I am a huge proponent of "tactics, tactics, tactics" for low-level players such as myself. I believe that to a low-ranked player, improving tactics is as important as improving macro for a low-ranked SC2 player. It literally dominates everything else. Every single one of my games comes down to me executing a tactic that my opponent missed, or me losing to a tactic that I didn't see. My games are simply battles of trying to see a way to take shit, and how to stop my opponent taking my shit, while following vague positional rules like "Control open files" and "Connect your rooks" when there's none of that to do.
I've never played a game where my position played a large role in the middlegame. I've been cramped positionally, and I've been dominating positionally, and basically every game came down to either one of us taking material, or one of us having better calculation/planning in the endgame than the other. The endgame is the only time I've ever really executed strategy, in that I knew what I wanted to achieve positionally, and made moves to try and achieve it. So, I believe in tactics. So much so that if I see an opening I've never seen before, I don't even look it up, I just try and figure out a tactical solution next time I see it. It might take me seven minutes of clock (I play 30-minute-a-side games exclusively) to play the opening, but whatever: I'm practicing tactics.
With that in mind, here's a game I played. I played black, with a rating of 1345, while my opponent had white, with a rating of 1400. This game was played on chess.com, so I'm not REALLY a 1300-1400 rated player over the board, I'm just rated that high on a chess site.
1. e4 e5
2. c3 Nf6
I play Nf6, so that if he plays d4, I can play exd4. If he takes with the queen, I can develop a piece and threaten the queen, and if he takes with the pawn, trying for central dominance (Which I believe is the point of c3) I can get a free pawn by taking it with the knight. He's ahead on the board, but as I've said: That doesn't really matter at the ~1400 level. The pawn does.
3 d3 d6
A pretty bad move by me. If he wanted to attack the pawn, he'd have defended the e-pawn with a different move and gone for d4 next. As it is, Nf3 is better. I did think of Bc5, but then he can play d4, and my knight plan fails, because I have to move my bishop out of the way when he retakes with his pawn. So Bc5 is bad, but Nf3 would have been solid.
4 Bg5 Be6
I'm not worried about the bishop taking my knight, and while normally h6 is a move you'll want to make eventually anyway, in this case thanks to the early d6, I don't know if I'm going to be castling kingside at all.
5 Nd2 Nc6
6 Ngf3 h6
Now I play h6. I...really don't know why, come to think of it. I'm not sure why I decided on h6: I think it's because I was preparing d5, but I don't see how that bishop being there hurts d5. It means I need to remember it's there, but I should be able to suck it up and calculate for that.
7 Be3 Ng4
His bishop's on a good square, and my knight isn't really doing much. Plus, taking it gives him doubled pawns. Though it gives me some headache if he advances his d-pawn, I can deal with that.
8 d4 Nxe3
9 fxe3 Bg4
I have to get rid of the bishop, since d5 would fork my knight and bishop otherwise. Bg4 is the only decent play for it: I'll have to trade it off eventually, since every other possible square for the bishop is awful and screws with my position.
10 d5 Bxf3
11 Qxf3 Na5
I didn't really need to take at that exact moment: I had tension. (That is to say, I could take his knight whenever I wanted, but he couldn't take me. So every time he calculates something, he needs to remember I can just take his knight. This is pretty effective, especially against low level players who screw tactics up routinely.) Na5 moves the knight out of the way of the pawn on d5, and prepares for an attack on the fairly weak e3 pawn.
12 Bb5+ c6
13 dxc6 bxc6
14 Ba4 Qd7
Qd7 was a carefully considered move. Yes, it pins my queen to my king, but I did consider the tactical possibilities of this before I made the move. I'd tell you the variation, but it actually happens in game, so let's keep going.
15 O-O d5
d5 is actually a blunder here. Something both me and my opponent missed is that after exd5, I can't take back. If I take back with the pawn, I lose the queen to his bishop. If I take back with my queen, I'm going to lose a lot of material thanks to that pin on the pawn defending it. Fortunately, he doesn't see it, and instead decides to take advantage of the pin in a more obvious way: The way I'd prepared for when I played Qd7.
16 b4 Nc4
At this point, I expected my opponent to take my knight, and I take back. My pawn structure suffers, but the bind is broken. Come to think of it, Qd7 was pretty dumb after all. If he doesn't take the knight...well, you'll see. Fortunately, my opponent screws up tactically here. So we see a classic example of low-rated chess. I screwed up, but it actually goes completely unnoticed until the analysis, because my opponent screws up even worse. Seriously, show me a player who doesn't do stupid shit and I'll show you a Class B player at least. (1600+) That's all it takes. Of course, that's like saying "Just macro well, and you'll reach Master." It's not that easy. Anyway, let's look at the line my opponent takes that screws him over.
17 exd5 Nxd2
And here we see the end result. My opponent thinks that if he takes that pawn, he wins...because my queen can't move. But now I'm threatening HIS queen, too. If he wants to continue the attack, he'll have to trade queens off, and I'm already up two pawns by taking a knight for a pawn.
18 Bxc6 Nxf3+
At this point, I take a few minutes to think carefully about how exactly I want to lose my queen. I have to lose it, that's obvious, but what does my position look like when I do? If I take with the queen, he has a pawn very close to promotion, and he can protect it, too. I have no really good positional moves, so letting him take the queen and then having me take back with the King doesn't really do much...and after a minute of thought, I realise that loses me the f-pawn, too. That said, f6 and then letting the bishop take my queen and retaking with the king may have been the best move. We're officially entering "endgame" territory now, and having my king a rank up will be a slight advantage when it's time for the king to enter the game for real. That said, I didn't see f6, and instead, I chose:
20 Bxd7+ Rxd7
21 c4 Bxb4
Remember what I mentioned about tactics? e4 was the correct choice here, but my opponent missed Bxb4, and I got a pawn for free. I'm now up two pawns. If I can trade the Rooks off, the endgame should be mine.
22 Rb1 Bc5
This is a pretty bad move by me. He can play Rb5 and bully my bishop off it's square: I've basically given a move away for no reason. That said, my opponent does the rather powerful move:
23 Rb8+ Rd8
24 Rd8+ Kxd8
Sadly, he hasn't quite calculated far enough, and I can win the pawn back and preserve my position.
26 Kf1 g5
Now my position looks decent. I know I can move my bishop to d4 if he attacks it. Fun fact for those who may not know: If a bishop is diagonally in front of a pawn, that's a strong shape in the endgame, since it means both pieces protect each other, and neither piece can ever be captured by a King while they remain in those positions. Especially since Bishops often have key squares that allow them to defend or threaten multiple key squares at once, having a pawn there to stop the King pushing the Bishop back is often critical.
27 Rb7 Rf8+
28 Ke2 Bd4
Just getting my pieces in better positions: The bishop on d4 where I want it, the rook on the open file.
29 Rb8+ Ke7
30 Rb7+ Kf6
This actually does me a favour. Gets my king closer to the action. I begin to worry about the d6 pawn, but then I realise I can put a bishop on b6 and keep my rook on the last rank, and there's nothing he can do. The only piece that can take the bishop for now is the rook, and if he does that, he'll be losing the exchange, and without his rook, my king and rook can stop the queening by themselves.
32 Kd3 Ke6
33 d7 Rd8
Ke6 forces the pawn to move forward, and then I'm able to play Rd8. He's going to lose the pawn and be forced to trade rooks.
34 Ke4 Rxd7
35 Rxd7 Kxd7
36 Kxe5 Ke7
He plays well here, taking one of my pawn for one of his. At this point, I'm in the part of the endgame where I start calculating exhaustively. There's few enough pieces that I begin to think: "Okay, I should be able to calculate whether a certain plan wins me the game or not from here." I can't quite do that, but I settle on my plan. I'm going to abuse the mobility of my bishop. I'll advance on the queenside, and if he moves on that side, I can seal it up tight. Then, if he moves to the kingside, I'll be able to get there first with my king, and he's screwed. I can defend one side while I'm on the other, and he can't be in two places at once with his king. With that in mind, after a very long think (About ten minutes) I play h5, knowing I can seal up the queenside with my bishop's assistance.
38 Kf5 Be3
39 h3 h4
At about this point, I realise my plan has gone to shit. (I need to stop making such long, intricate calculations: Except in king and pawn endgames, they invariably fall prey to an unseen move.) Fortunately, I swiftly concoct another one. I can win the king race. Basically, with the queenside locked down, he has two choices. The first is to break the queenside apart with pawns. If he does that, we'll have one pawn each on the queenside. He'll capture mine while I move to the kingside and kill everything. His pawn would promote before mine, except for the bishop, which I'll sacrifice to kill his queenside pawn before it promotes. Then I'm on the kingside with a pawn, he isn't, I promote and win.
If he goes for the kingside, I can do a similar thing: I can move my king to the queenside and kill everything, and sacrifice my bishop to kill the first pawn he tries to promote. The second pawn will be too slow, I'll promote, and I'll win. I don't have time to calculate all this out, but I feel good about it.
41 Kd5 Kf6
He makes his move for the kingside, his best chance.
42 Kc6 Kf5
43 Kb5 Ke4
44 Ka6 Ke3
And here is his last mistake. I don't know WHAT was going through his head when he did this, but he wastes two moves for no reason at all. (I analysed it, and if he hadn't done this, I still win, but still.) It ends quickly.
46 c5 Kxg2
47 c6 Kxh3
48 Ka6 g4
49 Kxa7 g3
50 Kb7 g2
And my opponent resigns.
So I guess the lesson to learn from here is this: Everybody at low levels stuffs up. The key is to try and screw up less, and the best way to do this is to study tactics. The quickest way to lose a game is to screw up and lose a piece, and that applies to your opponents, too. If you are tactically better than your opponent, you can usually play pretty straightforward games: Get a material advantage, trade into a winning endgame, and win the endgame from there. That's my default strategy for winning a chess game, and with a few bumps in the road, that's how it went here. I took material with the knight tactic, got an advantage, and didn't let it go, which led to me outclassing him in the endgame when I had a piece and he didn't.
To higher-rated players: Feel free to give advice. Lower-rated players: Feel free to ask questions. Similar-rated players: I dunno. Go study more tactics, we're clearly all terrible I don't know if I'll do any more of these, but I felt like at least doing one.
Thanks for reading!