4 Tips to Improve Pattern Recognition in Chess

By: Nathaniel_Fernandes | Posted: August 4, 2020 | Updated: 7/16/2021
This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Tactics


  • Pattern recognition is the recognition of similar structures, ideas, and plans in positions.
  • Benefits
    • Improved accuracy
    • Less time thinking over the board
    • More confidence
  • “Chess is 99% Tactics” – Teichmann

Mastering the fundamentals of chess positions and basic patterns is key to chess improvement. The reason for this is ‘pattern recognition.’ This article discusses the prominent role of pattern recognition in chess and offers practical tips to improve this vital skill.

Jump to “Tips to Improve Pattern Recognition“.

Pattern Recognition

Many players can probably relate to this story. Your coach sets up a position and tells you to find the best move. … *Blank stares* Internal thoughts: “I have … absolutely no clue. Well I’ll just calculate, ‘White goes here, Black goes there’.” Maybe your plan is right, maybe not – but you don’t really know. Finally your coach tells you the answer and the magic gears click, “DOH! That was obvious!”

Then, he sets up the same concept but the pieces are slightly rearranged. Same pattern, different position. You laugh and easily get it.

This is the power of pattern recognition.

Pattern recognition is when you find the correct answer quicker the second, third, etc., time you see a problem. Pattern recognition decreases over-the-board calculation, makes your moves faster and more routine, and means you will more likely spot a winning combination.

In your games, you will see that the same piece formations and plans crop up again and again. Thus, if you learn the correct strategy once, you can reap the rewards practically forever.

GM Murray Ashley echoes this sentiment when he claimed, “Master-strength players [use] 40% calculation and 60% pattern recognition. Logically, therefore, learning to recognize more key patterns could help dramatically improve your chess strength” in How to Beat Your Dad at Chess.

Now let’s look at a couple categories of patterns.

Interesting paint pattern for your viewing delight (Credits: Pawel Czerwinski)

Tactical Patterns

Tactics are perhaps the most essential chess tool because knowing how to win material is key! Teichmann, an extremely strong chess player in the late 1800s, famously proclaimed, “Chess is 99% tactics.”

See this excellent article for more about Teichmann.

“Chess is 99% tactics”

– Teichmann, 1908

Tactics are the building blocks of higher-level chess mastery. Once you can easily spot a fork, pin, skewer, etc., in your sleep, you can start combining them into spectacular combinations and deadly checkmating attacks.

Practicing tactics is one of the fastest ways to improve because it radically increases your knowledge base and improves your pattern recognition. [Practice tactics on]

Another excellent resource to learn tactical patterns is Chess Tactics for Kids by GM Murray Ashley. He covers 50 of of the most common tactics known to man. It does cost roughly $17 but is well worth the money. (I’ve read it three times!)

Coming Soon: Look out for the Chess Intellect series on tactics!

Checkmating patterns:

Have you ever analyzed a game and realized you missed a checkmating combination? Two words: it sucks.

Learning checkmating patterns helps remedy this by exposing you to common piece formations that indicate checkmate is near.

One of the best books to learn checkmating combinations is How to Beat Your Dad at Chess by GM Murray Ashley. Similar to Chess Tactics for Kids, he details 50 of the most common checkmating patterns.

Tip: Tactics, Combinations, and Checkmates are interrelated. Most successful checkmating attacks employ a combination of tactics to work.

Endgame Patterns

In chess there is often a difference between an endgame being “theoretically winning” and actually winning. (Or “theoretically drawing” and actually drawing.)

Sometimes that difference lies in we humans not being able to calculate 100 moves into the future like chess engines.

However, more often than not, it’s because we simply don’t know the correct plan to win. That’s where endgame knowledge and finesse comes in.

The following King and pawn endgame is quite common and winning for white. But you can easily blow the advantage if you don’t know the right plan.

Silman’s Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master by IM Jeremy Silman is perhaps the best endgame book ever written is.

He comprehensively covers all endgame fundamentals and, most importantly, breaks down the material by rating category so it’s easy to digest.

Tips to Improve Pattern Recognition

So learning tactics, checkmate patterns, and endgame fundamentals is important. But what’s the best way to learn them? I’m glad you asked! Here are 4 practical suggestions.

  1. Name the Patterns

    Oftentimes, naming a specific pattern makes it easier to remember. For example, if you associate Boden’s Mate with 2 Bishops raining fire on the enemy King in a checkmate, you are more likely to remember the pattern in the future.

  2. Use Spaced Repetition

    Practice, practice, practice! When it comes to learning patterns, consistent repetition is your best friend. Even if you only spend 10 minutes practicing tactics or reviewing mating patterns, the daily exposure will help it sink into your brain [science of spaced repetition].

  3. Take Risks in Practice Games:

    Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Basically, if you don’t try new strategies, you’ll never improve. Therefore, in your practice games, perhaps make a sacrifice you would never do in a real game just to get the practice of attacking with the initiative and being down material.

  4. Analyze Your Games:

    Sometimes the best treasures are hidden in your own backyard! Reviewing your games will help you identify consistent chinks in your armor that you can patch up. Moreover, once you identified your weaknesses, you can look for the same weaknesses in your opponents :)!


Hopefully this article helped you learn why pattern recognition is important and how you can improve your pattern recognition in chess.

If you didn’t get anything else, just remember to never make the same mistake twice as you will often see the same underlying pattern in slightly different positions.

More Resources

Recommended Chess Books

  1. How to Beat Your Dad at Chess by GM Murray Ashley
  2. Chess Tactics for Kids by GM Murray Ashley
  3. Silman’s Complete Endgame Course by IM Jeremy Silman

Cover Photo Credit

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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