Tactics Above Strategy in Chess

Have you ever heard that chess is 95% tactics? That’s close to the mark, for most chess games are won or lost because of tactics more than strategy.

So what’s the difference between tactics and strategy?

  1. Strategy is like arranging your living room for a gymnastic event. Move the couch closer to the center of the room, then turn the love seat 90 degrees counterclockwise, then move the coffee table toward the fireplace. Now you’re all set: Jump off the table, bouncing in the middle of the sofa so that you land on the love seat, seat first.
  2. Tactics is like a slug match: Smash your opponent between his eyes, with your elbow, while he is sailing in the air between the sofa and the love seat. You win.

Sometimes the strategic chess beginner might not even get finished rearranging the furniture, for his more tactical opponent will knock him to the living room floor before the love seat is even turned 90 degrees.

Backyard Professor in a Game Against a Computer

I have enjoyed the chess-enthusiasm seen on Youtube videos by Kerry Shirts, A.K.A. the “backyard professor.” I believe the few videos that I have watched were older ones. Maybe Mr. Shirts has improved over the past two or three years, but I need to point out that there were tactical points that he was unaware of when he produced his first videos.

The Backyard Professor appears to have learned a great deal about strategy, from reading books by the International Master Jeremy Silman. That knowledge may have helped him win at least a few games against players who had been similar to him in playing strength. Yet the fastest route to success in regular tournament competition is through improving tactical performance, and I refer especially to those whose playing strength is lower than about 900 (U.S. rating). Most chess books by masters are of limited use to beginners who have had limited experience in competition. I know, for I have been there and made a mistake similar to the one made by Mr. Shirts. Put tactics first.

Backyard professor's pawn at e5 is at stake

In the above position, the computer has just played Nf3, threatening to win a pawn at e5. Many tournament players, if playing black in this position, would know that something must be done, for a center pawn should not be thrown away without compensation. This is especially true for those rated over about 1400 by the United States Chess Federation: They know that one pawn can often make a huge difference in the end game.

At the time of the above game (perhaps in 2012), Mr. Shirts did not properly appreciate the importance of a pawn. In the above position he castled, apparently not even aware that his pawn was threatened. In addition, his later analysis of his game led me to believe that he did not well understand the importance of material.

Other Backyard Professor chess videos make it clear that this enthusiastic new chess player has obtained great knowledge of principles of strategy. Such knowledge can be an asset when he begins playing stronger chess players; but that is limited. How dearly beginners and early-intermediate-level players need to understand the importance of critical imbalances of material that are so often so decisive in chess games!


The Backyard Professor

After the first move, this looks nothing like a King’s Gambit opening, more like a Pirc Defense. Still, opening transpositions can happen, and this game is an example.

Promoting a Pawn, for Chess Beginners

In the above position, the pawn can be promoted regardless of whose turn it is. This key position has the attacking king in front of its pawn, with only two squares in front of that king.

Endgame Study by Grigoriev

Grigoriev is better known as a composer of endgame studies, especially pawn end games. The following is taken from one of his studies, as recorded in the book Practical Chess Endings (by Chernev)

Chess Opening – Pirc Defense

Instructional chess video with International Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan