You’re solving a chess puzzle, you’re trying all sorts of moves and you come to a moment where you feel like you’ve tried everything! Literally every possible move and yet somehow the solution is still not there?! You’re puzzled, confused and just can’t believe how this can happen… You’re not alone! Here are 5 steps to solve any chess puzzle.
The great majority of all chess games under the 2000 level are won as a result of a tactical combination. Having a solid method in place to solve chess puzzles is a must have for the improving chess player. First you want to understand why you’re missing certain moves: when immediately going over each possible move, you might be looking for solutions based on the existing position on the board. Although this will give you some ideas, it’s rather limiting the possibilities. The pieces that are on the board in the present position can actually block your vision of what you want to achieve. In order to solve ANY chess puzzle, you want to start with the end in mind, regardless of appearances. What do you want to achieve? Visualize the end result, decide you’re gonna go there and all the possible ways to get there will fly right into your mind. Let’s break it down into 5 simple steps to solve any chess puzzle.
1. The team
Who’s gonna do it? Select your attackers! Which pieces are already close to the opponent’s king? How long does it take to bring each piece closer? Can you bring in new pieces into the attack using forcing moves? The pieces that are far away and unlikely to be included in the attack shouldn’t be considered and thus shouldn’t clutter your mind…
2. The target
Identify your opponent’s king position: where can he move to? Can you checkmate him on his current square? Can you cut off some of his escape squares? Or would you like him to be somewhere else? Can he be checkmated easier on another square? Can you lure the king to a square where he’s more vulnerable? Some clues that can help you on the way:
- Is the king in the middle or is he castled?
- Does he have any pawns or other pieces shielding him? Who are his defenders?
- How easily can the shields be ripped apart?
- How exposed is the king? Can we easily lure him to a square where he’s more exposed?
3. The checkmate
With you attackers from step 1, imagine all the mating positions with those attackers you can possibly think of. For now, neglect how you would get your pieces on those squares and also neglect the opponents defenders. Focus on the mating patterns only. Once you’ve found them, visualize them already on the board. Think of as many different ways as possible to checkmate the king. Important to notice here is that you can imagine your pieces to be anywhere on the board. There are no limits. You can eliminate the defenders from your opponent for the time being. Start with the end in mind and answer the following questions for yourself:
- How many attackers do I really need to checkmate the king?
- Which different combinations of pieces can I use to form a checkmate?
4. The plan
Now you know which pieces are ready to strike, what the weak spots in your opponents king’s position are and you have a few ideas of what the final checkmate could look like. Now it’s time to plot the path to go from the existing position to one of the mating patterns from step 3. For each of the mating patterns from step 3, think of all the different ways to get to that mating position: what are the obstacles? Can you eliminate or immobilize any obstacles? Give priority to forcing moves in your calculations. For each of the mating patterns, what are the steps to get there?
5. The decision
If you have found a possible solution, before you make your move, put yourself in your opponents shoes and try to think of a way out. If you can’t find any reasonable way out, then and only then, make your move! If in doubt, remember the 5 questions to ask yourself before you move.