Solving Chess Tactics
The absolute "must have" skill for all players is tactical knowledge. Endgame knowledge is also highly recommended. Without these two skills, you cannot become good at chess.
Tactical knowledge can be picked up through playing games. There's also tactical exercises (online or in books) and newspaper "find the best move" columns. These are usually 1 or 2 move combinations or checkmates.
Tactics are of vital importance for attackers and defenders. Often when ahead, a tactic can ensure the defender's position deteriorates quickly.
Equally a defensive tactic can save the game (or on occasion reverse the result!)
In this article, we aim to show a little practice can go a long way. We will look at 7 puzzles which are positions where there is a tactic but it may not be obvious.
First we show the puzzles and then the solutions at the end. Many nice tactical themes are covered which should help you improve your tactics. After a while, you'll "feel it" when there's a tactic looming.
All tactics shown are taken from the Chesstempo Tactics page and full credit for the puzzles should be attributed to their site.
Seven Review Puzzles
In line with normal play, no hints are given other than the side to play. We will run through the solutions in the next section.
As an opinion, these puzzles show tactics which are not completely obvious, in most cases. As mentioned above, the more you practice these, the easier it becomes to spot the patters in practice.
Review of the Puzzles
Maybe you were, quick as a flash, able to solve all of these. That's really great.
Maybe some of you found one or two a little challenging, that's equally ok. The great news is it does become a lot easier with practice and the themes crop up all the time.
Typical Tactical Themes
Let's look through some concepts which will help us solve these puzzles.
The following themes regularly come up in tactical puzzles and "over the board" play:
- Mate threats - the defender must make a concession to avoid checkmate (or cannot avoid checkmate - even better!)
- Overloading - the pieces have too many jobs and not enough moves - e.g. defending two pieces at once
- Deflection - very similar to overloading - the overloaded piece is moved away from the defence of one piece, leaving another unguarded
- Forks, Skewers and Pins - not so relevant for these puzzles but we have covered them in detail on the site
- Miscalculation - we will see this in puzzle 4
- LPDO - Loose pieces drop off
Tactics relevant for these puzzles
Forced MatesThe easiest one to start with and one that will come up all the time is "forced mating lines". If you have a sequence that leads to a direct checkmate, this is the line you should play. It makes no difference (other than if you're low on time, in which case why worry - get on with it!) how long it takes to deliver a forced mate - if it wins the point, play it.
The examples we see from these puzzles is in puzzle 5. Fans of the Chessmaster series may recognise the sequence leading to a forced, smothered mate. A smothered mate is one where the king is mated by a knight. It is literally smothered by its own pieces blocking all exit squares.
Puzzle 2 is all about deflection. If there was no knight, 1. Qh5 would be mate, so make the knight move.
Puzzle 3 is also about deflection but this time it's more subtle. The starting move looks really clear but what then. This is one of the really hard things about tactics, finding the calm in the storm - one move kills any white hope of defending the position. With the queen on a new square, you can really force a white defender off the board...
Puzzle 1 is deflection in extremis. If black could, he'd even give up a queen to deliver a back-rank mate. Another finesse is notable in that the queen and rook would be prime target for a knight fork on e4. Combining these two ideas give a wonderful solution.
Puzzle 4 is a nice example of miscalculation. White's position looks deadly. The black queen is under attack and the tempting 1...Qxd5? loses on the spot - can you see how. Unfortunately for white, he hasn't quite calculated fully. What have they missed?
Loose Pieces Drop OffThe sixth puzzle is all about loose pieces dropping off. This technique is actually one of the easier ones. Just imagine where you would put your queen to attack the loose piece and one other. Then, make sure when it's there, both pieces are vulnerable and cannot capture anything - then you're up a piece!
Puzzle 7 is then another deflection but one which takes calculation. If you've done a few of these, you see the theme quickly but have to calculate to make sure it works!