How to solve Tactical Chess Puzzles

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.

Whatever tactics you play or are playing for, it is important is always to play good chess. Never rely on a cheap trick, hoping the opponent stumbles blindly into a bad move. Tactics should work as part of a good move. Often, one line will be rejected, precisely because one variation contains a killer tactic.

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.

Eye of Newt Tactics

Many new players think solving some tactics problems is like witchcraft

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.

Puzzle 1

Puzzle 2

Puzzle 3

Puzzle 4

Puzzle 5

Puzzle 6

Puzzle 7

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
There are also other themes such as discovered checks but they are not so relevant for these puzzles.

Tactics relevant for these puzzles

Forced Mates

The 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.

Tactics - Puzzle 5

In terms of forcing lines, this is a dream position to aim for in Puzzle 5 (note, no queen, it doesn't matter)

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.

Deflection

Tactics

Deflections are a good tactic to know. In football they can be very cruel; in chess too.


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.

Miscalculation


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 Off

Tactics LPDO

Like in bread, loose pieces drop off. In tactics they do too.

The 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!

Solutions

The solutions are given below with some fictional players added for fun.
[Event "Puzzle 1"] [White "Vogts, Berti"] [Black "Klinsmann, Juergen"] [FEN "3r1rk1/5pbp/R4np1/1p2p3/3qP3/1PN2BQ1/1PP2RPP/7K b"] [Result "0-1"] 1...Nxe4!! {this is devastating, overloading almost every piece in the white defence} 2. Nxe4 (2. Bxe4 Qd1+ 3. Nxd1 Rxd1 4. Rf1 Rxf1) (2. Qh4 Nxf2 { black has won the material which is enough but there is a lovely mate to follow:} 3. Kg1 Nh3! 4. Kh1 (4. Kf1 Qf2) Qg1 5. Nxg1 Nf2) (2. Rf1 Nxg3) Qd1+ 3. Bxd1 Rxd1 4. Rf1 Rxf1 [Event "Puzzle 2"] [White "Inman, John"] [Black "Peacock, Stephen"] [FEN "1r4r1/1p3p1k/pqp1bP2/5nQ1/4R3/2N5/PP3PPP/2R3K1"] [Result "1-0"] 1. Rh4! (1. Qh5? Nh6! {and black fights on}) Nxh4 2. Qh5 [Event "Puzzle 3"] [White "Rumbold, Cuthbert"] [Black "Brahms, Shirley"] [FEN "2rb4/1p1b3k/p2p2p1/P1PP3p/1P3q2/4Bp2/Q4P1P/4RBK1 b"] [Result "0-1"] 1...Qg4 2. Kh1 {but what now?} Bb5!! {this is crushing - another overloading theme} 3. Bxb5 (3. h3 Qh4 4. Kh2 Bf6 {is crushing}) Qg2 [Event "Puzzle 4"] [White "Conquerer, Will"] [Black "Hadrada, Harry"] [FEN "2r1rb1k/5np1/p2p4/Pp1B4/1P1B4/5q2/7P/1Q1RR1K1 b"] [Result "0-1"] 1...Rxe1 (1...Qxd5 2. Bxg7 {is the trick to avoid}) 2. Rxe1 Qxd5 [Event "Puzzle 5"] [White "Magritte, Rene"] [Black "Picasso, Pablo"] [FEN "2r4k/6pp/R2p4/P2Q2N1/1n2P1q1/8/6PP/7K"] [Result "1-0"] 1.Nf7 {for a beautiful forced, smothered mate} Kg8 2. Nh6 Kh8 (2...Kf8 3. Qf7) 3. Qg8! Rxg8 4. Nf7 [Event "Puzzle 6"] [White "Churchill, Winston"] [Black "Stalin, Josep"] [FEN "r3rbk1/2qn2pp/2p2p2/ppn1p2b/4P3/4NPPB/PPP3QP/3RNRBK"] [Result "1-0"] 1.Bxd7! Nxd7 2. Qh3 {and either the rook will take on d7 or the queen on h5} Bf7 3. Rxd7 {and white is doing incredibly well!} [Event "Puzzle 7"] [White "Potter, Brian Chelsea"] [Black "Sinclair, Jerry (the Saint)"] [FEN "4r1k1/pp1q1r1p/2p1RnpB/3p1p2/2n5/2Q2PPB/PPP4P/4R2K"] [Result "1-0"] 1.Qxf6!! Rxf6 2. Rxe8 Qxe8 (2...Rf8 3. Rxf8) (2...Kf7 3. Rf8) 3. Rxe8 Kf7 {and white is a rook up!}
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