look at the answer and consider nothing else.
I set the position up at the board, and use clocks. I will set it up haphazardly, since I try to take a photograph of the position as much as I can, but a Master once told me that the best way is to set up the pawns first. I would add that kings are next, then queens, then rooks, then knights and bishops.
Also, don’t be so concerned about material other than to count it so that you know if something is missing. The most important thing is not missing a mating attack or a tactical/positional weakness. (note: I say this, and then miss a couple of problems with double-attacks).
Something that MDLM said is that you should study tactics everyday, even during tournaments. I have to preface this, this is true only if you are used to doing (a lot of) tactics. If you do a mass cram of tactics for the first time, make sure it is a week or so before the big tournament. The most important thing for a tournament is to be fresh.
For me, my ability to calculate (including calculating the wrong thing) outstrips my ability to find simple tactics, therefore in my case tactics study is more important now than is visualizing a particular line. In a similar vein, my ability to see squares is better than my ability to spot a knight fork, because I didn’t do any concentric circle drills, for example Ne5-d7 forks f6 and f8 – one should be able to see that fork quickly, by only visualizing the squares.
There is something else that I should add, and a quite bizarre revelation that I acquired from one of Geller’s games and comment. He won a game tactically, I think it was against Fuderer, or a name like that. He said the guy was tactical, so Geller would attack him tactically. The weird part was that the attack was not sound and was a move from being defeated against, except that he over-respected his opponents attack because it was tactical and he was also a tactical player. This is very weird.
IOW, a tactical player will over-rely on tactics, exaggerating it’s importance, much as an endgame player would probably do with endgames. This is heavy and worth much psychological value. Some of these kids that got to 1900 quickly, for example, I know that they will over-exaggerate tactically, to the point where it becomes easy for me to pick them off because I know they will try to come up with some combo, or lose positional patience. Weird, but very effective to know this. IOW, they will try to force me to beat them with tactics, if they are tactical; just as an endgame player might try to force me to beat them with an endgame, because that is where their comfort-zone is. There is an expression “If all one has is a hammer…everything begins to look like a nail.”