First, a few tips to help encourage you to improve your reading:
This article originated in a discussion I led on NNGS on February 23, 1999. Implicit in it is an unerstanding thay you have a basic understanding of tesuji. For information on how to study tesuji see my article How to Study Life and Death.
The first rule in fighting is ALWAYS read ahead before playing. How many moves do you read ahead usually? Whatever that number is - increase it by one this month and another one next month. There is no substitute for reading ability.
Also, do not read in one direction only. Branch out as wide as you are able and as deep. This ability increases with practice. If you read 6 moves you may find that the 7th is the critical one.
Do this even if the situation looks simple. And - here is the key - if your opponent played a move you did not anticipate in that reading, then ask yourself why you missed it. Of course, it may be because it was a bad move. But then again, maybe you overlooked a good move.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO CAPTURE STONES AT SOME POINT DO IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
I noticed in a recent game, two situations where a player did not do this. The opponent immediately took advantage and made him take them anyway, thus losing a tempo. This often also eliminates any aji for the stones that will be captured. If you do not, then the opponent may get two ataris for the price of one (or something like that), and that might allow him to secure his group. After the first atari, if you connect instead of capturing he may be able to atarieagain and make you capture anyway. The first connection may prove to be in a silly place while his extra move was in a good place.
Remeber that, for the opponent, a captured stone may not be saved but by threatening to save it he can get an advantage if you respond incorrectly.
ASSUME YOUR OPPONENT HAS 2 AIMS WITH EACH MOVE.
He may not actually have two aims, but there is a good chance that his move has two threats even if he does not realize it.
So, after thinking of the obvious answer, look for another threat. The second threat may be bigger. Even if your opponent does not have a second aim, if you preempt the second threat before he even realizes it is there, you will have the advantage. So, ALWAYS look for a second threat. I don't mean to spend a lot of time on it - just glance over the situation quickly.
Conversely: Always try to make a move with a double threat. To do this, once you have decided on a move, stop and ask yourself if you can achieve the same thing with a different move which has a second threat.
Third Rule: (this is a multiple step rule)
ALWAYS ASK YOURSELF WHAT THE OPPONENT IS THREATENING.
Then, ask if you can stop his threat If you cannot quickly see how to stop the threat don't waste time on trying to figure it out, but quickly to the to next step:
"DO I NEED TO STOP THIS THREAT?"
This is critical... Many players answer a threat without thinking, and they really didn't need to. For players at the 5-10k level I would think that this is maybe one of the biggest mistakes of all.
Having identified the threat, determine if there is an alternative way to counter it, preferably one which has a second aim. The converse of this is that, when it is your move, always ask yourself if the threat you are thinking of playing is worth it.
Everything I have said here is common sense. But if it is not brought to the forefront of the consciousness, then it is often missed in the heat of battle. So, what I want you to do is to list these things I talked about, either literally or mentally, and go thru the checklist every time you are in a middle game fight. It will slow your game until you get used to it, so play slower games, but always go through the checklist on every move.