A couple friends and I built a mobile app (Chess Puzzle Blitz) where we allow people to compete for fun or money solving chess puzzles.

We have a pretty large puzzle database but are always adding to it.

One thing we keep iterating on is the types of puzzles we surface (currently only mates 1 through 5 (usually 1->3). For example, one feedback we got early on is that black puzzles are harder because of the mental switching between puzzles (so we rate black puzzles harder in that context).

For you, what makes a chess puzzle a good puzzle and what elements make them hard/frustrating?

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    This is not a discussion site. The aim of the site is to elicit good answers to objective questions. – Brian Towers Sep 19 '20 at 9:39
  • Thanks Brian. Appreciate the guidance. Will remember this going forward. – Hugo Sep 20 '20 at 0:39

The biggest factors is how many possible moves there are. If you have lots of moves available to you, then it can be harder to find the correct one. And if there are many possible responses, it can take a long time to come up with a refutation for each of them. And the more moves it takes to accomplish the objective of the puzzle, the more possible moves accrue; a mate in four will tend to be more difficult than a mate in one.

If there are lots of possible moves, then there are various tactics to prune the moves, and how difficult the puzzle is depends on how amenable it is to those tactics, how familiar the solver is with them, and whether they go after the right pruning first. For instance, things to look for in a puzzle are delivering checks, removing escape options for the king, capturing pieces, activating your own pieces, and reducing your opponent's pieces usefulness. So things like requiring a move that doesn't immediately seem to accomplishing any of these things makes your puzzle harder. The more "unintuitive" the correct move is, the harder the puzzle, but different people will have different intuitions.


Each player has his own form of tactical blindness, so "what makes a problem difficult" varies from solver to solver. If one of the key moves is backward-going, I'll never find it.

Some players forget that when they move a piece within their calculation, it no longer covers the squares it did before. Some players have a hard time counting multiple exchanges on the same square. Different for all.

"Black puzzles are harder" is silly. Chess pieces are only light and dark for convenience. The pieces could all be the same shade of gray, and chess could still be played as long as the players remembered which gray pieces belong to which player.

When it's "Black to play and win", flip the board so Black's on the bottom of the diagram, and you will find them just as simple to solve.

  • What does "backwards-going" mean? – Acccumulation Sep 19 '20 at 6:14
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    It means going backwards. 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nf6 3. Qd1 is a backward-going move. – friscodelrosario Sep 19 '20 at 6:22

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