Chess puzzles are solved by many ambitious chess players on a regular basis. Why? Because most chess experts claim that solving chess puzzles is the most effective chess training method to improve your chess skills.
However, there is one major difference between solving chess puzzles at home and spotting tactical ideas in tournament games. Simply ask yourself the following question:
How many chess players do you know who regularly solve chess puzzles, watch DVD series on chess tactics or use Chess Tactics Trainers without being able to put their knowledge into practice over the board in a real chess game?
The truth is that 95% of all chess players solve chess puzzles inefficiently or even wrongly. Why is that? How can you avoid all the typical mistakes and skyrocket your tactical skills with some very simple tricks?
The following article gives you a completely new perspective on a common chess tip – solve as many chess puzzles as you can and you’ll improve quickly.
What we do know – some general thoughts on chess tactics
If you’re regularly playing chess tournaments and want to improve your chess skills, your brain needs to stay in sharp shape. Therefore, it’s highly recommendable that chess players of any level train chess tactics on a daily basis. It’s essential to understand that you can’t rely on the help of any chess engine in your own games.
Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone – Use Your Brain, Shut Down Your Computer!
You need to be aware of the fact that improvement in chess tactics is achieved through hard, meaningful work. No sportsmen performing at the highest level can afford to be lazy.
A soccer player who has not been working on his condition for weeks is simply unable to perform well in a match of over 90 minutes of playtime.
However, it becomes more and more obvious that the large majority of chess players don’t think on their own about a given chess position first in their chess training sessions, but immediately start to look at the evaluation of their chess engine.
These habits turn out to be fatal as they keep them away from training their tactical skills.
When they have to calculate lines over the chess board, they face a common problem. They plunge into a maze of variations, lose their way, see their time disappearing and then choose the first move that comes into their head – a recipe for disaster!
The good news, however, is that while almost all chess players focus on chess openings and theoretical lines (which they often only learn by heart and don’t really understand) during their chess training time, you can easily get ahead of many other chess competitors by simply training another (a lot more important) aspect of the game – chess tactics – and becoming a tactical monster!
So please bear in mind what GM Jonathan Rowson wrote in his fantastic chess book “Chess for Zebras: Thinking Differently about Black and White” back in 2003 – “Improvement starts at the end of your comfort zone.“ Of course, this is still true today. You won’t improve by simply focusing on chess openings, switching the chess engine on and your brain off.
Let’s solve chess puzzles the right way!
The Difference Between Solving Chess Puzzles and Over The Board Play
“I’ve met countless ambitious and hardworking players who experience a disconnect between the effort they put in during training and the results they see on the board. They get better and better at solving tactical exercises, their calculation steadily improves, they remember and understand a wide variety of tactical motifs, but all of these improvements seem to be limited to the training session. As soon as they sit down at the board, they fall prey to the same oversights, blunders, and gross miscalculations again and again.”
This quote from an article by GM Daniel Naroditsky on chess.com refers to the fact that there is one fundamental difference between solving chess puzzles and over the board play.
The reason why it is not enough to simply solve chess puzzles every day is that you have to deal with a different situation over the chess board.
The key difference is that if you solve a chess puzzle, you know that there is a solution in advance.
This is why many chess players directly watch out for tactical blows, queen sacrifices and attacking moves.
During a real chess game, however, there is nobody who comes to your chess board and tells you that there is a tactical shot in the position at hand (at least there shouldn’t be anyone telling you this 🙂 ).
The real challenge is to detect hidden chess tactics in your games. This process of finding these chess tactics before your opponent does is actually much harder than finally calculating and executing them.
It is true that the vast majority of amateur games is decided through chess tactics.
But most of the games aren’t decided by tactics both players foresaw, but by chess tactics which one player completely missed. More often than not, it is not the case that the tactic hidden in the position is too difficult to understand for one player. Instead, this player simply didn’t realize that there might exist a tactic.
An Example: Chess Puzzle Or Not?
Let’s take a look at the diagram on the right (Black to move).
If we’d sit together and I’d tell you that this was one of the games I recently played and I had to face a difficult strategic decision here, you would have a completely different view on the position than if I told you that this is a chess puzzle and Black can win on the spot.
In the first case, you might consider if it is possible to play …c5 here and open the center as long as the White king is still in the middle and can’t castle.
In the latter case, you won’t care about the move …c5 and directly start looking for forcing moves like …Ng4, …Nxe4, …Nd5 or …Bxb4.
Guiding Principles to Solve Chess Puzzles
Considering this key difference, we have to draw certain consequences which lead to the following guiding principles for solving chess tactics. If you haven’t applied them in your chess tactics training so far, it’s time to change your tactical workout.
- Write down your solutions
Chess is about effective decision-making. In a real chess game, you have to decide on your own how much time you are willing to invest in your next chess move. On the chessboard, it doesn’t matter what you see, but only what moves we play. It’s like GM Jacob Aagaard wrote in his fantastic chess book “Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation”:
“If you write down your solutions, you are accountable to yourself for the quality of your decision-making, especially whether you saw the most important details needed to make the right decision. Luck is not a factor to rely on and neither is its cousin guessing! Another advantage with writing your analysis down is that you can finish a whole page before you check the solutions on the next page, without risking seeing the solution for the next exercise.”
- End each chess puzzle with a definite conclusion
Leave assumptions at the door and make a definite conclusion before looking up the solution to a puzzle.
- Slow down
Quality before quantity! Many chess players use Chess Tactics Trainer websites like chess.com or chess24 in order to solve chess puzzles. It is important to mention that these chess training websites give you a chess rating for the exercises you solved. The faster you solve a chess puzzle, the more points you get.What sounds like a motivating factor for solving chess puzzles at first glance, turns out to be a major drawback. Many chess players are tempted to choose their moves too quickly.
They see a certain tactical idea in the position which looks promising and go for it without giving their idea a second thought. Very often, it turns out that their solution is wrong due to a slight mistake. They had the right idea but their move order was wrong, they overlooked an intermediate move or they completely ignored their opponent’s threats. Note that the aim of all your opponents is to trick you. They try to set traps and you need to avoid falling for them. In a real game, such slight mistakes can easily cost you the game. Hence, you should try to be as careful with your decisions during your chess training as during an important game.
- Take your time for each exercise
After you solve a chess puzzle wrongly, you should take your chance to analyze that tactics puzzle with a strong chess engine to see the best lines and variations. By checking the puzzle with a chess engine, you can also investigate the disadvantages of alternative lines which might seem promising to you at first glance. Moreover, for better memorization, you should save the chess puzzles and retry it in the near future. If you’re using Chess Tactics Trainers, you can download the PGN and save all the chess puzzles you couldn’t solve in a separate database.
- Find the right balance between hard and easy exercises
Easy puzzles can be a good warm-up, but you also have to do medium exercises where you need to find a silent place in order to concentrate better and hard chess puzzles which really challenge you to your maximum. If you want to solve chess puzzles which are really hard, it is recommendable to take up to 30 minutes per position if you are failing to solve them. Write down the move or the variation you would go for and compare your ideas with the solution. Try to figure out the key elements you missed in your thought process.
- Include chess puzzles which don’t have a solution
As we’ve mentioned before, there is nobody who tells you that there is a tactic in the position when you play a tournament game. Hence, it is important to try to create as realistic chess training conditions as possible. A great way to do this is to work with chess books that feature a collection of well-chosen exercises some of which not having a concrete tactical solution. You just have to play a good move there.
To sum it up – How To Solve Chess Puzzles
Without good calculation skills, it’s nearly impossible to play a good game. Regular chess training with chess puzzles helps you to find different motifs in your games faster and more frequently.
However, many players buy into the false assumption that the path to tactical mastery is rather straightforward.
Instead, it is highly advisable for every chess player to devote himself to the aforementioned guiding principles of effective chess tactics training.
Solve chess puzzles the right way and take down even the toughest rivals on the chessboard. If you do all the hard work, you will see significant improvement – guaranteed.
Do you want to watch some breathtaking tactical combinations by some of the greatest chess giants and finally be able to execute them yourself? Click here to get a special discount on GM Nigel Short’s new chess DVD “The Short Way To Mastering Tactics”.
Another helpful alternative is The Ultimate Chess Puzzle Book by GM John Emms. These chess tactics puzzles are helpful bound to take students’ and elite players’ tactical skills to the next level.
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