How do I gain "tactical vision" in Chess?

I know, of course, one way is just to play a lot of games.

Here’s my problem. I think I understand Chess strategy fairly well. My problem is, I’m blind when it comes to tactical opportunities. I almost invariably miss opportunities to pin, fork, skewer, blockade, etc and etc. And I never see it coming when my opponent does the same to me. So what ends up happening is, I generally know I have lost the game five to seven or so moves into the game, once my opponent has managed to fork my king and rook or pin queen to my king, or whatever.

How best to go about unblinding myself to this kind of thing? How can teach myself to see this kind of stuff? It’s very frustrating!

Online resources strongly preferred to books, btw, due to unfortunate monetary concerns.

(BTW this is part of why I like Go better than Chess. In Chess, one tactical error will generally cost you the game.* In Go, this is not so–tactical errors can often be made up for through dominance in strategic play. I’m fine at strategy–but in Go just as in Chess, when it comes to the close fighting situations, I often miss “obvious” tactical moves. It’s just that in Go, this is not necessarily fatal.)


*Of course, practically speaking, one shouldn’t resign since if one is playing someone of comparable skill to one’s own, it is just as likely they will make similarly disasterous mistakes during the game as well. But my point is just to say that in Chess, a single tactical mistake should cost you the game. Strategic considerations fall completely by the wayside once tactical errors start costing you material and space.

Paging glee.

Game over in 5 to 7 moves?

Hmm. I think before every move, you should take time to think about all obvious moves you opponent could make that could lose you material. Check out where his knights are and confirm that no move of theirs can threaten two better pieces. Etc. I agree that this doesn’t unfold the strategy in chess, but you you should think of it as a rudimentary skill necessary to actually play the game.

I’ve noticed in a number of different games I play (Chess, Jang-gi, Go, Havannah, etc.) that some learners, including me, tend to find a favorite tactic and will look for opportunities to use that tactic or, even worse, just use that tactic regardless of its worth in the situation. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do. More often than not, though, my opponents are used to examining the board situation to see which tactic is the best at the moment: they are not “not tactic” players.

My suggestions are:

[ul][li]Learn a number of different tactics.[/li][li]Realize that each tactic has the same value as every one of the other tactics. If necessary (which I had to do to realize this) consider the tactic to be a kind of piece.[/li][li]Don’t abanon hope if you lose a piece or if your opponent deploys your favorite tactic against you.[/li][li]Play against players stronger than you and observe how they play.[/li][li]Observe how the stronger player is using his pieces as a force, not as individual pieces, to effect a goal.[/li]Try to realize what the opponent’s immediate goal (other than checkmate, of course) is and determine which tactics would effect that goal. Play to prevent those tactics.[/ul]

No, it’s not quite like that. What I’m talking about is something I needed to see two or three moves beforehand. Sure, it’s stuff good players find obvious, but just to be clear, I’m not talking about mistakes as bad as the kind you’re describing.

Here’s an example from a game I just played against the program Arasan. I’m white.

  1. e4 c6
  2. Nc3 d5
  3. Nf3 Bg4
  4. h3 Bxf3
  5. Qxf3 e6
  6. Be2 Nf6
  7. d3 d4
  8. Na4 Qa5+

Oops. There goes my Knight. :frowning:

Well, I guess upon examination that’s a little worse than I thought. It is indeed a little like the kind of blunder you described. I simply didn’t see that the queen could fork the knight and my king on her next move. But that problem would never have come up if in the first place I had realized that by moving my d pawn up I was opening a diagonal aganist my king which could immediately be exploited. That latter consideration is more the kind of thing I wish I could see ahead of time–if I could see that kind of thing, I would be prevented from making the really dumb blunders because I would not be giving myself the opportunity to make them so often.

Another element of the position which was problematic was the fact that my knight became so restricted. I suspect I should have noted that several moves before, and taken steps to avoid it. But I have no idea how to come to be able to take note of such things.


Ah yes, you are exactly right. It’s not so much a single blunder oversight, as a general thing. And you are also right that the real problem was that you continously had your knight restricted, and let him be open to the opportunity to threaten it with his pawn. It was pretty much a ticking bomb. Actually, he could have even moved the pawn forward a move earlier, and you would have to move back to b1, which also would be really bad.

Two things you can do:

  1. Play more chess. There is really no other way to let you get a feeling for these things.

  2. Read opening theory. It bores the hell out of me. But it would let you get out of the opening without being behind.

One helpful hint for gaining tactical vision is to think out your game from your opponent’s perspective. When you’re looking for his moves, look for the most deadly just as you would for your own. List them out and look for them by name one at a time: can he fork me? Pin me? Skewer me? You’ll get faster with it over time.

My dad suggests using a medium cost computer program, but only at the lowest levels. That makes them the most like humans, since they will rely a lot on canned openings, etc.
(The cheapest programs may be strictly algorithmic, and thus unlike natural players you’ll want to beat.)

Frylock, quite apart from the forking check that occurred, what were you planning to play in response to the somewhat more obvious b5 at that point? Your knight is dead anyway; at best you get to take a pawn compensation for it. So the move of the knight to a4 was a blunder even without the annoying checking fork.

In your first post, you state that you think you understand chess strategy fairly well. I have to suggest, based on the game you provided, you need to work on opening strategy a bit. Even if you don’t recognize the Caro-Kann Defence and know the book moves on it by heart, it should strike you as unlikely to be good opening theory that you have moved your h pawn forward (why force the minor exchange at that moment?), moved your queen off the back rank at a time not of your own choosing, and, most importantly, never played d4 to grab the important e5 square for yourself (coincidentally stopping the black d-pawn from moving forward to threaten your own knight).

I suspect you are not seeing the potential tactical time bombs because you simply don’t have a basic grounding in how to use your pieces properly. You might try picking up one of the many good books on basic tactics in chess; you need to learn something of the capabilities of the pieces and that can only be done by studying situations where they have the ability to be used effectively and learning to spot the right use. Thus, you might end up looking at a whole chapter discussing the use of the knight in attack, which will, among other things, show you situations where the knight can be used to fork major pieces.

Also, play a LOT of speed chess with humans. Computer programs are good to have around, but they aren’t a substitute for a coterie of decent human opposition players with whom you can spend an evening playing several quick games, eventually beating into your head certain potentially devastating uses for the pieces and pawns (take it from one who remembers! :smiley: ).

As for your tendency to lose the games early, that is not the result of poor recognition of tactical blunders, but rather an indication you need better understanding of opening theory, and should also begin to develop a “book” of opening moves you have studied so that you are comfortable using them repeatedly in games. :slight_smile:

The one book that did the most for giving me whatever tactical sense I have been able to develop beyond “natural abilities” (whatever that means) was Winning Chess by Chernev and Reinfeld. The way it’s laid out and presented helped me make a sort of checklist in my mind for scouting out possibilities with each move and for “seeing three moves ahead” as the subtitle suggests. Other books have helped build on that foundation, but if you can get your hands on a copy of that book and study it with some care, I propose you’ll get as much better with tactics as any book is goint to help you do.


Sure. This involves the same kind of problem I’ve described in this thread.

I foresaw an open game and was therefore glad to have two bishops and a knight vs his two knights and a bishop. Perhaps I was wrong to think I foresaw an open game–though you’ll notice my subsequent moves were designed precisely to ensure it would be an open game–but anyway, that was what I was thinking.

I chose that time. I saw I would have to use my queen in that series of exchanges, and I was okay with it. It seemed to me this would ensure an open game, and that there were no threats to my queen, and that at that point in the game she would be useful up there where she ended up.

I don’t quite remember the game well enough to know what I was thinking here.

What would that mean, exactly, other than pointing out that when, on the next move, the knight has open to it a space which constitutes a forking of two major pieces, it is in a situation where it can be used to fork major pieces?

Yeah, I do think this would be really helpful. What’s a good free chess server with a decent interface?

Well, in the above, I’ve tried to show that my moves are inspired by sound opening principles, even if poorly inspired. I knew of all the principles you referenced, and had thought about them as I moved, and made the moves I made in light of other sound principles. I just weighed the principles badly. Why? Poor tactical vision. :frowning:

Yeah, I’m working on this. That brings up another problem–my exceedingly poor memory. Throughout my life I have relied often not on direct memory but on a sort of conscious reconstruction of events. Similarly with openings, for me it’s hard to habitualize an opening, I have to think through and reconstruct each movement almost “from scratch” in each game. Sounding like I’m just not a chess player, isn’t it! :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks for your helpful comments,


FICS is good. There are several interface programs available; I like BabasChess. As well, most of the pay servers (PlayChess, ICC) allow you to play as a free guest with restricted features, or allow a free trial period.

I would also suggest that you take a look at the Novice Nook column at I think it has a lot of good advice that can help with the problems you describe. ChessCafe has archives of this column going back years.

I have to disagree with most of the comments in this thread except for the one quoted above. I see the problem as a lack of strategic understanding of the position, and of the opening pase in general. In the beginning of any chess game, three themes are dominant: development, center control and King safety. All three factored into White’s demise. At many points d4 by White would have been preferable, and this should be seen not as a tactical move but as a strategic move, as White exerts an influence in the center while challening Black’s stake, and promotes development of the dark squared bishop.

The other comments in the OP that concern me are an emphasis on thinking ahead, that is, searching for a list opponents moves and the variety of responses. While calculation is important after a position is understood, to verify the means of executiong a plan, it is not the way to form a plan. In fact, I tell my students that it’s not as important to think far ahead, as it is to think backwards. That is, before even considering what your move should be, you should ask yourself why the opponent made their last move. What did his last move do for him, and what did his move do to him? In short, understand why he made his last before before even thinking about what you might do.

Next, strategy is about identifing the relationships between the pieces/ For example, a queen and a rook on the same file have one relationship, and a queen and a rook on the same diagonal have a different relationship. These relationships help identify targets, and lines of force for you to make use of or be wary of.

Another important strategic principle is “space.” At the beginning levels, this means “who owns a square?” A square is owned when one side has more pieces attacking a square than the opponent does. Note that a piece on a square does not attack it and does not count towards ownership - in fact it can actually weaken the square as it can become a target. However, it’s the ownership of empty squares that determine what you (or your opponent) can do. That’s why center control is so essential. Center control allows you to have freedom in getting your pieces where you want them to go, and restricts where your opponent can land his pieces. Center control gives you flexibility in timing your attack, and makes it hard for your opponent to get close to you.

Tactical weapons like pins, forks, x-ray and discovered attacks, etc, are the result of strategic considerations. A position that is structurally sound does not allow for critical weak squares (occupied or not) for the enemy to target. A review of the strategic characteristics of a position identify possible targets, both in your position that may need shoring up and in your opponents position that may be exploited.

I could write lots more on these ideas (I am, for a chess site my club provides,, but it’s one project of many I’m trying to do and progress has been slow. If you’d like, you can email me through that site, and I can give you specific tips and let you know when I have instructional material available.

But again, the most important single tip I can give you based on your post, is to think backwards first. This will do much to avoid tactical surprises, provided you have the strategic understanding to make use of what you discover his intent to be.

What ends up happening is people recite for me after the fact general, well known strategic principles, and I knew those principles, but at the time, looking at the board, I believed there were reasons not to make the move most naturally in line with those principles.

So I’ve reviewed the game and I remember why I didn’t move d4. It’s as simple as this–in the past, I kept getting burned by doing d4 and then soon afterward e5. The d4 pawn then (of course) became a natural target, and I was never able to defend it adequately. So I looked for alternative ways to play against black 1. … c6. Besides, I didn’t like e5 (which seemed to me the natural follow up to d4) because, as someone else on this thread has already said, the goal is control, not occupation, of particular squares.

So here it has been fear of tactical pitfalls which led me to think I needed to pursue what is in fact a less than ideal strategic plan.

Looking at the Caro Kann opening Diogenes mentioned, I see now a better way to go–2. d4 then if he advances to d5 then let him take the pawn. I haven’t tried this before.

I’ll post the beginning of a game later if it turns out illustrative in any way.


  1. e4 c6
  2. d4 d5
    3, Nc3 dxe4
  3. Nxe4 Bf5
    5, Ng3 Bg6
  4. Nf3 Nd7
  5. Bf4 Qb6
  6. b3 Ngf6
  7. Bd3 Nd5

I did not look in a book of openings or anything after 5. … Bg6, because I wanted to see how far I can get thinking on general principles alone.

I tried conscientiously (as I always have felt I have) to think of the big three–development, control of the center, king safety. Hence 6. Nf3, developing a knight, defending the d pawn further, and adding more control over d5. This was also the reason for 7. Bf4. It develops a bishop (though I noticed the bishop was undefended on that square, I didn’t see any serious threats to it). and exerts further influence on the center. ({erhaps I am concentrating too much on square d5 though?) The pawn move to b2 appeared forced to me, but I was not too nervous about his queen. If he wants to trade queens with me for some reason, I am not particularly unhappy. My d4 pawn would remain defended both by my f3 knight and my queen (which would then be) on b4. 8. Bd3 develops a bishop, makes way for castling (I haven’t been quick to castle as I haven’t seen any nearby threats to my king or his castling chances) and exerts influence on the 4th row in the center, which is nice. It does block my queen from her defense of the d pawn, but it seemed to me the f3 knight was adequate for that job for now, and the c pawn could be conscripted for this purpose if need be as well. The queen was going to need to be free for other tasks eventually anyway, wasn’t she? Then black made the last move of this sequence–9. … Nd5, and I am now in a quandary. It’s that undefended bishop I put on f4 earlier! Should I have worried more about his lack of defense? As it stands, I see no good way to procede. I don’t want to trade that bishop for that knight, as the bishop is sure to be better than the knight in this position. I don’t want to move the bishop to g5, as he will just be pusshed around by pawns, giving my opponent free development of his pawn structure. And moving the bishop back to the second rank leaves my other bishop vulnerable to my opponent’s bishop, guaranteeing a doubled pawn for me on the d file.


Should I have thought to myself, earlier, “Never leave a piece undefended?” Is it as simple as that? If I wasn’t to put my dark bishop there, where else should I have put it? I can’t see any way to develop my light bishop instead except by putting it on e2, which seems aimless. (Putting it on c4 would leave it undefended, which by hypothesis is a mistake in itself.) So it seems development of the dark colored bishop is the way to go, but how can I justify putting it on d2 or e3? These both seem to be purposeless.

Hmm… maybe instead of Bf4, I should do b3 and fianchetto?

I dunno. I’m lost. Thanks for any comments.


It could be something as simple as your not spending enough time looking at the entire board. Even without a clock, a lot of chess players feel the urge to keep the game moving as quickly as possible. That can create a type of tunnel vision, where you focus on one branch in the tree of possible moves.

Try this – after you and your opponent have extablished an opening (say, around move 7 or so) sit back and try to look at the board from the corners into the center, instead of the center out. What you’re looking for is not the best way for you to attack the center and your opponent to defend it, but weird moves (sudden marches by the knights, long diagonal runs by the bishops, etc.) that can bypass the center of the board.

Once you get used to that you’ll have broadened your peripheral version. At that point you should be able to examine the next moves from a broader perspective.

Great post, BobPi.

Bobpi, the link you provided to your website seems to be broken. I get a “Can not find server” message.


Take out the superfluous paren:

Yes, yes, YES!!

That’s the book that turned me into a competent chessplayer, nearly 40 years ago. Making ‘moves that smite,’ as the authors say, narrows your opponent’s options way down, and lets you see 3-4 moves ahead because you only have to consider a small number of responses.

If you can’t figure out how to get your rating over 1500 (or, in general, if you can get through the opening OK, but don’t know what to do next), that’s the book you need.

I think our OP needs to have a passable understanding of openings first, though. I have no recommendations there - I learned openings through a combination of (a) playing, and (b) riffling through MCO and deciding what I liked best. But there has to be a good basic openings book, one would think.