The debate is on again on one of the forums. What should you study to improve? The most popular answer was, of course, tactics. We are always trying to separate strategy and tactics and openings, middlegames and endings, but they do not exist as separate parts of the game. The placement of the pieces dictates tactics and strategy. The reason why Morphy was so far ahead of his contemporaries was that even though they could play tactics as good as he could, they lacked his understanding of sound opening principles and strategy. The result was their positional weaknesses presented Morphy with a lot of tactical opportunities.
Talking about strategy generally means long term planning while tactics is taking advantage of opportunities to win material or mate along the way (while those opportunities exist...which may only be for one move). If you are playing with a certain strategic goal in mind and the other player blunders you’ll (hopefully) seize the opportunity to take advantage of it regardless of the strategy.
Speaking of tactics, most players haven’t got the foggiest idea of what they are looking for when it comes to tactics! Most players recognize positional features in a game, but few recognize features or configurations of pieces that hint at the possibility that their MAY be a combination possible in a given position. Not recognizing these motifs means missing the tactics.
The whole point is you can’t improve very much if you’re a one trick pony. You have to study all facets of the game. I don’t understand those who think you should only study tactics until you reach a certain rating...mostly a rating they will never reach. Somehow they have fastened on to Teichmann’s statement, “Chess is 99% tactics” and won’t let go of it as if it’s the Holy Grail of improvement. It has blinded them to the statements many other respected teachers and strong players who point out there is more to improvement than just studying tactics. This is why when most players are asked by their instructors, “Why did you play that move?” the result is often a blank stare. They couldn’t see any tactics so just played a move.
Think about it. When a person is in school, how many of them study only one subject, say math, per year? No, they study many subjects at the same time. Why do we think chess is any different and that you can’t devote study time to all phases of the game?