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The Best Way to Learn Tactical Patterns in Chess

Your ability to find winning tactics in your own games rely heavily on how quickly you can recognize tactical patterns.

Chess players instinctively know that tactics are important, it’s indisputable. But the real question now is:

What is the best way to train tactics?

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A Better Way to Train Tactics

If you take a moment to think about it, how do YOU train tactics? Do you have a particular approach?

For most people their tactical training consists of solving tons of random puzzles. I’ll admit, for a long time this is what I used to do. I never even questioned how effective it was.

But then something happened that made me think a bit further.

At the time I was coaching a very talented young chess player. I wanted to make a special effort to give him the best training I could. This also made me question my usual approach to training tactics. Am I doing it right? Is there a better way?

Looking back, this was an important moment because…

…when I considered my training methods from my student’s perspective, a better way to train tactics became very clear to me.

So now I will reveal the 2 things that will totally change the way you train tactics and once you start doing this, you will notice a transformation in your ability to recognize tactical patterns.

Why the Old Way Isn’t Good Enough

A good solution starts with a good understanding of the problem! To that end, here is quick summary of the problem:

The tactical combinations that appear in chess puzzles often share recognizable patterns, also known as “tactical ideas”, “themes” or “motifs.” There are, and this is the crux of the matter, MANY tactical ideas that exist. Therefore, solving random puzzles is not an effective way to learn them all. 

To further spell out the problem, ask yourself:

How many tactical patterns can I recall off the top of my head?

If you pause to think a bit you may remember forks, pins and skewers, discovered attacks, maybe a few more… but the list goes on, there is removing the defender, x-ray, clearance, overloading, attraction, interference, and more… Maybe you’ve heard about them but have you ever studied them, one at a time?

The good news is that there is an excellent solution that works very well for this type of learning. And it’s surprisingly simple!

Borrowing a Few Ideas From the Flashcard Training Method

I’m sure you’ve heard about the flashcard training method. A flashcard holds a small amount of information that can be learned rather easily. By working your way through a set of well-designed flashcards, you can learn a lot of new information in a surprisingly short amount of time. Furthermore, by repeating the cycle a few times you can engrave the information in your memory.

Now, for the purpose of learning tactical patterns, we can borrow 2 ideas from the flashcard method to find this simple, but highly effective, solution:

The best way to train tactics is to study tactical patterns, in grouped sets, and repeat the cycle a few times!

Study Tactical Patterns in Sets Sorted by Motif

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Image: Tactical Patterns Bundle Deal

The main reason why the sets must be sorted by motif, is that you want to give your mind the opportunity to focus on a particular pattern, one at a time. This way you’ll get a good understanding of the pattern, before you move on to the next one.

Repeat the Same Sets a Few Times

I’ve noticed that chess players seldom repeat a puzzle they’ve seen before. This is unfortunate because it is scientifically proven that repetition is a key aspect of learning a new skill.

Let’s think for a moment about how a professional boxer will practice a specific punch. Over the course of their training session they will repeat a specific punch, or combination of punches, many times. Is this repetition a waste of time? Of course not. Their goal is to perfect every aspect of the punch. Then, when the opportunity arises in a match, they will be able to use their weapon in a millisecond, to great effect.

Similarly, when it comes to training tactical patterns, repetition is a highly effective training technique and you should do it.

An Example of the Improved Training Method

To do this type of “flashcard” training, you need will need a set of exercises that focus on a specific pattern. Anywhere around 15 to 20 exercises should be good. You can either make your own sets, which admittedly is a lot of work, or you can purchase a copy of the sets I already made.

(You can check out Tactical Patterns Bundle Deal if you want a copy of my sets.)

I’ll demonstrate the efficiency of this training method with the help of a few examples.

Here’s the 1st exercise from my set on discovered attacks. It illustrates a typical discovered attack:

What is the best move for black? Solution below.

A discovered attack occurs when moving a piece reveals a strong threat from a piece behind it. The power of a discovered attack lies in the fact that you can use it to set up a double attack.

1… Bxa2+ 2.Kxa2 Rxe4

The point is that, if black moves the bishop on e6, the rook on e8 will reveal a discovered attack on white’s queen. It would be useful if you can also make a threat, or a check, with the piece that moves away (you will create multiple threats).

Now, let’s move on to a slightly harder one, the 5th example in the set:

What is the best move for white? Solution below.

You can use your understanding of a discovered attack to find a tactical combination for white:

1.Rxe6 Qxe6 2.Bh7+ Kxh7 3.Rxe6

White’s rook on d6 can capture the bishop on e6 because he will be indirectly supported by the possible discovered attack on the e-file.

You can do this too. Go through your set of exercises and realize that it doesn’t matter much whether you get it right or wrong. On your first pass, the main goal is to understand the pattern. And then, maybe the next day or next week, go can go through them all again. Obviously, the second and third time you do this, you will go through it much quicker because you will start to recognize the pattern. I’m sure you can see for yourself how this approach will help you develop your tactical skill in a much more effective way than solving random puzzles.

By working with sets and by repeating the same exercises, you can improve your tactical recognition with every minute that you train with it.

How Many Tactical Patterns Should You Know?

How many different tactical patterns are there? How many should you learn? It’s really difficult to say because there is a significant amount of overlap in many of the patterns. In my personal collection I have 22 sets. Based on my experience I’d say that it covers the vast majority of tactical patterns that exist.

Tactical Patterns Bundle Deal

As I mentioned before, it is possible to make your own sets. If you have the time, it will be an interesting project for you. even if you make just 1 set, I’m sure you will find it instructive because your mind will be completely engaged in the topic. However, it requires a lot of effort and time to create a high-quality sets. (I know because I did it and it took me many months to complete all my sets).

Instead of making your own, you can buy a set on a specific pattern or, if you want all the sets, you’ll get a large discount.

In the Bundle Deal you get:

  • The Complete Tactical Patterns Collection (22 Sets)
  • 540 Exercises in Total
  • Format: PDF Documents
  • Instant Download After Purchase
  • Price: $75 (save 40%)

More Reasons Why It’s Important to Learn Tactical Patterns

There are many reasons why it’s important to learn tactical patterns. Here’s a few:

  • Your ability to quickly recognize tactical patterns will speed up your calculations.
  • Since your tactical awareness will improve, you will instinctively know when and where to look deeper for tactical opportunities.
  • As a consequence of your improved tactical awareness, you will make fewer mistakes and spot opportunities to take advantage of your opponent’s mistakes.

Bonus Example

Here’s a beautiful puzzle that illustrates how your improved understanding of tactical ideas can help you find brilliant combinations. It’s the 14th exercise in the set of discovered attacks:

White to play. What would you do?

The key to the solution is to notice the possible discovered attack with Bxh7+. This implies that all the squares beyond white’s bishop on d3 are indirectly attacked by the rook on d1.


By playing 1.Nd7!, white forks the two black rooks. The point is that the d7-square is indirectly defended by the rook on d1, I.e. 1… Qxd7? 2.Bxh7+!, followed by Rxd7.

Take a moment to imagine how much your tactical skill will improve if you follow this simple method:

Study tactical patterns in sets, grouped by motif, and repeat the cycle a few times!

Get your copy of all the sets here: