I'm solving mate-in-2 puzzles from the Polgar 5334 problems book.

Many of these are composed problems, and are hard (for me) to solve. Often I have to spend 10-15 minutes before finding the solution. Many time I don't find the solution in a reasonable time, and give up.

How useful are these problems for improvement, compared with solving more "normal" puzzles? And if they are useful, how much time should you spend on trying to find the solution? Are there some general procedure you should follow in order to find the solution fast?


3 Answers 3


I am going to re-post my exact answer to the question "Improving the observation skill & making less blunders" with this preamble, because if you use them in this manner, you can cut down on mistakes early in calculation. Of course, this can be very helpful. If you learn to do this effectively, and as a matter of course in tournament games, you should see improvement.

In addition, you will see common patterns repeated, even if finding the first "key move" is difficult. I think scanning all possible moves, and not necessarily calculating deeply, depending on your current skill level, can lead to your solving these more quickly.

Here is that answer:

I will go back to what Artur Yusupov, three-time World Championship Candidate, former top-10 player, and one of the greatest living trainers recommends in the first book of his 10-volume series. In volume one, "Boost Your Chess - Build Up Your Chess", chapter 9, which is two-move mates, including composed problems:

The aim of this lesson is to improve your calculation of short variations. It is more important to find a lot of options in the first few moves than to calculate moves long variations. Most mistakes occur in the early moves in variations. What is the use of calculating a long and correct variation if your opponent has a much better reply on move one?

You must develop your skill at calculating short variations, while at the same time taking into account the possibilities available to your opponent. This skill should reduce blunders.

Exercises with mate in two moves are very well suited for training in the art of calculating short variations with great accuracy.
Emphasis as written, not mine.

I will take this one step further with my own suggestion. Try to train yourself that before you make every move, look at EVERY move your opponent has. I am not saying that you are calculating anything. You are simply looking at it so you consider it. It will do two things: If you are hanging a piece, just looking at it will usually "hit you in the face like a brick", and second, I have done many combination problems over the last 40 years, and sometimes, when I cannot figure it out, and look at the answer, I realize immediately that had I just LOOKED at the move, I would have seen the combination.

So, again, you are not trying to calculate, just consider every move. You will be amazed at what you register immediately.


How helpful is high-diving if you want to become a better competitive swimmer? They are separate competitive Olympic sports, which both happen to take place in a swimming pool. In chess, both game-playing and problem-solving are recognized by FM, IM and GM tiers of certification.

See the attached chessbase report of this year's world chess solving championship. All the British team at least are also long-standing over-the-board GMs.

Answering the original questions directly:

(1) Utility?

My own experience is that designing & solving helpmates & retros has probably been detrimental to my over-the-board skills. It's all too easy to leave a piece hanging because the assumption at the back of my mind is that the opponent is co-operating!

Perhaps if I had focused on direct mates and endgame studies, there might have been more improvement in my game-playing. I agree with another reply about the likely value of direct mates in 2 in moderation for developing short-term analysis skills.

(2) Time allocation?

For a mate in 2, I aim for about 10 minutes, but it's quite variable. Definitely having a time in mind helps me focus. Longer problems take longer, of course, but it's not exponential: for mates in 5+, there is usually a single solution path to be found, which is iteratively defended against by the opponent.

(3) Techniques?

There are definitely techniques for solving composed problems faster, but those often have little applicability to over-the-board chess. For example, if there is a long line to be evaluated, which clearly can begin with either of two alternative moves, that the line can be immediately dismissed, because if the problem is sound, there will be just one unique solution.

Another technique is to look for artistic effects which seem to be embedded in the piece arrangement. For example, is there a key square which several pieces (e.g. pawn, rook, bishop) might occupy in separate lines in order to block the other two pieces? This so-called Grimshaw theme could well be main point of the problem.

It would be total madness to analyze a game in this way, so these tricks are not convertible to over-the-board chess.

Final point: the same certifications (FM, IM, GM) are also available for chess problem composition. Not sure this has any direct analogy in the swimming world!


Not useful at all. They never show up in real games and your time is wasted. You should be studying tactics problems from real games if you want to improve.

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