(TL;DR: see title.)

Where are all the tactics questions?

Teichmann is often quoted as saying:

Chess is 99% tactics

(It seems unsure if this quote is actually his, but that's an aside.)

I'm thinking about questions along the lines Here's a position, how to win material? (or What is the best move?). There's a practical infinitude of such questions.

I conjecture that this site is facing a shortage of questions (see We need more questions...) primarily because there's not many tactics questions (41 questions tagged tactics, of which just this one actually asks about a specific position; although, there's also this endgame question which might arguably be described as tactical).

I suspect the main reason there are not many tactics questions is because of chess engines.

Let me Fritz that for you... (or not?)

It seems difficult to ask tactics questions here, since let me Fritz that for you seems to answer all tactics questions. But does it really?

I'm a user of chesstempo.com (a chess tactics training site where individual tactics problems have their own page, and users can add comments). I find the comments and stats on their tactics puzzles informative. They give human-usable information that engine-only analysis would not reveal. E.g.

  • Overlooked candidate move. I may have ultimately needed to reject these moves in a particular position, but if the position were slightly different they might work.

  • Overlooked opponent defense. The defense may not work with correct play, but this needs to be calculated before committing to a given line.

  • The right move, the wrong reason. It's a winning move, but how I expect to win doesn't work (there's another win I'm oblivious to).

Other concerns with engines:

  • Engine analysis could be dependent on a critical move sequence (or tablebases) that would be incalculable by humans.

  • Engine analysis leads to laziness when it comes to calculation.

How to ask tactics questions?

Essentially, what I want to ask is: how can we ask tactics questions on this site, without attracting answers like let me Fritz that for you? Instead...

Question: How to ask tactics questions to attract useful answers?


AFAICT the reason that many tactics questions are answered with "Let me Fritz that for you" is that "Let me Fritz that for you" is an answer to the question. This is because the question is of the form "What's the answer to this tactics puzzle?" However, the interesting questions, and the ones that are useful to the asker and to future readers, do exist; they just have one other piece.

The most important essential part of getting useful answers such as the ones you describe would be for the asker to provide their own analysis in the question. After all, the first criterion to determine a question's worth is: "Has the OP put effort into their own research before asking?". Only if the asker does their homework, attempts to analyze their position, and posts their own analysis along with the question, will people be able to give answers such as "You chose the right first move, but for the wrong reasons." The asker should always have in their question the answer to "What do you think?".

Therefore, instead of asking "What's the answer to this tactics puzzle?", we should instead ask "Why is this analysis of this tactics puzzle incorrect?" (or sometimes "Is this analysis correct or incorrect, and why?"). This will create useful answers that go beyond what Fritz can do, and answerers will be able to point out tactics themes missed, board vision oversights, and all the other interesting considerations, which are applicable to far more than just a single chess puzzle.

  • 1
    Furthermore I suggest that questions that are just "What's the answer to this tactics puzzle?" should usually be closed as too localized, and reopened when the OP provides their answer to "What do you think?" – Lily Chung May 17 '14 at 17:34

Well, I'm in the "let me Fritz that for you" crowd since no one cares what a USCF "B" player thinks, and rightfully so. But along with a sploot of computer analysis needs to come at least a few sentences about why Fritz's (or Stockfish's) move is better.

Other concerns with engines:

Engine analysis could be dependent on a critical move sequence (or tablebases) that would be incalculable by humans.

Engine analysis leads to laziness when it comes to calculation.

I'll have to disagree with that. To the first point, I say the best move is the best move, and that is the one we ought to seek. To the 2nd point, the use of the chess engine has made chess players stronger as of late, not weaker. There is a difference between knowing the right move, and know why it is the right move. If a player uses an engine to get a good answer but doesn't find out why the move is good, then he isn't doing himself any favors. But any training tool (such as an instructor, engine, or book) can be misused.

While I enjoy running Stockfish, I would say there isn't a lot of room for pure tactics questions on this site. The reasons are

  1. They are almost always too localized, and
  2. The poster can use an engine themselves if they really want an answer. The fact is, everyone has a grandmaster at his or her side.

Instead of OP asking "what" is the best move, he/she must ask "why is this the best move". It is that simple.

People come here asking what is the best move, and they get the answer they sought -> the best move in that position. Since people answer these questions for points too, they want to be sure that their answer will be accepted and what better way is there than to "Fritz that for you" ? What you have asked is what you have got.

Now, if OP asked why is certain move the winning one, or added this as an additional question, things would be different. The answerer would have to explain why the move played is the best one.

This could produce good answers, since some good tips about tactics could be given ( look at the entire board / watch for hanging pieces / make a "luft" for the king etc ). Or maybe answerer could link positional characteristics with tactical ones, which would be extremely useful ( White sacrificed rook for a knight to capture d pawn, thus obtaining compensation in strong center etc ).

The way it stands now, OP just wants the winning move, and since here we all want to help ( and get points ) we just "Fritz that for him/her".

Another important thing is that OP is OK with it! In some of my answers OP had follow up questions which forced me to work harder in order to get my answer accepted. Therefore I had to invest a lot, which produced high quality answer ( 6+ votes ). Here, OP accepts immediately after he/she gets the winning move which means that they wanted someone to "Fritz that for them" or maybe they just wanted to verify that their Fritz is 100% right.

Therefore I conclude that there is little we can do. We can just add explanations or tips at the end of our answer, but I doubt it will produce the quality you, and all the others expect.

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