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Getting the Most out of Solitaire Chess
Play using tournament conditions. Prepare a scoresheet. Score your moves afterwards.

Solitaire chess, where you guess the next moves of a master, is a popular instructional format that you'll find in chess magazines and books. While it's largely self explanatory, here are a few tips to make it a little more valuable. The time you have to study chess is limited, so make the most of it.

Prepare a suitable cover

Prepare the material you need to cover the unplayed moves. If you use paper instead of cardboard, you'll probably need doubled sheets to make sure you can't see the unplayed moves through the paper.

  • If you play a game from a magazine, the covering sheets tend to slip. Use a paperweight.

  • If you play a game from a book, the pages usually don't lie flat, like they do in a magazine. Prepare two sheets of paper both large enough to cover a page completely. Cover all the moves on both pages

Play using tournament conditions

Try to play solitaire chess under the same conditions that you would play a tournament.

  • Use a real board and pieces plus a clock.

  • Give yourself enough time on the clock to ensure that you won't be playing blitz. We suggest an hour. If your session is interrupted, just stop the clock and start it again whenever you're ready.

If you run out of time, add more to your clock. The idea is to pace yourself, not to to adhere strictly to an arbitrary control.

Prepare a scoresheet

You will also need a scoresheet so that you can write down the moves. If your source has space for writing the moves and recording your score, consider using your own scoresheet. This will let you play through games more than once and will preserve the value of your source for other players.

Reveal the opening moves up to the point where the author asks you to predict the next move. Your scoresheet starts from this point.

The scoresheet might look something like this. In this case you are only going to write your own moves, not your opponent's moves

MoveYour moveReal moveScore

If you're not comfortable with chess notation, consider using long notation including captures. This will make it easier for you to take a move back if you haven't played the same move as in the game.

MoveYour moveReal moveScore
(Opponent replies 1...d7-d5)


Play the opening moves up to the point where the author asks you to predict the next move. For each move that you are asked to predict,

  • Start your clock.
  • Decide your move.
  • Make the move on the board.
  • Press your clock to start the opponent's clock, and
  • Write your move on your scoresheet.

Uncover the move in the game that you are following.

  • If the move is the same that you played, indicate it on your score sheet with a check mark.

  • If the move is not the same, take your move back on the board, make the correct move, and write that move down next to the incorrect move that you played.

Uncover the opponent's response, make the move, start your clock, and think about your next move. Don't worry at this point how many points the author gives you for a correct move or for an acceptable alternate move.

After the game

At the end of the game, return to the initial position and play through the entire game again, record next to each of your moves the number of points the author allows you. Make sure you take partial credits when you are entitled to them. To do this, you'll have to play through the notes to the game. This is similar to analyzing the game with your opponent when the game is over.

MoveYour moveReal moveScore
21.Bxd6 OK +2
22.Re1 Rd4 --
23.Rc6 Rc3 --
24.Rg3 OK +4

Total the points you earned and compare them with the author's grading table.

For all games in your source

Keep track of your score on each game. If the author assigns a rating to a range of scores, keep track of that also. After you've played a few games from the solitaire source (at least four), calculate an average rating over all games. Keep track of your average rating.


Solitaire chess isn't perfect. You frequently get an idea which is not the same as the idea played in the game. (It's like a tandem simultaneous we once gave with a friend. We alternated playing moves on each board and, when returning to a board where our friend had just played, sometimes discovered that our friend had simply taken our last move back! His idea of a good move was not the same as our idea.)

This means that each move you will keep trying your own idea, not understanding the real player's idea, and end up with a whole string of zero points. This can be frustrating, but try to understand why the real player's idea is better than your own.

Another problem with solitaire chess is that the sources don't always consider the practical problems of playing through a game. One common problem is having the notes interspersed with the moves. if you read these, you will get hints about the future course of the game. This is like taking illegal advice during a real game.

The source shouldn't ask you to guess the early opening. There is too much latitude depending on your style and opening preferences.

Enjoy playing solitaire chess!

 Related Resources (offsite)
• Test Your Chess