I plan on teaching a chess class (5 classes in a sequence, each building off the previous, 1 hour each) to high schoolers, with emphasis on applying chess principles to real life. Now, it'll be unproductive to have players of maybe <1200-1300 strength, since they won't quite understand positional and tactical ideas well, and will likely find the class advanced/unproductive.

Given the short time frame, I'd like to somehow assess their playing strength at the beginning of the first class in as short amount of time as possible, so as to make the rest of the sessions most productive for the rest. Any suggestions?

I thought of tactical puzzles, and someone suggested multiple choice format for guess the move, but both will require a good 10 minutes for the students to have a good chance at getting them right.

  • A quick, easy method is to assume that students with good grades, especially is the hard subjects, will preform will in chess. Although the really talented ones often do poorly in school due to boredom.
    – Mike Jones
    May 9, 2020 at 16:35

5 Answers 5


Perhaps show them positions and ask them to assess them and analyze the various salient features (i.e., king safety, piece mobility, central control, weak squares/color complexes, etc.). Naturally, novice players likely won't be able to formulate a cogent response, but if you're looking to identify at least reasonably strong/experienced players, then I would imagine that kind of approach would be more efficient than presenting them with tactical puzzles.

Tactical puzzles are also slightly scattershot; a strong player can occasionally overlook a tactic, but classic positional motifs are typically readily apparent (as long as the positions you select aren't either overly subtle or purely tactical in nature). I wouldn't expect them to formulate concrete positional plans on the spot and in a short amount of time, but I think the mere ability to identify positional imbalances is a sufficient indicator of some chess skill.

I think you could present a few tactical puzzles as well, as long as they comprise common motifs and don't require overly long combinations. Puzzles that would take ten minutes strikes me as excessive. As an indicator of playing strength, the (in)ability to solve a few fairly simple puzzles in a short amount of time would be relatively conclusive. If the puzzles are short, you can also administer more of them, which is apt to yield more accurate data than the results from a smaller number of more complex puzzles that each require deep thought.

  • 1
    I did mean multiple puzzles requiring about 10 minutes. My current plan is to get about 5 tactics problems from chesstempo.com that are rated between 1000 and 1500, and give the students 5 minutes to solve them all. May 7, 2013 at 5:54

The best way to assess a player's strength is to play a game against them. I would guess that the stronger the player the more accurate that player is able to gauge their opponent's playing strength. Presumably the teacher (you) is a relatively strong player.

It may also be useful to record a few games for each student at the beginning of the course for comparison or analysis at the end of the course, to see if they have improved for example (if it were me, I'd probably allocate time for a game every session in fact, probably at the end so the students can apply what they've learnt and ask questions).

If it's impractical to play each student yourself before the first session, you might get them to play each other and have a look over the game afterwards.

Another approach is to simply ask each of your students how strong they think they are. Perhaps you could combine this with a simple questionaire - a few questions on chess fundamentals, such as:

  • Do you know how to mate with king rook vs king?
  • Do you know what a bad bishop is?
  • Do you know what a knight outpost is?
  • Do you know the three opening principles?
  • Do you know what a fork is?
  • etc.

Perhaps some general questions might help:

  • How often do you play chess?
  • When did you start playing chess?
  • Do you have a FIDE rating or played in any formal tournaments?

Keep it simple and keep it fun.


I had this questionable test done on me:

Watch a game being played quickly in front of you, your task is to remember all moves and replay the entire game from scratch.

This test is quite subjective, I know many players who are terrible at blitz play and are extremely strong players with long time controls. I also know the opposite type of players. I think this type of test only tests for blitz ability.


Get the class to play a blitz round robin. This is then a measurement of strength as opposed to a subjective guess. Plus it's fun.


I used to help run a chess club.

Some of the signs of a weak player are:

  1. lack of imagination;
  2. distraction;
  3. little to no calculation power.

Some of the signs of strong or son-to-be-strong players:

  1. interesting, if sometimes crazy, moves;
  2. focused on the task at hand (though can be distracted between moves)
  3. generally can crunch through a difficult tactic, or they see and appreciate the logic behind a great tactic.

So how to test?

Pure chess puzzles may not be good, because everyone can have a bad puzzle day. A pure blitz round robin is good, but, again, everyone can have a bad day. And with the latter, one bad game at the beginning can be the end of even a strong player.

Why not combine the two? Have the round robin -- 5 minute games (because bullet chess is just not for everyone). Have puzzles at each table, very difficult, multi-move ones, but make sure they are all different, and for the opposite color (if a student is playing a game as white, his puzzle is for Black). Imagine the brain gymnastics that this requires, especially during blitz! I know that I would have fun doing this, and at the end of the day it should be clear who are the better players.

Good Luck!

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