Chess is all about tactics. Chess is 99 percent tactics. This has been repeated everywhere, time and time again.

On the other hand, there is a reputation of chess as the ultimate game of strategy (or at least there is a perception?).

So what’s going on? What’s wrong with this picture?

When a GM says that chess is 99 percent tactics, does they mean it’s just that we see their moves, their tactics, while their strategy underneath is only known to them?

Again our free consultant in maters of strategy Sun Tzu (please give him a big hand, the 6th c. BC guy who discovered almost everything we need about strategy)

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

Strategy is an invisible thing, and especially so when one is lacking as in life with 98 percent of people, and in chess perhaps 99 percent – maybe that’s why chess is 99 percent tactics?

Strategic Planning – Key for Success. Get a Plan! You Don’t Want to Assume Things Will Just Happen For You

There is no question: good tactics flow from a superior position (Fischer, I think). But how do you mean we get there without superior strategy? Without it we simply can’t find ourselves in a position to use our magnificent tactics. Unless against an inferior opposition. Without strategy we just react to events and start our battles at the whim of our rivals’ capricious desires.

We predominantly teach, talk and debate tactics. Tactical patterns are easiest to see around us in sports, business, everyday life. It’s actually hard for the average fan to see how many games are decided by strategy, because it’s only easy to see the performance of players.

Performance, or tactics can make the difference. And while the tactical brilliance can take you a long way, without underlying foundation of a solid strategy, no group of people can play to their potential and be highly successful. In warfare, business, sports, our individual lives.

Alexander the Great never lost a battle during eleven years of fighting against mostly numerically superior forces. Would it be possible without him being a superior strategist?

Strategy and coaching in sports

In warfare, the strategy comes from the general. In sports, it comes from coaching.

Strategic decisions in soccer, playing in an attacking or defensive manner, changing a system of play, hitting high balls to an advanced striker, those strategies are very much the sole decision of the manager, who depends on his players then to adopt tactics to bring them about.

After our team has lost the game, we ask questions: could they have won if they passed the ball more? Were the defensive formations dumb? Should the coach have called time out there? We feel that a failed strategy was the culprit, not tactics.

It’s the manager’s strategy and knowledge of how to place his players, that welds a squad into a title winning side. Over the chess board, you are the leader. You are responsible about that harmony, coordination of your chessmen.

Playing without strategy is like a team playing without a coach.

If you take a team of all-starts, and assume that they have none of the coaches’ knowledge and put them against a team of well-directed, but less talented players, the all-starts won’t be so great (in chess, pieces on both sides of the board are equally talented and of the same potential, so strategy gets even more in importance there).

No pasaran. Flying tackle in rugby. Put the brake on them. Photo: Les Parker

Why we don’t teach strategy from the beginning?

The thing is parents, coaches, PE teachers teach us mainly the basic rules and then tactics, tactics, and then tactics again. It goes something like this: Here’s a soccer ball. Kick it, don’t touch it. Keep it inside lines, and try to kick it into that big net. Now go play!

In chess it would be something like this: Queen goes like this, King goes like that, activate your pieces, be safe (castle), control the center. But why they should control the center, no one tells them (unless they know why, they will hardly be able to understand the idea and use it effectively). Go play!

We learn the rules, but we don’t really know what’s going on.

It seems that strategy is dependent on furnishing knowledge, the more you know on a whole and the greater your perspective, the more strategy.

So why don’t we start teaching strategy early as it is so important. Why don’t we start developing strategic thinking at the same time as tactics? We just need to repeat to the unconscious brain: “Read their intentions. Put brake on them”. Once deeply ingrained, it becomes the second nature and a starting point of the thought process.

The fundamental principle is obvious and easy to grasp. We have had it in our veins, hard-wired for millions of years of the evolution:

Break free from the bars of restriction and dominate the other side by binding them down.

Or using simple chess language, activate your pieces and restrict the opposing forces.

* * *

Strategy or tactics? The burning issue should be put to rest one and for all:

Strategy reigns supreme. Tactics are just building blocks of strategy.

If there is one, otherwise tactics without strategy is just the noise before defeat (Sun Tzu, thank you again)

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