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For club players, it is pretty well-known that certain types of problems are harder than others. Of course, mate in 4 is usually harder than mate in 1, but I am talking more about things like the idea that it's harder to see or find solutions that involve moving a piece backward rather than forward; that it's harder to see solutions with knight moves than other pieces, and so on.

My question is, do these differences persist for much stronger players?

Is what makes a problem harder for (say) Hikaru the same sort of things that makes a problem harder for a 1500 player?

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I find that the higher your rating is, the more experience you have, and you will become faster. That experience helps in recognizing a particular situation, which will give you a hint of what to do.

I am now rated 2100 in problem solving, and at this level, I either solve the problems faster, or at least, I am able to recognize the idea of the problem.

To answer your question, stronger players will definitely not struggle to find the right move. I can't speak for Hikaru, but we know he is able to calculate a lot more moves and a lot more lines very quickly than myself. He also has lots of experience, so if he misses a problem solving exercice, it must be one with a lot of possibilities. I saw him miss one problem live at ChessTV and the reason was that he thought the problem was something else and did not bother to really calculate it since he knows so many by heart.

As a piece of advice, you can usually identify the idea of a problem to:

  • Mate in 1 or more
  • Win an exchange
  • Trap a piece
  • Promote a pawn
  • Prevent the opponent from doing all these

If you look at the problem and do not find a Mate, you look for wining an exchange or trap a piece. Eventually, it becomes easier.

When I fail to solve a problem, I redo it until I fully understand it. The next time I face something similar, it will be easier. If you are unsure of what to do, you should take your time and calculate the outcome for at least the next 4 moves. If you dont get any advantage after 4 moves, you should look for another move to analyze until you find something worth it.

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