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How to Solve Chess Puzzles Methodologically

By GM Pepe Cuenca


Since I teach, I keep saying to my students: one of the most basic things when calculating in chess is to analyze all possible checks, captures, and threats. We should also start with the checks that we intuitively think are more dangerous, captures of heavy pieces and the most important threats, starting with mate. In most positions, you will be able to quickly discard a great percentage of checks and captures. It is OK! Try to remember the lines you are calculating, even though they are refuted easily because we could realise that a check does not work for a reason and we can find fast the way of stopping that defense. Let´s try to understand all of this with an example:

White to play. ¿Can you solve this puzzle? ¿How much time do you need?



It is very important for you to know, if you have not found the solution, or you spent a lot of time, that you would have succeeded following this method in a few seconds. First of all, we count the checks… Ba5+ is rejected immediately while bringing a rook to b1, after bishop takes on b1 we can see that the King escapes to c7 and after the check on a5 via d6. There is no possible capture for the white player. Finally, let´s check the threats out. We first look for 1 move threats. There is only one 1.e4 which threatens the bishop; will it work after 1…Bxe4? Again, we compute all the forcing moves and see that this time white wins because the white bishop joins the party via f4… 2.Rab1+ Bxb1; 3.Rxb1+ Kc7; 4.Bf4+, We can see that white can solve this puzzle methodically, with a threat and following checks. Where can we find the difficulties? Mainly not knowing what is the contribution to the position of the move e4, not being able to see Bf4 in advance.


The classical approach about calculation invited the player to make a list of “candidate moves.” These candidate moves would be the ones that a player thinks are “normal.” With the forcing moves, we do not choose but our first candidates will be the moves that give check, capture, or threaten something in one move.


To find a move like 1.e4, we would have to use, following the classical approach, the “recursive thinking,” that indicates that if you try a move A and it does not work for a reason, you should see if you can use an idea before A to make it work. This way of thinking is still very useful! But you will not need to think like that if we can solve positions with checks, captures, and 1 move threats. You will be surprised how much this method can help you! Of course, there will be many more complications but this is the very first step.