Here is a mate-in-4 I have been trying to solve:

[FEN "2r4r/b5pp/q3pp2/8/4QBk1/8/3R1PPK/4R3 w - - 0 1"]

(white mates in 4). I have been looking at it for about half an hour but not solved it. My question is: what can I do to improve my ability to solve problems like this?

(please don't just give the solution, I can easily find that by computer, but you can't use computers in a game).

Here is what I have tried so far.

Enumerating attacks and checks.

  • White checks: Qf5+, Qg6+, Qf3+, Qxe6+, B-anywhere+, f3+
  • White captures: Qxh7
  • Black checks: none
  • Black captures: Bxf2

Enumerating other ideas:

  • Black can play Bxf2 or Qf1 which will cause havoc for a move , so probably the solution is checks on every move; at least the first two
  • White has to be careful not to let BK run to g6 as then it can move to f7 escaping mate in 4
  • In several variations below, Kh5 escapes with ...g5 or other pawn cover, so I am looking for tricks involving sacrificing rook to break that pawn cover.

Tree of analysis (have omitted some sub-variations that mate for brevity)

Be3+ Kh5; Rd5+ g5; ???
Bc7+ (or other B moves) Kh5; Rd5+ g5; ????
                             g4+ Kh4; ????
Qf3+ Kf5; Qh5+ (otherwise Kg6) g5; g4+ Kxf4; ????
Qf5+ or Qg6+ or Qxh7 don't go anywhere
Qe6+ Kxf4; Re4+ Kg5; Rg4+ Kh6; ????
f3+ Kh5; g4+ Kh4; ????
    Rd5+ g5; g4+ Kh6; ????

Rd3 Qxd3; Qxd3 Kxf4; no mate
Re3 Bxe3; Bxe3 can't be better than 1.Be3
Rd5 exd5 Be3+: doesnt work
g3: doesn't seem to do anything, Black can wait

Now I have looked at all the checks and some other interesting moves, none of them work, and so to solve the problem online I'd be reduced to just guessing random moves (and then probably being stumped on the resulting mate-in-3 for a while, as if I could solve that easily then I would have realized the first move by now).

But in a real game that is not possible; so where do I go from here?

Is there always a "key idea" to look for (and if so, how do I look) or sometimes do you just have to be able to brute force every possible move no matter how unlikely? I can't even think of any more candidates I haven't checked.

  • Just out of curiosity, where is this problem from? The "mate in 4" sounds like it is a composed problem chess problem but the position does not look like a composed problem.
    – JiK
    Nov 19, 2014 at 13:43
  • Mate in 4 doesn't have to be a composed problem. It can be just from a GM game. Selfmate in 4 would have sounded more like a composed.
    – SmallChess
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:35
  • 1
    what can I do to improve my ability to solve problems like this? Brut force practicing is all we have. We have numerous useful advices for endgame play, middlegame plans and even openings but chess was not able to "solve" tactics. It is the only part of the game that is as wild and unexplored as Amazon. There really is no other way than simply going through as many puzzles as possible. I forgot, you must practice CONSTANTLY in order to solve things like in your post. Nov 19, 2014 at 23:00
  • 1
    One thing you should always avoid is blinding yourself to what you have. Example: In this problem - what about your pawns? :-)
    – user10156
    Apr 27, 2016 at 14:31
  • 1
    I'm a day late and a dollar short here, but I can confirm there is a mate in 4.
    – Tony Ennis
    Apr 27, 2016 at 23:18

5 Answers 5


Assuming this is a chess problem, then you want to start by looking at things that show up as problem themes, more than as game themes. There are a few salient features of the position:

  • White's queen-bishop battery; it seems very likely that discovered checks from the bishop are likely to be a mating resource.
  • The white bishop being on a line with the king, thus leaving it vulnerable to a pin from either the Ba7 or the Qa6.
  • The open h-file, and in particular the possibility of a king-rook battery to deliver mate.
  • More remotely, the possibilities for interference between the black pieces (e.g., bishop/rook interference on c5).

Given these, I would investigate the possibility of a move like Rh1; this offers up the threat of 2. Be3+ Kh5 3. Kg1 mate and forces black to defend immediately. The most natural defenses are via the aforementioned pinning moves, 1...Bb8 and 1...Qd6, so I'd start looking there.


Assuming, OTOH, that the problem is a tactics puzzle more than a 'chess problem' problem, then I'll just point out that your analysis missed one particular bishop check, and you should consider the question of where the bishop can go that covers key squares in the vicinity of the king; not just for a mating net, but also as possible 'drop points' for the queen.

  • I hadn't considered the pin of the white bishop as being a theme. Your comments suggest perhaps there is an idea for White that would work if not for that pin, but I haven't yet found that idea. I am rejecting 1. Rh1 due to 1...Qf1; however if the aforementioned idea exists then perhaps 1...Qf1 would deflect the queen from being able to execute this pin.
    – M.M
    Nov 21, 2014 at 11:43
  • OK, now I see why 1...Qf1 does not defend (funny how I can look at the screen for a long time and not see it; but then when I wrote the above comment, I did see a new insight shortly after. I'm sure that says something about my brain although not quite sure what)
    – M.M
    Nov 21, 2014 at 11:52
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    Now that I have solved it... the key idea I overlooked was that Kg3+ is possible in a line; and that the K is needed on g3 to support the WQ in a mating position. I must have rejected Kg3 ideas early on due to the king being exposed to attacks from BQ / BB; before I ever noticed the h-file battery idea, but the solution required combining those two ideas. So to try and learn from this example: perhaps the lesson is that when I do notice a new idea , go back and review all previous ideas in light of that.
    – M.M
    Nov 21, 2014 at 12:14

The other two answers give you a several good hints to solve the problem in your question, so I won't deal with that specifically. As for the heart of your question "What can I do to improve my ability to solve problems like this?", I might be able to offer a little help.

The first thing to note is that there is no way to really improve except to continue solving mate problems. The important thing here is that you will both learn (and continually improve on) a process that you can use to solve any position that you believe might contain a mate somewhere, and more importantly that you will be repeatedly exposed to different tactical and mating 'patterns' within each problem.

A good way of doing this is to work iteratively from the shorter puzzles to larger ones. Some people like to take pride in being able to solve puzzles with a large number of moves, but restrict themselves to the simpler varieties so as to avoid damaging their ego. In reality, there are many problems that are mates in 2 or 3 that can take a decent amount of concentration to properly solve, so there's no shame in looking at the shorter ones.

As a resource for doing this I recommend a book similar to Laszlo Polgár's Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games (ISBN 1579125549), which begins with several hundred Mate-in-1 puzzles before ramping up to mates in 2 and 3. The here is that you get a reasonable grounding in all of the basic patterns that occur in one-move mates, then two, three and so on. Even just solving the first section of this can benefit if you haven't done any serious training in this area before.

This is not exactly the sexiest way of improving your vision, as it does require some work, but it is also less demanding than it sounds, and should be something that sticks with you throughout your playing career.

  • I actually have the Polgar book -- or had it, I recently moved house and don't recall seeing it, and it's a bit big to lose! I got it a long time ago and my assessment of it was "too easy - who needs hundreds of mate in 1 puzzles?" . But in light of your explanation I now see how I could use the book differently to my advantage, so I will have another look or try and remember who I lent it to!
    – M.M
    Nov 21, 2014 at 12:17

I start off by looking at the king positions. White's King is well protected; Black's is not. Notice all the spots the Black K cannot go. Aim to take away all the safe spots.

If we chase the Black K around, what's the worst that can happen? That it escapes through the hole on f7. Preventing this is the entire point of the problem. The White Q is blocking that hole so I would not be inclined to move it. Then I looked at various discovered checks with the B. I saw Bh6+ but didn't see a lot more after that.

Then I noticed the Black K is in danger from the White pawns. So what happens if we let the pawns do the heavy lifting? Try that.

The Black Q and B shut down the White Rooks by controlling d3, d4, e2, and e3. How can we bring some heavy wood into the game? It would probably be helpful if we we able to place a R on d4, e4, or e5.

So, without giving the solution, that's my initial approach.


Basically it is "trial and error"!

Chess is all about analysis, and doing it in a proper way! That means not wasting time with things that go no where! This is the main difference between beginner and master level.

Especially for mate tactics what can help you to find your way through is to be acquainted with the most common mate patterns, which are pretty much clear in Mate in 1 or 2 positions, but not that much in Mate in 3 and 4 where the mate pattern needs to be built for the mate to happen. It could mean removing a defender, or reducing the scape area for the king placing a piece in a better position, etc... until you can apply the mate!

For your problem try to see what happens after Rh1... =]]

Here are some of the most common mate patterns. So what would be the mate pattern for your problem?

The more chess pattern positions, not only mates but also pins, fork, interference, etc... you have, the more quickly you will make good analysis of positions. You can achieve this by solving tactics in a daily manner. The habit to solve a minimum of 20 tactics a day has helped me to improve a lot in my chess lately.

I hope this might be of some help!

  • ...Qf1 just kills everything after Rh1
    – M.M
    Nov 21, 2014 at 11:34
  • @MattMcNabb After Rh1 does not matter what black plays it gona be mate in 3 or 2 if black plays badly! Qf1 does not change anything, it is mate in 3 still... unless white play wrongly! Look closely! I do not want to spoil the solution though! =]]
    – hehe_br
    Nov 22, 2014 at 0:24

I think when you are looking for a mate, the answer lies in blocking out the escape route of opponent's King, in this case Kg6 is clearly something that white does not want. And since white Queen is the only piece that can guard that square you must look at other pieces for a tactical mate. Clearly the second thing then is trapping black King on h-file, which can only be done with white moving Rh1, which essentially are three moves: moving the pawn because you want to then move your king away from h-file and moving the rook. And since its a mate in four, the fourth move will definitely be a check.

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