Several years ago a player I know was determined to get his rating up from the low-mid 1400’s. His plan was to study tactics and play gambits. Every time I saw the guy he had a new book on a different gambit opening and was doing nothing but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tactical puzzles.
Every time he lost a few games he blamed it on the opening and decided he needed to change it. The result was a lot of offbeat, inferior openings where he had to find the best move in the position right from the start and one slip meant defeat. I could never figure out why he wanted to give his opponent the advantage from move one. As for the tactics, he was good at solving puzzles. The problem was he still missed them in his own games and lost more than a fair share due to gross blunders.
My advice was to play solid mainline openings, throw in some study of strategy and endings and play over a lot of master games. When it comes to tactics my advice was that when studying them, look for the motif that makes them work. If you see the motif, you will be alerted to the fact that there may be a tactic in the position. Actually, that wasn't my advice; it was CJS Purdy's. It went unheeded and I was told he knew what he was doing so I kept my mouth shut.
He read some of Jeremy Silman’s material but evidently missed what Silman said right in the preface of How to Reassess You Chess. Silman wrote about how average players lack understanding of the true purpose of the opening, have no knowledge of planning and thinking processes, no understanding of elementary endings and how all of these things are connected.
After 2-3 years of frustration and painfully slow progress he did manage to get his rating up to the high 1600’s, but could no longer play in the low rated sections. The result was a flurry of losses that put him back to the low 1600’s and that’s where he stayed.
About a year ago he devised a new plan to get his rating up. The new plan? Hit the tactics again and revamp his opening repertoire. That sounds familiar. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. He has since revised his plan. Now he’s revised his openings again but at least he has switched to…classical openings. He has also decided to forget about reading opening books except as references. He has also decided to…study endings and he bought a book of… master games with the intention of playing over them.
Maybe this time he will make it to 1800 or 1900. I hope so. He deserves it after years of frustration because he neglected to study all facets of the game. I wanted to say I told you so, but won’t because I, myself, have received a lot of advice about things over the years and I ignored it only to discover too late that it was good advice and I should have listened. That’s youth for you…they have to make their own mistakes.