How to solve puzzles CORRECTLY?
Doing a lot of puzzles, but not improving? Are you sure you are doing them right? Read this article to be sure!

How to solve puzzles CORRECTLY?

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Hello Dear Chess Players!

Today I would like to talk about an important and often misunderstood topic in chess; solving puzzles! Wait! Before you click away thinking ‘hey, I know how to solve puzzles!!!’, I would like to ask you a few things:

  • Do you solve hard puzzles only?
  • Do you solve puzzles like you are in a game, waiting for the engine’s move like you would wait for your opponent’s?
  • Do you often play moves that you just guessed, without knowing what will happen a couple of moves later?
  • Do you draw arrows to calculate better?

If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, then I have bad news for you, that’s exactly how you don’t solve puzzles 🙂 Let’s start from the beginning then…

Hard puzzles or not hard puzzles?
Just to simplify things, I will divide puzzles into ‘easy puzzles’ and ‘hard puzzles’. Easy tactics (puzzles) are the ones that you can spot quite easily, less than a minute or two. Hard puzzles are where you usually have to spend long minutes to find the solution. These are excellent if you want to improve your calculation and your visualization, which are important skills, but if you don’t see the board well (for example, you often don’t see what is hanging in one move almost immediately, or you are struggling to spot checks in one move), then it is useless to calculate far, because you won’t see what will be hanging and what threats there will be in a couple of moves. So, I would recommend harder puzzles only if you see the board without bigger issues and if you are familiar with almost every pattern. 

How can easy puzzles be useful?
Under 1000 rapid rating, or maybe even a bit above, your opening preparation, your strategic skills don’t matter that much, because on this level people mostly lose by blundering pieces in one or two moves, because they don’t see and feel the board well enough.

Easy tactics will help you learn the main motives and patterns in chess, will strengthen your board vision, which will lead to fewer blunders. Also, during a game you won’t have time to ponder if you have a fork or not, because you will spend all your time and energy unnecessarily when you could just practice these beforehand (even if the position is different, the motifs will be the same), so you would have more time for other important things like plan making, strategy, etc. They are often the bases of strategic ideas, plans and harder puzzles, which will be useful later! In order to become confident in pattern recognition, do a lot of easy puzzles in each theme (like; mate in 1-2, pins, forks, discovered attacks …etc), as many as you can (we are talking about 50-100/theme)! But don’t you worry, since they are easy, it won’t take that long + you can do them whenever you have a couple of minutes free, like waiting in a shopping lane.

Another time when they could come in handy, is when you are about to play a chess game! Your brain is probably not set to ‘chessmode’ when you sit down to play after a long day, so by doing easier puzzles, you won’t only get some confidence boost but you will also warm your mind up for the battle(s)! 

How can you solve easy puzzles?
Go to Puzzles > Custom Puzzles, where you can set the rating to 0-1000 (or maximum 1500, if you are a bit more advanced) and go over each theme!

If you want to use them for your warm-up, then you can also go to the Puzzle Rush/Puzzle Battle page!

Puzzles are not positions that you need to play out!
Another huge mistake I see is that certain chessplayers treat the online puzzles like they were positions that they had to play out against the computer. No! Puzzles are not games, so my general advice would be that you calculate everything out until you are sure of your solution. Why? Because if you can see almost perfectly until 2-3 moves, you are already better than most players! Imagine what you could achieve if you see 4-5 or more moves ahead! But in order to ‘see’, you need to practice ‘seeing’. I know it is more tiring than the other way around, but patience is key! And, to be honest, I don’t see how treating puzzles like games helps you improve your chess, if it helps you at all. Take your time! It’s better to solve 3 harder puzzles correctly than 20 incorrectly. I know most sites reward you for solving a puzzle fast, but go against the temptation, and slow down! Remember; your goal is to improve, not finding the solution fast, nor raising your puzzle rating. High puzzle rating is fancy, but unfortunately it means close to nothing.

About putting 0 effort into finding your opponent’s best plan…
One more thing: in order to become a good chess player, in most cases you will have to calculate and find the best moves for your opponent as well.

‘Isn’t it their job to find the best move? I do my business, they do theirs.’

No! If you are not aware of your opponent’s best moves (in case of puzzles, best defense), then your calculation will be shallow. This is another reason why playing puzzles like games is a bad idea. I remember the good old times, when my coach would send my homework back to me, because even if I found the right move/idea, I didn’t find the best defense for my opponent…

If you can’t stop this bad habit, then I recommend solving puzzles from puzzle books, where you will be forced to do this!

You are not Hikaru, don’t draw arrows
Talking about mistakes… you are not the kind of person who is drawing arrows on puzzles (and in games!?) to calculate better, right? Right?! If you are one of these people, please, stop it! You are just developing a lazy habit. When you play over the board, there will be no arrows to help you. When you are low on time, there will be no arrows to help you either.

‘But Hikaru does it too!’

Yes, but not for himself, for YOU, so you can understand better what he is thinking. Don’t send your visualization skills to retirement this way!

The absolute worst mistake: not doing puzzles at all

‘Puzzles are pointless. Why would you solve positions that will never occur in my games?’

The position won’t happen, that’s true. But the patterns will, and that’s why you need to practice seeing them!

‘But XY on the internet said that puzzles didn’t help them improve at all!’

Probably they didn’t do it the right way, don’t listen.

I would even go so far to say that tactics are the muscles in chess, you always have to train with them to be in shape. So here is my simple advice: Couple of puzzles a day will keep the blunders away!

Haha, just kidding. You will always blunder, everyone blunders, we are humans. But it does matter how often! Every second move? Once in every game? Twice in every 50 games? You see? There is a difference!

I also made a video on YouTube about the topic, please feel free to check it out and subscribe!

Now before go, and get your puzzle training done, please share your favourite puzzle in the comments or let me know your thoughts on the matter  

Ps.: Here is one of my favourite M2 puzzles from Susan Polgar's 200 Checkmates book, White to play and mate in 2!

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