The Right Tactics For Your Rating

The Right Tactics For Your Rating

| 117 | Tactics

The three most important methods of improving your chess skills are games, analysis, and puzzles. adds about 1000 new puzzles every day and has recently passed the 200k puzzle threshold. The puzzles are satisfying because they tend to have an "aha-moment" when solved. They are also customizable by theme, which is a very powerful tool for chess improvement. In this article, we will cover some of the most common themes you need to know when solving puzzles.

I know what you're thinking. How does a SmarterChess article not involve any data? I've got you covered! We analyzed the puzzle tags for all 200k puzzles and tabulated the most common tags across different rating levels. We will sort the 12 most tagged puzzle themes by the rating level that the theme is the most common as a proportion of their rating range. 

Beginning Levels

The first four themes are very important at beginning levels; basically below the 1000-level. This chart shows the relative popularity across different rating bands.


Mate-in-1 puzzles are the first type of puzzles every new chess player should learn, and they are the 7th most common theme. We need to look for the checkmate in one move. Mate-in-1 puzzles are very common in the 100-600 range, moderately common in the 600-1000 range and rare above 1000. Give this mate-in-1 puzzle a try.

Back Rank

Back rank puzzles are extremely common in the 100-1000 rating range, where they tend to be checkmate puzzles. This is the 12th most common theme in the puzzle database. Watch out for a king trapped on the last rank, because a rook or queen can slide up to the back rank for the mate. Try out this back rank puzzle as an example.


Similar to mate-in-1's, but they can be much more difficult. They are the 5th most common puzzle theme. A mate-in-2 puzzle requires looking for all possible two-move sequences to find a checkmate. These puzzles are very common from 100-1400, moderately common from 1400-1800, and rare above 1800. Try this mate-in-2 puzzle below.

Bishop Pair 

Bishop pair themed puzzles follow an interesting pattern. They are most popular at the extreme ends of the rating band, but lose some popularity in the middle. Check out Boden's Mate for a great example of a bishop pair checkmate.

Intermediate Levels

The next four themes cover the intermediate levels. You can see that these are popular with lots of rating bands.

Vulnerable King

Vulnerable king themed puzzles occur when one of the kings does not have adequate protection. In this example, we will see the White king in some trouble due to the lack of defenders. Vulnerable king puzzles are most common in the 600-1000 range.

Forks / Double Attacks 

Forks and double attacks cover the whole spectrum of ratings but tend to be the most common in the 600-1800 range.  Forks and double attacks are when you can attack two pieces at the same time. Try out this difficult 1700-rated fork puzzle.

Doubled Rook

Doubled rook puzzles sometimes involve the rooks stacked on the same rank/file, but other times they can involve two rooks working together to create the checkmate. They are found at all levels, but most common between 2200 and 3400. Here's an example puzzle with rooks on the same file.


The pin is the second most common puzzle theme, and they are seen across all ratings of puzzles. Pins are most important to notice in the 1400-2200 range, where the pin is more likely to be a major factor in the solution. The graphs will bias toward "3200" because of the higher tag density at that rating level. Try out this 1400-rated pin.

All Skill Levels

The remaining four themes are common for all skill levels, including 3200+ for their peak!

Knight Outpost 

A knight outpost is a comfortable square for a knight that is typically guarded by a pawn and can not be attacked by enemy pawns. These themes gradually increase with rating, topping out around 3200-level. Check out this fantastic lesson on placing your pieces on good squares.


A 'battery' in chess is when two pieces are lined up along the same diagonal or straight line. They range from 200 through 4000 but are most commonly found in the upper rating bands.

Rooks on Seventh 

Rooks on the seventh rank themed puzzles are common across all levels, but they become especially important in the 3000+ range. Here's an example of the White rook causing problems on the seventh rank.

Passed Pawns

Passed pawns are the most popular theme in the puzzle database. They are automatically detected and are common at all ratings. They tend to show up more often as the puzzle rating increases, especially above 1400. Try out this lengthy passed pawn puzzle.

Next Steps

To practice the individual themes, you can go into learning mode and select a rating band and the themes you'd like to practice. This is a great way to work on the themes where you have the most trouble while doing puzzles. There is a table on the right-hand side of the learning mode that lets you know your percentage for each theme.

Which themes do you find to be the most difficult? Let us know in the comments below!

NM Matt Jensen

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