by Steve Lopez

"Chess is 99% tactics" -- Richard Teichmann

Tactics, tactics, tactics. Yeah, yeah -- heard it. It's a hoary old cliché that's been kicked around for three-quarters of a century. When are people going to stop quoting that old cyclops Teichmann over and over?

That might be what you're thinking whenever you hear that "hoary old cliché" quoted for the ten thousandth time. But do you know why it's quoted so often?

Because Teichmann was right.

Nothing will improve your game faster than tactical proficiency (unless it's a pistol aimed at your opponent's head at a critical point during the game). If Philidor was right in saying that the pawn is the soul of chess, Teichmann was correct in implying that tactics is the heart of the game.

And what do most players do when they learn of this nugget of wisdom? Zilch. Nada. Zippo. We just run out and buy yet another Winning with the... opening book and then wonder why we stay stuck at a 1550 rating forever.

Tactics! That's the key. Studying tactics and learning the basic patterns will jump our results up a notch or five.

The biggest problem with studying tactics is that it's such a grind. Get out a board, crack open a Reinfeld book, set up the position, stare at it for fifteen minutes, and then cheat by looking up the answer in the back of the book. Not very productive. What we need is a "drill sergeant" approach: "NO, YOU PATHETIC WORM!!! THE PAWN IS PINNED, IDIOT!!! DROP AND GIVE ME FIFTY!!!"

You and I both know that ain't gonna happen. Nobody's going to stand there and rap us across the knuckles like a demented schoolmarm when we reach for the Rook instead of the Bishop. But that's what we need -- somebody to ram the knowhow down our throats over and over until we get it right.

Enter George Renko. He's hit upon a unique method for hammering home these all-important tactical lessons, becoming (in effect) our own private drill instructor. His new CD from ChessBase is entitled Intensive Tactics Course. That title is no lie. Sit down with this CD and do forty or fifty problems at one go. When you've finished the session, you might feel like you've been smacked in the head with a 2x4, but I guarantee that there will be some valuable knowledge rattling around in your head that you didn't have before.

Most tactics books work the same way: you get a text introduction to a tactical theme, followed by a half-dozen problems to solve. Easy to read, easy to cheat. Get stumped after two minutes? Just look up the answer in the back of the book. Maybe you'll remember it. Hey, no problem -- I'm OK, you're OK, right? Sure -- and the next time you sit down to play you'll miss developing your own tactical threats and get smacked down hard by a two-mover you never saw coming.

Chess is war, baby. No doubt about it. The goal is to destroy your opponent. He or she might be a close relative, your best friend, or your significant other -- but this makes no difference. Either make him cry or he'll end up embittering you.

George Renko realizes this. He doesn't baby you with this CD. There are no pleasant chatty little text introductions to the various tactical themes. He just throws you right into the deep end -- the first position you click on will bring up a timed training question. The clock is running and you need to find the solution before time runs out.

Renko has provided over 4000 tactical questions divided into more than 100 categories. Here's what you'll find on the CD (these are Renko's own categories, along with the number of training questions for each theme):

Direct hit methods (1355 Examples)

1 Win (784)

1 Checkmate (102 Examples)
2 Double attack (37)
3 Simultaneous Attack (10)
4 Discovered Attack (47)
5 Discovered Attack with Check (12)
6 Discovered Check (9)
7 Mill (11)
8 Double Check (10)
9 Skewering Attack (9)
10 Absolute Pin (64)
11 Relative Pin A (35)
12 Relative Pin B (16)
13 Trap (105)
14 Passed Pawn (36)
15 Intermediate Move (10)
16 Intermediate Check (34)
17 Counter Attacking Move (42)
18 Zugzwang (70)
19 Invasion (10)
20 Irresistible Threat (47)
21 Ambush (37)
22 X-Ray (19)
23 Win of Time (12)

2 Draw (282)

1 Theoretical Draw (15)
2 Stalemate (55)
3 Furious Piece (23)
4 Perpetual Check (72)
5 Perpetual Attack (25)
6 Perpetual Threat (16)
7 Positional Balance (16)
8 Fortress (13)
9 Blockade (47)

3 Exercises (289)

1 Exercises (39)
2 Exercises (30)
3 Exercises B (220)

Support Methods (2784)

1 Push (168)

1 Push into checkmate (20)
2 Push into Double Attack (38)
3 Push into skewering attack (57)
4 Push into discovery (16)
5 Push into Pin (7)
6 Push away from protection (16)
7 Exercises (14)

2 Deflection (421)

1 Deflection-Checkmate (126)
2 Deflection-Checkmate Line (36)
3 Deflection-Invasion Square (77)
4 Deflection-Piece on Critical Square (21)
5 Deflection-Double Attack (12)
6 Deflection-Protection Square (8)
7 Deflection-Promotion Square (52)
8 Deflection-Advance Square (24)
9 Deflection-Pinning Piece (9)
10 Deflection-Blocking Piece (30)
11 Deflection-Key Square (9)
12 Deflection-Defender (15)
13 Deflection-Skewering Attack (2)

3 Decoying (594)

1 Decoying-Checkmate (43)
2 Decoying-Haunting (35)
3 Decoying-Checkmate Net (14)
4 Decoying-Double Attack (190)
5 Decoying-Skewering Attack (62)
6 Decoying-Discovered Attack (6)
7 Decoying-Discovered Attack with Check (50)
8 Decoying-Discovered Check (36)
9 Decoying-Double Check (44)
10 Decoying-Critical Square (16)
11 Decoying-Pin (44)
12 Decoying-Trap (10)
13 Decoying-Passed Pawn (8)
14 Decoying-Check(Tempo) (21)
15 Decoying-Win of Time (15)

4 Exercises A (225)

1 Exercises A (100)
2 Exercises A (125)

5 Annihilation of Defence (112)

1 Annihilation-Checkmate (19)
2 Annihilation-Invasion (49)
3 Annihilation-Miscellaneous (44)

6 Blockade (107)

1 Blockade-Checkmate (57)
2 Blockade-Promotion Square (5)
3 Blockade-King's Path (4)
4 Preventive Blockade (4)
5 Blockade-Stalemate (14)
6 Blockade-Miscellaneous (23)

7 Clearance of the square (70)

1 Clearance-Mate Threat Square (14)
2 Clearance-Invasion Square (20)
3 Clearance-Double Attack (12)
4 Clearance-Miscellaneous (24)

8 Interception (174)

1 Interception-Checkmate (18)
2 Interception-Invasion (18)
3 Interception-Passed Pawn (51)
4 Interception-Pin (6)
5 Interception-Line of Defense (8)
6 Interception-Line of Interaction (8)
7 Interception-Miscellaneous (23)
8 Preventive Interception (7)
9 Forced Interception (13)
10 Interception-Multipurpose Move (22)

9 Clearance of the line (97)

1 Clearance-Checkmate (21)
2 Clearance-King's Mobility (6)
3 Clearance-Access to the Attacking Square (6)
4 Clearance-Line of an Attack (10)
5 Clearance-Invasion (26)
6 Clearance-Miscellaneous (28)

10 Opening of the line (159)

1 Opening-Checkmate (50)
2 Opening-Line of an Attack (18)
3 Opening-Invasion Square (24)
4 Opening-Limitation of King's Mobility (13)
5 Opening-Double Attack (5)
6 Opening-Skewering Attack (8)
7 Opening-Trapping the Queen (2)
8 Opening-Discovered Attack (6)
9 Opening-Discovered Check (7)
10 Opening-Double Check (13)
11 Opening-Miscellaneous (13)

11 Pin (26)

Pin as Support Method (26)

12 King's Mobility Limitation (37)

King's Mobility Limitation (37)

13 Threat as an enforcement (37)

Threat as an enforcement (37)

14 Conquest of the Square (27)

1 Conquest-Checkmate (3)
2 Conquest-Invasion (17)
3 Conquest-Miscellaneous (7)

15 Exercises B (530)

1 Exercises B (150)
2 Exercises B (150)
3 Exercises B (230)

Most tactics books give you 100, 500, or maybe 1000 positions to work on. This baby has 4000 of them. 4000. If Intensive Tactics Course doesn't turn you into a tactical monster, nothing will.

Why "Intensive"? Because Renko doesn't coddle us. When you click on the typical position on this CD, the clock is running -- and you don't get much time. Typically you have 30 to 60 seconds to come up with the correct answer.

Note the lack of "hint" buttons. No hints. No clues. Do it or die. You can guess as many times as the clock allows, but each incorrect guess reduces the number of points you can receive for that exercise. The database keeps track of your running score. You can score more than 100%, by the way, if you answer quickly enough (which is further incentive for speed and accuracy in your answers).

"How am I supposed to learn anything if there's no text instruction?" I hear you asking. It's easy -- Renko beats you over the head with each theme. For example, the "Checkmate" database includes six or eight smothered mates (with the Knight delivering the mate) right in a row. If you miss the first two or three, you'll get the last few right -- it's the electronic equivalent of a sharp rap across the knuckles with a wooden ruler. "Not that way! This way!" WHAP! Avoid the pain -- learn the theme. You can't help it. Your brain does it all by itself.

It may appear that I'm trying to scare you with this preview. I don't have to -- the CD will scare you without any help from me. The best word I know that describes this CD is, well, intense. Intensive Tactics Course doesn't fool around. The idea is to train you to be a tactical beast and it will succeed in that goal. It'll hurt, though, but that swift, harsh kick in the pants is what most of us need to improve our tactical vision. Most authors of tactics books try to be a kindly teacher. Renko's more like a lion tamer -- he'll train you with a whip and a chair. The approach works. I frequently use this CD as a "warmup" before I rush off to play some over the board chess and I can honestly say that it's already helping me. I'm seeing things on the board that I'd otherwise have missed.

Intensive Tactics Course is one of the best four or five training CDs that ChessBase has released to date. You owe it to yourself to give this one a try. And I guarantee that you'll come back to it again and again (yes, you can reset the scoring so that you can start over -- we'll look at this in a future ETN).

As always, the CD requires no other software. It comes with a copy of ChessBase Reader on the CD, so you don't need any of our playing or database programs to be able to use it on an IBM compatible PC.

Speaking of lion taming, have you tried the King's Gambit lately? It's not just an opening -- it's an opening system. I can use a lot of lame metaphors to describe it: a jungle, a tactical minefield, a labyrinth, a wilderness. Some chess openings are easy to learn: memorize a few lines and a couple of ideas and you're all set. The King's Gambit is like a circus bear that you have to wrestle to the ground and pin down. Just when you think you've got it, pow! -- you get clouted in the head by a huge paw .

That's a shame, too. The King's Gambit is a terrific opening for players who thrive on exciting chess. It was one of the first openings to be extensively analyzed (some say nearly to death) in the 1800's, but it remains a rich source of new ideas and provides a wonderful opportunity to show off your tactical acumen (yes, tactics again!). And if you're a student of tactics, the King's Gambit is a terrific training ground. Even if you lose, you learn something new every time you play it.

This is why no one learns the King's Gambit without help -- it can be very complicated. And the best source of help I've seen on this opening is the new ChessBase CD by GM Alexander Bangiev: The King's Gambit. If it ain't on this CD, friend, it ain't been played yet.

The CD contains three elements: a tutorial database, an opening book, and a training database (consisting of 24 games with timed training questions, similar to what we've discussed previously). The huge opening book can be used as a guide to the King's Gambit as well as an opening book for use with Fritz and its "brother" playing programs.

The real meat of the CD lies in the tutorial database. It contains 34 tutorial texts, a pile of opening theoreticals in the form of replayable games, and over 16,700 King's Gambit games for you to use as a reference (including hundreds of annotated games). The database also has an extensive opening key so that you can quickly and easily find the specific variation you want to study or review. There's also a special key with links to the games of great players of the KG, such as Fischer, Spassky, and Bronstein.

But the King's Gambit does take a bit of work to learn, primarily because of the wide range of options available to Black in meeting the gambit. This is best illustrated by a listing of the variations covered by the tutorial texts:

1.e4 e5 2.f4 The King's Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 The King's Gambit Declined
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3 The Queen's Knight Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 King's Bishop Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Das Königsläufer-Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3 Qh4+ 4.Ke2 The King's Bishop Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Ne7 King's Knight Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Nf3 g5 5.d4 Das Königsspringer-Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 The King's Knight Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ng5 Mason Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ng5 The Mason Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.0-0 The Tolusch Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 The Pierce Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nf6 Orthodox Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6 The Orthodox Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 The Allgaier Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 h6 The Kieseritzky Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nc6 The Polerio-Muzio Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 Cunningham Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 c6 Cunningham Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 The Cunningham Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 Schallopp Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Qh4+ The Schallopp Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Qf6 The Fischer Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d6 The Modern Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 The Modern Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nordic Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nc6 The Tschigorin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 The Falkbeer Countergambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 c6 The Nimzovich Countergambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 Queen's Knight Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 The Queen's Knight Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Qh4+ The Classical Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Qf6 The Classical Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d6 The Keene Defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 The Nordwalder Variation
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 3.Nc3 The London Defence

Each of these variations is covered in a separate instructional text on the CD. There are also two texts which review typical tactics in the King's Gambit, as well as a text suggesting an opening repertoire for White (taking a bit of the burden from your shoulders).

As with our other training CDs, no additional software is required. It includes a copy of the ChessBase Reader, so the entire CD is self-contained.

The King's Gambit isn't for everyone; not everyone has the desire to live dangerously by tackling gambit play. But for those players willing to live on the edge, the KG is a source of rich, exciting play. There's no better way to learn the ropes than by using the CD The King's Gambit by GM Alexander Bangiev.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes. If you love gambits and sacrificial play, stop by my Chess Kamikaze Home Page and the Yahoo Chess Kamikazes Club.