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I am a ~1500 player on chess.com (so I'm in the online beginner-intermediate range).

There is a book titled "Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games" by Lazlo Polgar, father of Judit, Susan and Sofia. From amazon:

Chess analyzes more than 5,000 unique instructional situations, many taken from real matches, including 306 problems for checkmate in one move, 3,412 mates in two moves, 744 mates in three moves, 600 miniature games, 144 simple endgames, and 128 tournament game combinations.

Mate in one and two problems aren't usually too difficult to solve with experience. But my question is, does the difficulty of the problem matter? Isn't pattern recognition a crucial part of studying chess? I feel like I can get a lot more from simple mate in one (or two) problems then just solving them, and going to the next problem right away.

For example, these simple situations seem to be really beneficial, if I think about them as positions I want to achieve in real games, and if I try to analyze the position.

Or maybe I am dead wrong about this, and I should concentrate on doing problems, that are difficult to solve.

Any opinions?

  • I believe solving 'to play and win' problems could be as useful or even more so since opportunities to win a game by a non-mating combination are more common than one to three move forced mates. – user11382 Sep 10 '18 at 19:19
  • Sure, but at a point its usefulness reaches some limit. – Inertial Ignorance Sep 28 at 23:54
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There's a wide array of opinions as to the debate on whether simple problems done repetitively, or more challenging problems are better for improvement at tactics.

My personal opinion is that both have their place and both improve different essential things. Getting those simple problems down cold is very good for pattern recognition and board vision, but the more challenging problems improve tactical analysis abilities, problem solving skills, and help prepare a player for tournament situations.

As for whether your collection of thousands of mate in 1 or 2's would be very helpful, I'd say that mating patterns are certainly important to practice but I don't know if you really need to train with quite so many. It certainly wouldn't hurt, but you might have faster growth practicing with the mating problems on chesstempo. They have them tagged and you can create your own sets of problems if you're a member.

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I don't know this particular book, but IMO, tactics training is much better done with a computer/website, which will tell you immediately where you went wrong, without you having to look up the solution manually. Also, any decent online tactics training tool would automatically adapt the problem to your strength and also, if you fail to solve a problem, will present you the same problem again after a while.

It is certainly useful to practice mate in x kind of problems, however I would not obsess about it. Most games are probably won because one player achieved and converted a positional or material advantage rather than by a direct mating attack.

I'd rather solve a mix of all kind of problems, ideally from real life games, rather than from compositions or few material problems. This would also avoid the artificial situation that you know beforehand what to look for. In a real game nobody is going to tell you that it is mate in 3 either.

  • 1
    +1 I think this is implied in your last paragraph, but better to practice tactics problems that ask you to play the best move than “mate in x” problems. Chesstempo.com has tactics problems of this sort, and they’re much more helpful in improving your board vision. – Dennis Aug 11 '18 at 17:47
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There are a few aspects you need to keep in mind.

  1. solving any chess puzzles helps in your development
  2. solving puzzles must be challenging, but still make you happy, not bored and sleepy
  3. there are puzzles from real games -- these are good ones, and there are composed puzzles, where author intentionally obfuscated the main line with a few "good" looking side lines and created a brain teaser instead of instrument to learn something valuable. avoid the latter ones, it's fun to impress your friends, but generally is just a waste of time.
  4. what you want to strive for -- get any "mate-in-2" solved within 5 seconds, and "mate-in-3" within a minute.
  5. solve as much as you can -- this will allow you to learn those basic patterns, see the potential positions in your real games and actually make those mates happen in your games.

and yeah

  1. solving from the book is the process a magnitude slower than using specially written software or web sites. unless your book is very good, use apps and web.
2

There is one aspect to this that the other answers only touch upon but not really discuss: mate-in-2 problems are constructed to have non-standard solutions.

That's precisely why it's beneficial to solve such problems! Not to build pattern recognition by solving lots of problems quickly, there are indeed better resources you can use for this purpose, but to practice your wide and slow search. In principle it is possible to solve any mate-in-2 problem by mentally constructing the whole search tree 3 ply deep (white moves, black moves, white mates).

For beginning and intermediate players it might be more important to learn common patterns and narrow the search. But the stronger you get, the more you need to practice looking for non-standard moves both in training and during your own games.

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It's a famous book - good choice. If you enjoy it, by all means do the whole thing. A good standard to aim for is to be able to very quickly spot the solution to a real-life mate-in-one -- like instantly. (Composed problems or "studies", for longer mates, are another story, but that book doesn't go there.)

Instructors disagree how much time to spend on a particular problem before giving up and/or checking the answer. Personally I think for problems of this sort and for your level, you should try for 10-30 seconds and then look at the answer. Then revisit the same position again after a week or month, and see what happens.

Side story: I analyzed with Susan Polgar for a few minutes once, with some other professional-level players (ie, GMs and strong IMs). Her accuracy and speed were remarkable.

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I have this book somewhere, but it's been a long time since I looked at it, and I don't recall having gotten past the mate in three puzzles.

I believe the point of the book was to start off by building the pattern recognition. I do remember that the puzzles would typically be grouped with others having a similar pattern, and that the longer ones built on the shorter puzzles.

It's not a bad idea to do difficult problems, but it does help to have a good foundation in at least some of the patterns, so you have an idea of what to look for in candidate moves.

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Seirawan's tactics book is much more beneficial and fun to read than this kind of puzzle book.

The book tells an interesting story and shows the key elements of common mate-in-x positions.

Those puzzle books like the one you're talking about don't seem to build pattern recognition (unless you see the exact position in a game), and you're more likely to miss the mate in a similar position in a game and then realize right after or later that the key elements were the same.

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This particular book is about training your pattern recognition. Lazlo has designed it specifically so that the earlier patterns repeat in later patterns. This makes it so that the patterns become intuitive and you see mates and tactics without having to calculate them.

The method of building more complicated mates out of simpler one's works really well for most people. I am sure there are some who would get bored by this, but likely going through these problems will prove beneficial for you. The idea is to expose you to more and more patterns and increase your intuitive repertoire.

This sort of tactical training will free up your mental power for other calculation so it can improve other areas of your game as well.

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