I know solving tactics puzzles is one of the recommended ways to improve in chess. I spend around 30 min solving puzzles.

How much time I should spend on one puzzle? During games we don't think 15-20 min on one move (of course depends on a stage of the game) So I though same should apply for solving puzzles.

Would it be better for growth to spend max 5 min or better to to try to solve puzzle even if it takes say 20 min?

4 Answers 4


For me, I'll at least start by bashing on it until I think I've solved it. If I get totally stuck, like "I just don't see anything useful to do in this position at all..."), I will put it down and come back to it later - sometimes after a few hours, sometimes the next day or a couple days later. Sometimes in that situation, even if I spend 20 or 30 minutes searching for a solution but not finding anything, I will occasionally see it right away the next time I look at it. If I go through a couple of cycles of this and still can't find a solution, I will assume I'm just not going to find it in any finite amount of time, and will abandon the search and look at the solution. This is actually very instructive for me most of the time, it usually shows me something I just wasn't considering at all, and next time I see a position like that I remember because of all the time I spent staring at the problem that I couldn't solve.

The more common problem for me is when I look at a problem and think I solved it, then I look at it more to make sure I solved it and can't find a better move, and then I look at the solution - and I'm wrong... Often because I missed something totally obvious, like I've hung a piece, or missed a mate threat, or didn't notice from the position that I was actually in check to start with... Unfortunately, with problems in a book, in that situation all you can do is read the solution, try to understand why your proposed solution was wrong, and learn from that. If you're working on a problem using some kind of software, at least it will usually tell you, no that's not the answer, try again - without revealing what the answer actually is.

In the end, I guess it really does depend on how you learn best, and to some extent how much time you can devote to study. In my case, my study time is limited, and I just can't afford to get stuck indefinitely on one problem, I need to be able to use the time I have to look at as many problems as I can, and learn what I can from them.

  • 1
    Putting it down and coming back later is excellent advice and probably much better than looking at the solution the first time you think you're stuck. Jan 4, 2016 at 10:55
  • yes, this worked for me. If puzzle takes way too much time means I m not ready for it. I put it aside and try easier puzzle and come back to puzzles I didn't solve back after some time.
    – Alex
    Jan 4, 2016 at 12:04

You should try to solve until you find the solution. If the puzzle is hard and has concepts new to you, it will take lots of time.

I remember that I tried to solve tactical puzzles for days, and eventually solved them. If you solve yourself, you can be sure that you understand the concept, that's very important. That is the thing what makes you progress. If you try to solve for a few minutes and then give up and check the answer, your time and the puzzle will be probably wasted.

If you think its too hard to solve in mind, you can set up a board and move the pieces. As long as you discover the solution yourself, your efforts will be rewarded.

  • 1
    You're setting up a false dichotomy between trying for days, and giving up after a few minutes. If you spend days on a single puzzle, that's days you've spent not actually learning very much. It would be far better to cut your losses by looking up the answer after a couple of hours than to hold up your learning for days by persisting bull-headedly. Jan 4, 2016 at 10:53
  • 1
    I have studied tons of puzzles. What I observe on myself is: When I solved myself, I never overlooked the motif again in my games, when I gave up and check the solution, it felt like I did understand the solution but I repeated to overlook it later on. Because of these observations, I strongly believe that puzzles should be "solved* instead of checking their solution. There is a famous book for mate in x puzzles: 365 Ways to Checkmate. In that book there are 5 difficulty levels and 365 puzzles. It took approx one year to finish it. At beginning, I was not able to solve above level 2. ...
    – ferit
    Jan 4, 2016 at 11:08
  • When I finished the book, I was able to solve most of the level 5 problems in my mind, and others on the board. So, this study method worked very well on me. Therefore I strongly believe this is the best method. But of course, open to question.
    – ferit
    Jan 4, 2016 at 11:11
  • Also, you dont need to be locked up for days if you cant solve, you should give some breaks, and after some cycles, if you still cant solve, you should leave the puzzle for to be solved later.
    – ferit
    Jan 4, 2016 at 11:14
  • My point is that you could probably have achieved the same improvement (or at least 95% of it) in a few months by looking up the solution to puzzles that you couldn't get within a couple of hours. That would have left the rest of the year to learn even more. But I agree that leaving it until the next day is a good move; again, though, doing this multiple times is likely to lead to diminishing returns. Jan 4, 2016 at 11:23

It's like learning in school. Some people can just learn things by having people saying it to them. Others are more hands on. If you can learn from someone giving you the answer, then give up whenever you want and just look at the computer solution. If you learn better by hands on things and finding the solution, don't quit too early.

Also, the computer's solution may not be the only good move. Sometimes, it's beneficial to have backup moves in case you run out of time and need to play the move (in a real game).


I think you should spend as much time as it takes for you to believe you have the answer.... hours if need be. True, you don't spend that long on deciding moves in a real game, but over time you will get faster until you can solve the same difficulty problem in less time. Also, calculating and looks at variations via visualization (instead of moving the pieces) is useful to your OTB play and is never a waste of time. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Of course if you're getting frustrated, and if you're spending an hour on one problem, you may want to downshift to easier problems for a while.

I will sometimes work on chesstempo problems where a single problem might take an hour, but I feel this is better than making a move in 10 mins and getting it wrong.

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