Awesome Free Chess Tutorials

How to Solve Chess Puzzles Faster

How to Solve Chess Puzzles Faster

Solving puzzles can rapidly improve your overall Chess game knowledge & tactics. In this article, I will outline my thought processes when tackling a puzzle and then show examples of how it is applied. Most of these examples are 2000+ rated to be challenging. I am trying to get better at puzzle rush so I am writing this article to help myself as well.

🧩 Use these steps like a flowchart of the thought process that you should take from the most important to the least important. This is for making solving the puzzles as time-efficient as possible.

🧩 If you already solved the puzzle in Step 2 for example, feel free to ignore the rest of the steps.

🧩 There might be other ways than just the examples I give here, so do keep that in mind.

🧩 These steps apply assuming that you are not under Check already. If you are you should find the best defensive solution to get out of it and come out on top.

🧩 This is my personal order, if you have your own thought process please share it in the comments, it would be interesting to compare.

Overview


Step 1: Take Note of All Your Pieces

Basically, look at all of your pieces and ask yourself what Squares are your pieces Controlling and the squares they can move to.

That bishop in the corner could be instrumental to the winning combination. Pay close attention to them and note the squares they are attacking, especially if the puzzles are higher rated. Check this VERY beautiful puzzle out for instance.


Click here to see answer
We sacrifice 3 major pieces here to make a checkmate that it’s amazing to witness!

Step 2: Check the Material Count (Optional)

If the puzzle is Timed, sometimes you don’t have time to count exactly. However, if you are not sure about the puzzle or want to be more precise, take a pause and look at the material count. There are a lot of times where you think you know the right combination but actually, it’s not because you are already down on material and just winning 1 piece doesn’t cut it, you needed to make a checkmate instead.

If you are down in a lot of material and there’s no checkmate or game swinging tactic, chances are you might have a perpetual check and have to go for it.

Example:

Here we are down a knight and a pawn for a positional edge with White’s vulnerable King. Unfortunately, we do not have a checkmate, and in this case, we have to resort to plan B of making a perpetual.

Click here to see answer
Rxe2+! Firstly we remove the defending knight opening up White’s King to checks. The rook cannot take in this situation or it will be checkmate in 2 moves with 2… Qxd4+ 3. Ke1 Rg1#. Therefore, after White’s King takes our rook, we can bring in another attacker with Rg2. Kd3 is forced and we can follow it up with more checks with Qd1+ and after Kc4 we have Qxc2+. White has the last defensive resource by blocking the check with his rook — Rc3. Now we just repeat moves with Qe2+ after which he has to block again with his rook, and we check again returning to the previous position with Qc2. If he does not block and tries to escape the checks by going to Kb4, it is mate in 2 with 6… Qb5+ 7. Ka3 Qa4#. He also has the defensive resource b4 like the line below:


⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Step 3: Look for Checks & Checkmate — The Most Forcing Moves.

Are there any Checks, or better yet, Checkmate (in X amount of moves) available to you? Even if it looks silly, don’t dismiss it as it might be the solution. A lot of higher-rated puzzles make you think outside the box and make you sacrifice.

In fact, try to do this to all the ideas listed below — do not dismiss them if it’s close to working because the idea might be part of a combination.

A lot of rudimentary puzzles involve back rank checkmates, so be on the lookout for back rank issues especially if the puzzle is on the easier side.

Example:

In this puzzle we see that we are under tremendous pressure, so doing anything very slow is probably not going to work. Therefore, we must resort to the most forcing moves and that is going for checks.

Click here to see answer
Rxb2+! Sacrificing a rook to gain the initiative and open up the black king. Black will try to delay the inevitable by denying it and moving his King to a1. However, the mating net with the rook, Queen, and the e5 pawn is too strong.

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Step 4: Look for Captures — Lesser Forcing Move.

Can you Capture any pieces? Like Step 1, think outside the box and even look for exchange sacrifices & sacrificing on pawns. Can you also remove a critical defender of a square, allowing a tactic to work?

Example 1:

Click here to see answer
Rxe3! We capture the knight with our rook and this immediately creates a checkmate threat. White does not have time to capture our rook so he tries the most challenging move Rd8. Fortunately, we are just in time to retreat our rook with Re8 and solve the back rank issue.

Example 2:

Another theme is capture(s) leading to simplification. At the end of the combination you would be up material, so a lot of times it’s the correct play to just simplify.

Click here to see answer
The correct order is taking the knight on f3, then his rook, then the Queen with your bishop. This is because the first two moves come with checks, so they are more forcing and have to be responded to. At the end of the trades, we are clearly winning.

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Step 5: Look for Loose Pieces.

Are any of your opponent’s pieces Hanging, or in a position where they can be forked by any of your pieces to win material? If a piece looks loose (i.e. on its own without any protection) but there’s no tactics yet, think of ways to check the enemy king or make threats to win that piece. Basically, if a piece is loose, there could be a multitude of tactics that can exploit it.

This is an interesting puzzle. Are any of your opponent’s pieces loose, and if not, can you make them loose?

Click here to see answer
Firstly we play Re2 threatening to take his Queen. If he responded Qf3 and Qf2, they both lead to mate so his Queen doesn’t have many squares to go to. So he has to block with his rook by going to Rf2. But now after you trade rooks and his Queen captures back Qxf2, do you see how his knight is now loose? It has no protectors. So now you simply make the Pythagoras right-angled triangle pattern by Qh5+ (a Queen fork) then followed by taking his loose knight.

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Step 6: Look for Trapped Pieces.

Similar to Step 3, but this time we are looking for our opponent’s major pieces like a rook or Queen running out of squares or likely to be Trapped. If they are, look for ways to trap them and win them or trade them with a lesser valuable piece.

Click here to see answer
Firstly note that the Queen doesn’t have many squares, however, we cannot attack it right now with anything. But now note that we also have a Check, sacrificing our bishop like in Step 1 of this guide. King has to take or he loses the rook exchange but after Ng5+ he has to return to the g8 square again or it’s checkmate in a few moves. And now since we removed the defender pawn our knight has a nice square accessible to it — e6. Therefore, playing Ne6 allows us to pick up the trapped Queen.

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Step 7: Are you in Danger Yourself? (Optional)

Before you commit to the next step of Creating Threats, check to see if you are in grave Danger yourself. Is your King going to be checkmated soon if you try to make a threat of your own? This is because creating a threat is NOT a forcing move, therefore sometimes you don’t have time for slow plays.

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Step 8: Look for Creating Threats — Non-Forcing.

If there isn’t a tactic of direct checks or captures, you might need to make a threat instead. This is usually more true for higher-rated puzzles where it isn’t obvious the correct move and therefore you have to make a threat instead.

A lot of times a strong threat could be actually “checking” the enemy Queen with a minor piece like a bishop, knight, or rook. Especially if the enemy Queen is on the same line as the enemy King available to be pinned by your bishop or rook.

Usually, double (or more) threats are the most dangerous, for example, if the threat is it’s either checkmate for the enemy or winning a loose piece.

The biggest threat is of course making a mating threat, as long as you aren’t being checkmated next move. A lot of times you can create a mating net by moving a piece that is pretty much impossible to escape, so most of the time that should be the move.

If you have a check but no checkmate, think about mating nets and if you can instead set something up for inevitable mate next move(s).

Example:

This puzzle is rated a whopping 3700 (!!) so don’t worry if you get it wrong. I got it wrong during my puzzle rush survival attempt and it cost me the run (it was 75th puzzle of the run so the ratings were getting insane). Even chess.com’s Komodo engine couldn’t get the right continuation at depth 25 and still thought it was even!

Keep in mind that you just have to make 2 moves as black and the next move white will make if you make a slower move is Nc3.

Click here to see answer
We don’t have many moves here so Qh4 is the most natural, to create some threats on the White King and improving our position. Nc3 is played and while it seems Ra8 is the most natural move, instead we give up a whole rook to create more threats by playing e4!! A brilliant and very deep move. The whole idea is to tear up White’s King, and argue that the threats and initiative we have is way more important than material.

While it’s true that later on White will have 3 pieces — knight, bishop, rook against our lone Queen, the fact is those pieces are loose and cannot coordinate in time, and we do have pawns that can march up the H and G files and attack White’s King while threatening promotion.

⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Still stuck? Try troubleshooting below.

Puzzle Troubleshooting Checklist

If you are stuck here is a checklist that might help!

☐ Can you Decoy the enemy piece? If you can distract a defender, perhaps you could win a piece or deliver a checkmate, etc.

☐ Can you make a new Pin or use an existing one to your advantage?

☐ Can you use Interference, blocking a piece?

☐ Is there a Discovered Attack, or can you create one? If there is, and it doesn’t work yet, maybe some other move can make it work?

☐ Is an enemy piece Overloaded and cannot defend more than 1 piece at once? Or can you make a threat to Overload, whilst threatening something else in the process?

☐ Can you Skewer an enemy piece so that if it moves, you will win another piece in the same line as that piece?

☐ Is there a Promotion in the air that you can threaten?

These should be the most common tactical motifs, ChessTempo has more on them, take a look here.

More Tips / Notes:

Calculate Accurately

Once you identified the tactics/plan, you need to calculate precisely the sequence. If you are playing puzzles online you could draw arrows on the board with dragging right clicks (on Lichess and chess.com for instance) to help with your visualization.

If the calculation is very deep, try to calculate as machines do, think of a few (3 max) candidate moves and then look a few moves deep (making the best moves for your opponent as well) and see if you like position or not, if not then look at other moves in the initial position. So in other words, try to see a few moves rather than going down a huge rabbit hole and sinking all your time.

If you know there is a checkmate in the air, seeing the squares where ALL of your pieces controls can be very important.

Calculation is actually a whole other topic of its own but I would say Visualization is very important as well. To help with that playing some Blindfold Chess could help a lot, as well as trying to visualize for higher-rated puzzles.

Endgame Puzzles

Some puzzles are orientated towards the endgame and test your knowledge on that. In many of those, it would be wise to know the principles of endgames and for that, I believe this is out of the scope of this article. Principles like the Opposition, Philidor’s position, Lucena position, etc are pretty important to know, I recommend studying them in other resources. Since it’s mostly King or pawn moves usually, using arrows on the board online provides a big advantage because it’s a lot easier to see where the pieces could end up than pieces with longer range.

How to Improve Puzzle Rush Score?

I would say that this is an area that I want to improve on myself and I found one of the best ways to train it is to play the puzzle Training mode on Chess.com. This lets you pick the rating range of the puzzle and any specific tactical motifs you are struggling at you can choose to only focus on those as well. My idea is that since my score for 3 minute Puzzle Rush is low at 22 right now, I focus on the beginner puzzles only in the training mode, so like rating from 500 to 1200.

Every time I spend more than 6 seconds thinking on the puzzle, after I find the solution, I will retry the puzzle at least 3 times to get it in my head. If I get the puzzle wrong, I will retry it 6 to 10 times just to get it in my head. After all, a lot of it is about Pattern Recognition and to train that it would involve a lot of repetition. I’m also curious to hear your thoughts and if you have any ideas!

Your Turn

Do you have more ideas to add or some nice puzzles to contribute? Feel free to comment down below!