During a chess lesson yesterday I asked my coach, a strong IM, whether he had ever sat around doing a book of tactical exercises early in his chess career. He replied that he hadn't, and seemed to suggest that such tactical study is not so helpful. This is of interest to me since I've been working through exercise books more or less regularly for the past few years. Does it really help?
World opinion is divided on this matter. At one extreme there are those who recommend doing some tactical puzzles every day. Susan Polgar recommends this, and in fact provides daily puzzles on her blog (http://susanpolgar.blogspot.com/). Michael De La Maza (Rapid Chess Improvement) lays out a more detailed and stringent plan, which he calls the "Seven Circles." Closer to the center of the spectrum, GM John Nunn (John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book) wrote that "Every young player should, at some stage, go through such a book [as Reinfeld's 1001 Ways to Checkmate] solving every position." He stops well short of advocating a lifelong habit, however. GM Larry Christiansen acknowledged a similar debt to Reinfeld in his book (Storming the Barricades), saying that Reinfeld's 1001 Sacrifices and Combinations "became a constant companion at home and school." NM Dan Heisman (in a ChessCafe article) recommends focusing easy tactical problems, and trying to do them quickly. Then we have the contrarians, such as my coach. GM Alex Yermolinsky expresses some doubt about doing puzzles (The Road to Chess Improvement): "...solving chess problems is a mind-boggling exercise, and I, for example, was never keen on that." He even blames a colleague's stalled progress on an over-reliance on tactics. Then we have Martin Weteschnik (Understanding Chess Tactics) saying that "asking them to solve a huge number of puzzles" did not help his otherwise strong students improve tactically.
How can we reconcile these views?