An unexamined life is not worth living.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Do you Expect from a Good Chess Puzzles Collection?

After putting out regular collections of chess tactics/puzzles for the last year or so, I've been thinking about what separates a good chess puzzle collection from a bad one. I find that for a chess puzzle book to be enjoyable, I generally expect it to have the following characteristics :
  • Solutions should be computer or human checked for accuracy (if you ever solved an incorrect puzzle, you know where I come from)
  • Multiple possible solutions are generally avoided for any given puzzle
  • Games need to be new to me (some combinations migrate from one book to another until everyone can recognize them by heart)
  • The quality of the games has to be rather good, preferably - played by grandmasters
  • In terms of layout or presentation - solutions are easy to look up, ideally - without the risk of seeing solutions to the next positions (whether the puzzle is available online or in a book)
These are the qualities that expect from books/collections that use to train my own skills, so I try to do my best to ensure that ebooks that I create, or tactics that I post on this blog  - follow these guidelines as well.

What else do you expect from a high quality chess puzzle book? 

PS. Note, that I am referring here to practical positions, not the skillfully constructed "mate in two" positions where one side has huge amount of extra material and aims to give mate in as few moves as possible. Those can be quite elegant as well, but are generally a different beast altogether.


  1. Dear Roman,

    First of all, thanks for all the material that you share; it is very instructive and enjoyable for me, despite my limited chess strength!

    To answer your question about expectations from a puzzle book:
    - I agree with most of your expectations.

    - Regarding multiple solutions, personally I don't mind them in a puzzle book. In a game I guess it is better to play a move immediately if I have already calculated a win, especially if alternative lines are not easy to calculate. However in a puzzle book it might be okay, especially if the puzzle says so. It could then be a kind of challenge to find and calculate all the winning lines.

    - I personally feel that we have a shortage of puzzle books on defensive tactics. I mean the kind where one side has a position which looks inferior or even lost, but because of some surprising tactic manages to save the game or even win, sometimes. One fantastic book in this regard is Jacob Aagaard's 'Practical chess defence'. I think working on such puzzles could be very helpful for everyone, and especially for intermediate/improving players, as being familiar with these ideas helps to fight on without getting discouraged in a tough position, and to improve resilience. If you know of other similar works, please indicate them in the comments, I would appreciate it very much!

    - From what I have seen, strong players use tactics not only to win material or to checkmate, but also for improving the placement of their pieces, creating or capturing an outpost square, etc - i.e. for strategic purposes. I don't know if there exists any work which explores this side of tactics, but I for one would really enjoy such a work. It gives a more well-rounded view of the role of tactics in chess, in my opinion. If you know of any such materials, please indicate them in the comments, I would appreciate it very much!

    My best wishes to you, have a nice day!

    1. Thanks for comments! Regarding defensive tactics puzzle book, I am now reading "Pomni o Sopernike" (Remember about the opponent) in Russian - Dvoretsky's latest book -, it will probably come out in English in the next year or so. It somewhat fits your request.
      As for tactics for strategic purposes - I found quite a few examples in Botvinnik's annotations in his games, where he gains strategic benefits with a lot of small tactics that he explains in the comments.
      Good luck!

  2. I agree with the previous comments, especially the idea about defensive tactics.

    I think a very interesting book would be one mixing traditional tactics with defensive tactics (maybe 50/50), so that the situations would be closer to a normal game.

    This kind of book would be new, while traditional tactics books are plenty...

    1. Interesting idea, Laurent. While analyzing about 50-100 combinations a month for my ebooks, I realize that I am only scratching the surface in terms of how many little combinations are happening under the hood in all those GM games, sometimes for attack, sometimes for defence ... Maybe someday I will assemble a collection of puzzles that you suggest.


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