Tactics Sprint - Training at the speed of a bullet (with video!)

by Albert Silver
8/31/2022 – There are many ways to train tactics, from methodical themes, to deep positions, and while all have their place in a player's arsenal of training tools, there is one that specifically targets speed of recognition and play: the Tactics Sprint. If you feel like you want a method to improve your ability to see and play tactics in minimal time see this intro with video!

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As a returning student of the game, all areas are being covered from middlegame to the endgame, but none of them have felt quite as baleful as the tactics, in which the time to solution has been quite lethargic at times. In an effort to shake things up, I decided to revisit the function in the ChessBase Tactics web app called Tactics Sprint. 

Although I know it and have described it, I never actually used it beyond those needed moments. However, in an effort to 'shake things up', I began playing with this Speedy Gonzales trainer and got a renewed appreciation for it, what it is good for and what it is not, and will be including it in my rotation. 

When you open the Tactics web app you have three options: the classic Tactics trainer, the Fight Club option (you duel with other players to solve positions) and the Tactics Sprint.

The Tactics Sprint comes with a set of rules that bear explaining: you start with four minutes, three lives and five hints, to solve as many as you can before the time runs out. The catch is that all three of those numbers are subject to change as you move ahead.

Three lives

For example, each position can be anywhere from a plain mate in one, which is how the series always starts, to tactics of varying complexity, especially after you break the 100-solved mark. Every time you get a move wrong, you lose a life. This can be a move in the middle of a solution too, one in which you had gotten the first three moves correct. However, you will be rewarded an extra life after a certain number of correct solutions, much like a video game in which you get an extra life after reaching a certain score. This is the same.

There is a second catch too though. If you run out of lives, with wrong solutions, no matter how much time you have left, it is game over.

Four minutes

This is by far the most misleading part of the run. Each correct move will gift you some extra time, so that even a run of 50 correct solutions can easily pass the 10-minute mark. I timed one run that ran 130-odd solved and the stopwatch said I had spent over 21 minutes. So be warned. The four minutes is just the minimum time you have, not a set-in-stone value for your sprint.

Improve your Tactics

The aim of this course is to help you understand how to make tactical opportunities arise as well as to sharpen your tactical vision - these selected lectures will help to foster your overall tactical understanding.

Five hints

At the start of a run you are allowed as many as five hints, but this number will go up radically as you proceed ahead. These hints are not badges of shame, and in harder cases, don't hesitate to ask for one rather than eat up a minute of your time while your clock runs out. Of course, some hints will be straightforward ("move the rook"), while others can be a bit less so ("find the mate").

My personal best after a couple of dozen runs is 156, though in time no doubt this will improve.

What it is like

Every run starts with a series of mates in one after which it begins alternating with one-move tactics and then the diversity goes up. Although you will face combinations of varying difficulty, especially some lines can be tricky in their continuations, you are never quite free of a mate in one or other just to see if you are paying attention. At least that is how I jokingly think of them.

One thing is certain: although a full run can easily extend to 20 minutes or more, unlike a standard tactics study session, the intensity and adrenaline in a sprint is incomparable. The clock is always ticking, and you never ever lose sight of the fact that your time can run out, or a final misstep can cut it short. It is a fairly unique experience and definitely has a solid fun factor involved. I highly recommend it.

Intro and full demonstration of Tactics Sprint

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.