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What Are The Most Important Chess Tactics For Beginners?
- The Pin: a situation in which a player’s piece is unable or is inadvisable to move because it would be in check (king) or could be captured.
- The Fork: a move that attacks two or more enemy pieces at the same time.
- The Discovered Check: giving check by moving a piece that was blocking another of your pieces from giving it.
- Promotion and Underpromotion: one of your pawns reaches the 8th (or 1st) rank of the chessboard.
- Back-Rank Checkmate: a rook or a queen gives mate by going to the back rank (1st or 8th rank) of the chessboard.
5 Types Of Chess Tactics
“Although tactics sometimes can be very complicated, there is good news: tactics consist of basic elements that can be learned like a language or mathematics.”
This quote was written by FM Martin Weteschnik in his brilliant book “Understanding Chess Tactics” and hits the nail right on the head.
Many difficult chess tactics consist of a series of basic tactical elements. Hence, if you want to solve complicated chess puzzles, you’ll need to be familiar with all the different basic types of chess tactics. That’s why the following article is devoted to basic chess patterns and provides you with an overview of 5 essential tactical motifs.
A pin is a situation in which a player’s piece is unable or is inadvisable to move because of one of these reasons:
- The king would be put into check, as such the move is illegal. This is an absolute pin;
- A more valuable piece could be captured by the opponent. This is a relative pin, as the move can be made, but it’s usually a not very good option.
In chess, there are three different pieces which are able to pin other pieces. These are the three long-range pieces: a Rook, a Queen or a Bishop. A pinning piece is eyeing one of the opponent’s valuable pieces, with a less valuable opponent’s piece in their way.
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It’s important to note that relative pins can be dangerous for both sides as it’s still possible for your opponent to move the pinned piece anyway. And this is something both players forget!
Let us take a closer look at two different examples:
In this position, Black just played the move 1…Qh7 with a check. At first glance, 1…Qh7+ looks like a mistake because of 2.Rh3, but Black has a great tactical resource in store.
He plays 2…Rd1+ which forces White to play 3.Kh2. Now Black follows up with the decisive blow 3…Rh1+! 4.Kxh1 Qxh3+!
The pawn on g2 is pinned as the Black Bishop on b7 controls the a8-h1 diagonal (an absolute pin). White is forced to play 5.Kg1 and 5…Qxg2 is mate.
This is a brilliant example to illustrate why it’s always highly important to look at the whole board in chess and not only the side of the board where the action takes place.
The next position is a great example to illustrate the danger of pins for both sides. If you look at the position without calculating any lines, it seems that White’s position is hopeless. His queen is pinned against the king and can’t be protected by another piece.
But hold on a minute and don’t rush to resign the game! There’s a little trick for White. He can play 1.b6!!+ which gives Black’s king two options.
If the king moves to the back rank (1…Ka8 or 1…Kb8), 2.Rh8+ saves the day for White as Black’s only move to stop the check is 2…Qe8 and after 3.Rxe8+ Rxe8 4.Qxe8+ White mates the Black king.
For this reason, Black has to take the pawn on b6 with his king – 1…Kxb6. Now, however, White can make use of the fact that the Black king is on the same rank as the rook and plays 2.Rh6! Black loses! He can’t defend his rook and he can’t take White’s rook as this would lose material (2…Rxh6 3.Qxe7) due to the pin against his queen.
Let’s see some more chess tactics, this time the fork. A fork is a move that attacks two or more enemy pieces at the same time. A serious advantage of a fork is that it is hard to parry two threats with just one move.
Here is an example:
White’s pieces look a lot more active than Black’s army in the diagram position. However, White’s queen is under attack and if the queen retreats, the move …c7-c6 (attacking the knight on d5 which is defending the rook on e7) is very unpleasant for White.
Hence, White needs to find a direct solution to his problems. 1.R1xe5! eliminates the strong Black knight on e5 and forces Black take the exchange after 2…dxe5.
White follows up with 2.Rd7! attacking the Black queen which has no as squares as 2…Qc8 loses to the fork 3.Ne7+ and 2…Qe8 loses to another fork – 3.Nf6+!
The Discovered Check
Number 3 of our essential chess tactics is the discovered check, which means giving check by moving a piece that was blocking another of your pieces from giving it.
For instance, look at the following position:
It’s White to move and the rook on b6 is hanging. If he exchanges rooks on b1, it won’t be easy to convert his extra pawn in a long endgame struggle.
Fortunately, there is a more convincing solution for White. He can start by playing 1.Ng6!, threatening mate on h8 in the next move. Black has no choice and has to take the rook on b6 – 1…Rxb6.
But now White can use a discovered check to win back his material investment and even grab an additional rook. 2.Nf8+ Kg8 (Kh8 won’t change anything) 3.Nxd7+ (a discovered check!) 3…Kf7 4. Nxb6. White is a rook up and will easily convert his material advantage into a full point.
Promotion and Underpromotion
If one of your pawns reaches the 8th (or 1st) rank of the chessboard, you can “promote” it by changing it into another piece – usually a queen.
When you promote a pawn to a piece other than a queen (a knight, a bishop or a rook), then we call this chess tactic “underpromotion”. Give attention to the following example:
In this position White Plays 1.Re8+ Rxe8 and now 2.Qxg7+ Kxg7 3.fxe8=N+!
White does not promote his pawn into a new queen which would leave him with still a lot of work to do until the game is over. But he promotes his pawn into a knight, forking king and queen. With this little trick, now White’s material advantage is decisive.
The last of the chess tactics we’ll take a look at is the back-rank mate. In this case, a rook or a queen gives mate by going to the back rank (1st or 8th rank) of the chessboard and the opponent’s own pawns prevent the king from escaping. To illustrate this chess tactic, we’ll take a look at a famous example from the third World Chess Champion, José Raúl Capablanca.
The position shown in the diagram was reached after White’s 29th move. White is a pawn up, but he faces serious back-rank problems as his king has no escape square on the 1st rank.
He is dependent on queen and rook securing all the important squares on the 1st rank.
Capablanca, however, found a way to make use of the circumstances and played the winning move 29…Qb2! Regardless of what White Plays now, he loses the game.
30.Qxb2 loses to 30…Rd1 mate, 30. Rc2 loses after 30…Qb1+ 31.Qf1 Qxc2 and 30.Rc8!? (maybe the best try for White as Black loses after 30…Rxc8 due to 31.Qxb2) loses to 30…Qa1+ 31.Qf1 Qxf1+ 32.Kxf1 Rxc8.
We’ve presented 5 of the most common tactical motifs in chess. However, it’s no secret that there are many more. But what do you think? Any important ones we’ve missed?
Any we have mentioned that you successfully used in your own games? Any you fell victim to? Leave a comment and tell us about your favorite types of chess tactics!
So go for it, take a little time every day for your passion and see how your chess skills will skyrocket constantly!
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