Practical Chess Exercises

Published on 11 May 2021

A few days ago I mentioned on twitter I would be adding Practical Chess Exercises: 600 positions from tactics to strategy to the Reading List. But then I realized it makes more sense to write about this book in a blog post because it’s more about the experience than the actual “content” of the book.

The book caught my attentions when I started searching for something harder than the “easy exercises” of the woodpecker method but a little easier than the “intermediate exercises”. The premise of the book seemed just wonderful to me:

  • 600 positions
  • You have to find the best continuation. You don’t know up front if there’s a tactic, you need to sac a pawn for a positional advantage, or save the game with a perpetual check. Exactly like in a real game.
  • The vast majority of the positions come from amateurs games.

With this premise in mind, I started doing a page per day. I was enjoying it a lot so I set a difficult goal for myself: 18 positions per day. That way I’d be done in less than two months. And that’s it, I did it. I’m very happy about this effort and it made me realize the “importance of workouts”. Training is often painful in most sports so why would Chess be an exception? I started framing the pain in a positive way: if it feels hard but not too hard, then it’s the perfect workout for my Chess. You may ask what makes the book so special compared to other puzzle books, here’s my answer:

  • I don’t love knowing upfront what I’m supposed to find in a position. Real games do not work like that and I believe trying your best to reproduce game conditions can’t be bad.
  • The positions felt messy, familiar. I was at home so to speak. There was no clarity in most positions, too much going on. I suppose I really underestimated how much more helpful would be for me to workout positions from amateur games.
  • Because not all puzzles are tactical, you will find yourself not being satisfied with the answer the book is giving you. This was a wonderful opportunity and I’m happy I managed a healthy dose of skepticism. I checked the disagreements with stockfish (after trying hard to workout what I was missing) and the result has been just wonderful: sometimes stockfish would refute my move (so I’d learn something the book didn’t teach me), others my move was as good as the proposed solution.

I managed 356 correct answers out of 600. I thought I had done much worse, maybe 220 or something like that. So overall it was pleasant and I think I will go over the positions I got wrong again shorty.

As people often ask me what’s the right rating band for this book:

  • I’m obviously not qualified to answer the question
  • Because of that, I can also offer you a frame of reference based on my lichess profile at the time of writing:
    • I got 356 correct answers out of 600 positions.
    • At the time of writing, I just reached 1700 blitz (even though I don’t really do blitz much)
    • My classical rating has been going up from 1700 to almost 1900

At my level, whatever that means, the book felt just right.