Missed Tactical Chances

By Davide Nastasio

At a tournament, I was watching some games between 1400-rated players. After the game, in the post mortem analysis, they were complaining that they were not improving over 1400 and didn’t know what was wrong. The goal of this article is to show you some of the positions I saw in those games.

Before continuing to read the article, please let’s agree to few things.

1. I’m not providing a simple solution, because in a real chess game you don’t have someone telling you the solution.  Chess is a struggle to find the truth!

2. DON’T USE AN ENGINE! Again, in a real tournament game you cannot use one, so it’s a waste of time to use it to solve these positions.

3. Don’t move the pieces. Put the position on a chessboard, and think about the position for 10 minutes (at least), then write down what you have seen.  Only then, you should check your work by moving the pieces and see if you have missed something, or if new ideas come out.

4. Show your solution to a better player than you, or a study partner.  This is how one really progresses, not by clicking an engine button, but interacting with another human being!  This, after all, is one of the goals of chess: to interact with other human beings, such as going to a chess club once a week!

5. Differently from some authors, I have checked the positions, so one side definitely will gain material or positional advantage.  A different topic is how to convert an advantage into a win. My advice would be to play the position against a study partner.

6. All these positions are taken from real games between amateurs. Yes, it is useless to take the games of players rated 2700, because we don’t play at that level. Instead, it is more important to build a strong knowledge of common patterns at our level, in this case, of players rated around 1500.

Let’s hope this small workout will show where we should improve.

The following position happened in one of the games of the players mentioned above:
Black just played 18…Bb4; How should White continue?




The problem is always about the correct way of thinking, visualization, and finding the unprotected pieces or weak pawns in the enemy position. The following hint may help: former world champion Tal loved to sacrifice and attack that square!

Let’s continue our journey!  Black just played 22…Re7; mistakenly thinking that he is protecting F7. White to move. Once more, all the world revolves around F7.  You’ll need to visualize 4-5 moves ahead to prove you are choosing the correct move.




Often the problem is that we just analyze the most obvious move instead of stopping and considering other possible candidate moves based on the needs of the position!




Here Black just played 9…Nxf4, which is a blunder.  Can you see why? How would you continue as White?

Let’s see the next position: Black is attacking the Pawn h3, and White plays 13.Kg2, thinking he is solving the problem.  Can you see how Black should continue, damaging the kingside, and gaining a small material advantage?




This next position is to train your visualization,




Don’t move the pieces, and try to imagine the moves in your head. Let’s say that Black plays 17…dxc4, and White blunders playing 18.Bxc4.  Can you see which one is Black’s winning move?




White just blundered playing 24.Kh2, now 24. …  Bxc1 is not wrong, but here there is a more subtle idea.  As Lasker said in one of his famous quotes:




The idea is to open the road to the kingside, because the bottom line is that a chess game can be won by material advantage, but can also be won by a strong attack on the enemy king, which threatens checkmate.  Since this is the last position, and it is quite a difficult position, I’ll give Black’s idea 24. … Nxg4; a check and a discovery attack on the White Bishop, which is unprotected and placed in h4. Now this position is good for calculation (take about 20 minutes), and try to prove it is better than Bxc1 right away.  It can be a checkmate to the enemy king, if White makes a mistake, or for sure White is losing material and definitely is passing the initiative to Black.

Finally we are at the end of this article/workout. So how do we break free from the 1400 trap, as one of the players I was watching complained about?  Quite easy: we need to improve our tactics and calculation power. As you can see, I’ve included only 6 positions.  If you work on them for 10 minutes each, you have studied for one hour, and that’s what a sport is about: practicing at least one hour a day to train your chess muscles, as Kramnik would say.


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