Simply, which of the following two approaches will typically improve tactical ability the fastest:

  1. Doing puzzles around a known theme or tactical motif - i.e. do 100 puzzles that involve a discovered attack, or a skewer, or mate in 3, mate in 2 etc. etc.
  2. Doing random puzzles where you don't know the theme or motif behind the puzzle. You may even throw in a number of puzzles without a tactical solution to simply force you think about the next best move.

I always assumed number 2 would be better, but is there any research/authoritative anecdotes/good reasoning that show it is better to do 1?

2 Answers 2


In my experience if you are starting out it is better to solve same thematic tactical problems in a series and slowly moving onto other themes. After you get accustomed with the themes random problems or problems which doesn't tell you what to do helps.

  • My advice for beginner to intermediate players: Work out through Winning Chess Exercises for Kids and Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids vol. 1 & 2, both by Jeff Coakley. Don't fooled by the "...for Kids" part of the title. These books are gems and highly recommended by renowned chess coach NM Dan Heisman. Good Luck! Jan 17, 2015 at 9:38
  • Lou Hays's Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors is also an excellent collection for players around 1200. Of course, Polgar's 5334 puzzle collection is probably a good one for anyone and tends to be grouped by theme.
    – BarrySW19
    Jan 21, 2015 at 7:55

I had the same question when I thought about tactical improvement. What seems to be working for me is an "inclusive" approach. Don't stick to one method, as each method seems to be helping in different ways. This applies to degree of difficulty of chess problems as well. At one point in time, I could solve tactics problems rated 1800+ on lichess very easily only to stumble on problems rated 1500 and below. So a mix of all seems to be working well for me.

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