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A very common statement made by authors is that chess is 90% tactics.  The exact percentage may evoke comment but, nevertheless, tactics play a major part in any game and as such deserves considered attention.

Gary Lane chooses this as the theme of the latest addition to his series that exalts us to improve certain aspects of our chess playing abilities in seven days.  In his usual exuberant style he takes us through the tactics that we should look out for on the board and those we should be aware of before we sit down to play.  In the latter case he does not suggest, as Ruy Lopez did, that we should seat our opponent facing the sun, rather that we should be aware of our opponent's playing foibles and make use of our knowledge.  An example of this shows through his game against Ian Rogers in the 2003/2004 Australian Championship (won by Gary) in which he completely unsettled his opponent by using an opening never before appearing in his praxis.  This game, that was crucial to the overall result of the Championship, is attached to this review to illustrate this particular ploy. 

As is the norm in this series, the author caters for those players who have insufficient time (and resources) for study and practice.  He achieves this mainly by means of annotated games and annotated extracts of play.  But this is not just dry text.  The narrative is spiced with many items of chess trivia and anecdotes.  I particularly liked the following:

"Marcel Duchamp's works of art now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars so people were rather stunned when in the 1920's he announced that he wanted to spend more of his time playing chess.  He was a reasonable international player and represented France in the Chess Olympiad.  During this period his preoccupation with chess upset his first wife to such an extent that she glued his chess pieces to the board - and this may have been one of the reasons for their divorce four months later."

A very understandable cause of matrimonial disharmony!

All the books in this series give practical and common sense advise.  In the main this advise has been garnered by the author's own extensive participation in national and international events and experience from his coaching activities.  It is easy to recognise one's own failings in the face of such advise and this helps to register the impact on the mind of the reader.  Practical advise is more valuable than volumes of theory.

To cover the chosen topic The book is structured into the seven day programme headed by an introduction and concluded by sections on "Moving on" together with a glossary of terms.

The seven day topics are :-

Day 1 - So you want to improve your tactics?

Day 2 - Understanding tactics.

Day 3 - How to develop your creativity.

Day 4 - Tactics in the opening.

Day 5 - Tactics in the middlegame.

Day 6 - Tactics in the endgame.

Day 7 - Blunders and brilliancies.

Each section is broken down into many themes and this structured approach makes it quite easy to find any particular idea or example.  It's good to see that the author continues his exposition on "predict a move" - a concept that he introduced in a previous book in this series and a very useful ploy to keep in mind.

He does so in "Day 3" with examples from his own praxis.  Here is an extract providing a rather subtle idea:-


"I had two reasonable choices here to stop ....Rb5 and those were Na3 and Nc3


I chose this move because after 16.Na3 there are no problems for Black who can play 16...0-0 and then carry on chasing the white queen.  My motivation was the predict-a-move method because it put my opponent under pressure by forcing him to make a critical decision on what to do about his threatened bishop.  I had a sneaking suspicion that he would just protect it because anything else loses a pawn.


The best response is the clever 16...Be6 intending 17.Nxe4 Bb6 18.Qe5 0-0! with compensation for the pawn thanks to Black's useful pair of bishops.


Sydney 2007


It was only now that Gibbons saw that 17...Rd5 18.Rxd5 Qxd5 might well threaten a back rank mate on d1 and a discovered attack with 109...Bxf2+ winning material.  But 19.Be3! stops all the threats - and pins and eventually wins the bishop.

17...Bb6 18.Qb4 Rd6 19.Qxe4+ 1-0

These snapshots demonstrate the usefulness of masking your true intentions - something I had previously assumed was standard practice.  However I later found out from coaching players of all levels to promote it because it is a great way to sharpen your tactics."

This example encapsulates many aspects of the book's contents quite apart from "predict-a-move".  It illustrates the psychological approach advocated by the author as well as developing a tactical vision and a practical approach to one's play.

The penultimate chapter is a useful reminder to more experienced players that tactics exist in the endgame.  One is apt to get into the habit when playing an endgame to treat it in rather a mechanical and dry manner, mostly aimed at queening a pawn or winning sufficient material to place the result beyond doubt.  The fact that tactics still exist rarely cross one's mind. The very first example in this chapter amply demonstrates the need to remain aware that tactics do play a part in the endgame. 

"Black is confident of making a draw here but you have to take care when you play even the simplest of moves.

79...Ke5?? 80.b8=Q+ 1-0"

A world class player has been a sharp reminder not to forget that the endgame can be tactical.  Surprisingly, Shirov, against the same opponent in the Foros tournament of 2008, suffered a similar fate in the endgame.


Morelia/Linares 2008

This topic leads easily into the subject of the final chapter "Blunders and Brilliancies".  Once again we are extolled to remain alert and look for tactics in whatever position appears on the board.  It is seldom that a position can be reviewed without some attention being paid to tactics.

The titles in this series of "7 Days" lead one to expect that it is aimed at experienced players who need to dust off their technique.  I feel that this may be a slightly false impression as I believe the series could be advantageously studied by beginners or at least near-beginners.

Batsford have continued with the single column format used in "Improve your Chess in 7 days" that accommodates very satisfactorily the fine and humorous drawings of Gerrard Oswald.  For this type of book the single column format is very easy on the eye.  As numerous diagrams are provided there is little danger that if one is reading a game score the position is not well covered when turning a page.

As usual, Gary's style shows his love of the game and his keen sense of humour gleams through the text.  If you have not already done so, I recommend that you get a copy of "Improve your Chess in 7 days" as together with this current edition of "Sharpen your tactics" and any more additions will form a chess library on it's own and will provide endless enjoyment as a source of reference for years to come.

"Sharpen your Chess tactics in 7 days" maintains the high standard of Batsford's publications and is keenly priced at Ł12.99 having regard for the fact that contains 224 pages.  

  Click HERE for the example game Rogers - Lane, Australian Championship, Adelaide 2003/04.

Bill Frost

June 2009