Book Review: Chess Tactics

Chess Tactics, by Paul Littlewood

Like many authors of chess books [1], this is not only a book about chess tactics, an exciting and worthwhile area of study for those of us who enjoy watching and playing chess, but is also a book by a British chessmaster who comes from a family of chess greats.  There is certainly a great deal of credibility that an author gains by pointing to his own successes (and failures) as being instructive and worth copying and it is good to know when one reads a book on chess tactics that the person writing it has more than an armchair knowledge or a passing familiarity with the ebb and flow of a classical chess match but also a deep personal familiarity with it themselves.  In addition to the credibility that the author has as an International Master and British chess champion, the book is actually written very well also, and the author’s easy tone as a writer marks him as someone from whom it would be pleasant to spend more hours reading about chess and working out the problems that the author gives for the improvement of the reader.

In less than 150 pages the author gives fifteen chapters that serve as helpful and enjoyable chess lessons for readers to improve their skills in tactical play.  The author begins with an introduction that points to the author’s view of chess not as an art or a science, but as a battle.  The first few chapters of the book examine some rather simple techniques for the reader to master, like pins (1), skewers (2), double attacks (3), and discovered attacks (4) that can prove to be successful in chess.  After that there are more complicated techniques like back rank combinations (5) to go after vulnerable kings, overloading (6), deflection (7), decoying (8), and the removal of defenses around a king (9).  At this point the author has moved to pretty advanced tactical techniques, continuing with a look at the interception of threatening attacks (10), space clearance (11), intermediate moves, otherwise known as the zwischenzug (12), and the joys of endgame pawn promotion (13).  The author then closes with some techniques on how to salvage a losing position through draws (14) and some miscellaneous problems (15). The book then ends with solutions to the problems throughout the book–each chapter has quite a few of them–and a bibliography of other worthwhile chess books for the reader to examine in their road to chess improvement.

What does a reader gain from a book like this one?  For one, a reader enjoys some time reading about some excellent games and some dramatic moments where tactics served as the handmaiden of victory while thwarting strategic plans.  For another, a reader gets plenty of problems to work out that may be seen in games, along with a better feel for the way that tactical brilliance can aid one in victory when one sees particular situations on a chessboard.  Knowing when one’s king is stalemated can help one salvage a draw out of a losing position, and knowing the weaknesses of one’s opponent can encourage quick tactical strikes to take advantage of that moment.  These are all situations that one not only can see in one’s own playing, but also that one can find if one looks at the games of chess greats.  Even of positional play and chess theory has advanced far beyond the playing of the past, the tactical play of chess greats remains something well worth studying today because tactics play such an important role in many ongoing games.  This book is certainly a worthwhile one in encouraging its readers to recognize and take advantage of tactical opportunities, and also to make them if they do not yet exist.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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