Puzzle Potpourri

  • IM Silman
  • | Sep 15, 2013

I constantly see amateurs raving about how tactics is 99% of chess. However, if that was actually the case then chess wouldn’t be the amazing game that it is. A true fan of the game sees beauty in opening theory, in subtle positional play, in barn-burning attacks, reading about chess history, in endgames, in tactical explosions, and in a hardcore strategic beat-down.

As a lover of chess you get to look at chess as an art form, learn about times long, long ago, and marvel at the raw understanding and imagination that our top players constantly demonstrate in their own games. As a player, you should be trying to learn as much as you can about every phase of the game – the rush one gets from a positional plan gone right is at least as good as the delight one feels when you get to toss a combination on the board.

The real message here is: If you only have eyes for tactics, you’re missing out on something very, very special.

This week’s puzzles will keep you on your toes since some are tactical, some positional, and some endgame (just like real life chess is). Many are very difficult and I don’t expect you to solve them (the puzzles are an instructive device, not an ego device). The real instruction in this article is in trying your best to figure the puzzles out and then reading the hidden prose (and looking at the hidden variations).


[All of these puzzles offer invisible prose and/or variations. After you try and solve the puzzle, click SOLUTION followed by MOVE LIST so you can all the hidden goodies.]

Puzzle 1:

Who is helped most by the existence of opposite-colored bishops?

Puzzle 2:

The right move can only be found if you understand what Black intends to do. In other words, chess isn’t just about what you want to do, it’s also about what your opponent wants to do.


Puzzle 3:

McDonnell, a fantastic attacking player, was probably the second best player in the world at that time, but he wasn’t in De Labourdonnais’ class (since De Labourdonnais could do everything well). However, when McDonnell got a promising attacking position, he was unstoppable! 

Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais | Image Wikipedia

Puzzle 4:

Okay, I’ve never been a fan of Staunton, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating his finer moments.


Puzzle 5:

Alekhine was one of the greatest attacking players of all time, but everyone of every style has to know how to play endgames. There are no exceptions! 

Puzzle 6:

Burn was, in general, a quiet positional player. However, among chess professionals there’s no such thing as someone who doesn’t attack like a starving lion if they get the chance to do so!


Puzzle 7:

Everyone has heard of the great Adolf Anderssen, who was one of the finest attacking players of all time. However, Marmaduke Wyvill is less well known. A very strong amateur player, he came in second (behind Anderssen) in the only tournament he competed in (ahead of powerhouses like Szen, Horwitz, and Staunton!). He was later immortalized when a gigantic comic strip dog was named after him.

Annotators (and Anderssen himself) made it clear that 34...Rc2 35.Rxc2 Qxd4+ 36.Kg3 Qe3+ 37.Nf3 would have lost to 37...g5!. Indeed, the position in the puzzle looks terrifying, but is White really dead?

Your puzzle-mission, if you choose to accept it, is to stand tall and proud and survive Black’s onslaught! [This article will self-destruct in 10 seconds.]


Adolf Andressen | Image Wikipedia

Puzzle 8:

Too many amateurs think that tactics are all you need to win a game. They don’t realize that tactics often come from strategic domination which, when the time is right, calls for tactics to help with the breakthrough. In other words, positional mastery is the “batter” that creates the tactical “cake.”

In this puzzle the game was a classic closed center situation where each side fought to garner space on the wings — White went for the kingside since his central pawn chain gives him space there, and Black went for the queenside since his structure begs for a breakthrough in that sector. Gaining positional advantages was key for both players, in this case space and roads for the rooks (penetration points). Unfortunately for Black, White’s kingside plusses turn out to be more important than Black’s queenside stuff.

Puzzle 9:

The creator of the Maroczy Bind was an incredibly strong player, while his opponent wasn’t in the same league. Nevertheless, if you’re not paying attention, even a small dog can give you a painful bite.


Puzzle 10:

The great Rubinstein’s games are “must-study material.” Aside from being a master of positional chess, he was also one of the world’s finest endgame players. The puzzle in the endgame would have been a piece of cake for someone like Akiba!


Puzzle 11:

Okay, okay! I love using old games, but since Magnus is the “hot thing” nowadays (he just won the Sinquefield Cup and will soon play Anand for the World Championship), I decided to use a couple of Carlsen examples.


Puzzle 12:

When games end quickly and decisively one usually thinks it must have been due to an attack or some tactic(s). But did you know that many quick games occur by simple positional mastery? See if you can play like the legendary Nimzowitsch. He made 14 perfect moves in a row, and I would expect anyone with a rating of 2300 on up to do the same here. This should be a great test of where you really stand on the rating ladder. If you can’t solve it, it means your positional understanding needs a tweak or two. Fortunately positional skills are fairly easy to acquire!

 White is strategically lost

Puzzle 13:

Old-timers like me remember Smyslov as a chess god. The guy could do it all — attack, positional mastery, and sublime technique. In his day, the only player who could hold even with him was Botvinnik!


Puzzle 14:

Magnus Carlsen, like any great player, has mastered every phase of the game. Here he shows his positional side.




  • 3 years ago


    I completely agree.  However you have to understand what strategy is and what tactics are to be able to study them.  My definitions were posted for Ron-Weasley's benefit who seemed to be under the impression he has a better grasp of these two ideas than IM Silman.

  • 3 years ago


    I like that you consistantly bring the chess (and or evolution of ideas) history up in your writings.

  • 3 years ago


    Well if I tried to define chess strategy and tactics myself, I would probably provide an inadequate definition.  SoI prefer to reference established ideas.

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    nearly all who play houdini (that icky tactical monsterKiss) lose by tactics. that said....well, enough said. and the nice thing about knocking your head is it feels good when you stop ! hehe !   

  • 3 years ago





    Ron, please read these then take your idiocy elsewhere.

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    Tactics is possible only if the pieces are in their best squares!! Even the great Michael Tal develops his pieces before delivering the final combinational tactics.. Positional play is most important because positional play leads to tactics...One needs to understand what the best squares are for his pieces...the pawn structures..when to change them ...and when not to!!

  • 3 years ago


    I had a lot of fun solving the first 3 puzzles with several mistakes made along the way. Looking forward very much to finishing the article and the rest of the puzzles. I always feel I come out of them a slightly better player. Cheers Smile

  • 3 years ago


    @RyanMurphy5 - I have to disagree. The chess engines all have an evaluation function that assesses the positions that result from their calculations, and no one envisions a time when the evaluation function will not be critical to chess success--whether for carbon or for silicon. And of course, strategic/positional/dynamic considerations are all important in that evaluation.

    As a matter of philosophy, I suppose that you can make the leap of faith and assert that chess will some day be 100% tactics, but it is 100% contradicted by everything in our experience and in our projected experience, as far the horizon stretches.

  • 3 years ago


    The trouble is, all of that beautiful strategy also comes down to tactics. A weak player might see that he should try to push his passed c-pawn, but he might not see that he can do it, because he might not see the little tactical reasons along the way why he can do *this* or why his opponent can't do *that*. Even though he might want to do the right thing, it might seem to him that he can't, because he's getting the tactics wrong. And that's why I say chess is ninety percent tactics: seeing that you can go ahead and execute the right plan requires that you *also* see the little tactical reasons along the way why you can do *this* and why your opponent can't do *that*.

  • 3 years ago


    thx IM Silman for this amazing article,plz dont hitur head against the wall we need u to make more articles for usLaughing

  • 3 years ago


      The last example was played where? Worst soft drink name ever. Thanks for the great article.

  • 3 years ago


    the examples are bad.

  • 3 years ago


    Analyzed the lines of puzzle 1 with Rybka. It says that Rd5 is a mistake, and Rd3 would be better.... Is it right??

  • 3 years ago


    Silman all you had to say was 'click solution, followed by moves list'  

    you don't have to be dramatic about 'banging your head' against the wall.  he probably just didn't even see the annotation.

  • 3 years ago


    It's actually 100% tactics, but seeing as humans aren't well-equipped enough to perform at the requisite level of calculation ability we simplify the game to things such as theory and strategy for our understanding.  If there is some truth floating around in the metaphysical chessic cosmos it reduces to some facts that can be calculated by brute force.

  • 3 years ago


    It is precisely amateurs who have the least time to study.  Studying anything other than tactics and endgames at least 90% of the time ( 7% master games and 3% theory is okay ) is a recipe for amateurs to remain much weaker for much longer because they are wasting what little time to study that they have.  The problem is not that amateurs are raving about how tactics are the golden key, but that they are not actually studying tactics or the endgame predominantly, and thus they are not learning how to calculate.  Admitting their problem is only the first step, and so the fact that they very often will not take their own prescriptions does not mean they have the wrong medicine.  Yes they are missing a tremendous amount when they focus solely on tactics, but appreciating the beauty of a game that you cannot calculate any of the lines of is like admiring a painting that you cannot see, or listening to music you cannot hear.  

  • 3 years ago


    I'd say that tactics are 95% of what keeps amateurs like me from being a lot better.  Think about it--f two people play chess, and one is great at basic tactics but bad at positional play, and the other one is just the opposite, who will win:  the guy who squeezes the life out of his opponent's position but loses his Queen to a fork, or the other guy?

  • 3 years ago


    Lovely examples. Thanks.

Back to Top

Post your reply: