This week, we start studying a new tactic, the pin. I’ve mentioned the pin in previous articles but felt it necessary to combine those ideas with the ideas discussed when we looked at the fork to create a more detailed lesson. Generally, the pin is the first tactic I teach. This time around, I started with the fork because it introduced a good lesson regarding how easily tactics can fall apart or go wrong. Let’s get started and learn about the pin (next week, we’ll go over the skewer).
Unlike a fork, which is generally executed to win material outright, the pin is designed to slow a piece down and sometimes allow that piece to be capture at a discount. There are two types of pins, the relative pin and the absolute. We’ll get into the difference between the two later. For now, let’s define the pin.
There are three pieces involved in a pin, the piece doing the pinning, the pinned piece and a more valuable piece sitting behind the pinned piece. Play through the following moves: 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…d6, and 3. Nc3…Bg4. The piece doing the pinning is the Black Bishop on g4. The pinned piece is the White Knight on f3, and the more valuable piece behind the pinned piece is the White Queen on d1. Pins can take place on the ranks, files or diagonals of the chessboard. In this case, the pin takes place along the d1-h5 diagonal. Only the long-distance pieces – the Queen, Rooks, and bishops – can deliver the pin. In our example, the Black Bishop is doing the pinning.
The goal of the pin is to stop a piece from being able to move in the short-term or, as long as the pin remains intact. In a relative pin, the piece being pinned, the White Knight in our example, could move. However, if the White Knight moved, Black’s Bishop would likely capture the White Queen on d1, garnering a material gain. If the White King were on the d1 square rather than White’s Queen, the pin would be an absolute pin. In the case of an absolute pin, the rules of chess state that you cannot expose your King to attack, so the White Knight would be stuck on f3 until the White King or Black Bishop moved.
While pins are easy to set up, they’re also easy to get out of in most cases. You can break the pin, move the more valuable piece out of harms way, simply ignore the pin or, if you’re really worried about a potential pin, play 3. h3 as White. In the case of our example position, White can play 4. Be2 which positions the White Bishop between the White Knight on f3 and White’s Queen on d1, blocking the pin. You wouldn’t want to Block the pin by moving White Knight on c3 to e2 on move 4 because it would move the Knight from a good centralized square and, if Black decided to trade the g4 Bishop for the White f3 Knight, force you to capture back with the g2 pawn. This would leave the g file open, and the White King exposed should you castle King-side.
Unfortunately, the White Queen cannot move to a square Black’s g4 Bishop doesn’t control (should White’s Knight move). You could simply ignore the pin. Ignore the pin? Yes! The idea behind the pin is to positionally persuade a piece not to move. Black’s Bishop and White’s Knight both have a relative value of three, Both the White Queen on d1 and g2 pawn both defend White’s Knight. Since at this point in the game, the White Knight on f3 isn’t involved in a game changing situation, it’s safe. Of course, this can change from move to move. For the moment. White can ignore the pin.
Where ignoring the pin becomes a problem is when there’s a pawn that can move onto a square that allows that pawn to attack the pinned piece. Also, when a player brings in more material to attack the pinned piece, you must take action.
Lastly, you could play 3. h3, which persuades Black from moving the Bishop to g4. However, the opening principles tell us we should develop material towards the board’s center and this move doesn’t do that! Should you just ignore the pin? Where ignoring the pin becomes a problem is when there’s a pawn that can move onto a square that allows that pawn to attack and then capture the pinned piece. Also, when a player brings in more material to attack the pinned piece, you have to take action, which means diverting your forces towards the pinned piece.
I teach my students to pile up on a pinned piece. In other words, bring in more attackers, especially pawns since they have a relative value less than the pieces. This is why absolute pins (involving the King) are more dangerous than relative pins (involving non-King pieces). Because the pinned piece is stuck pinned to its King, it becomes easier to attack.
If you’re the victim of a pin, there’s another option to consider should you find yourself in a pin. Look for a bigger threat. We’re going to cover this in next week’s game, for now, I want to plant the seed of thought in your mind regarding this concept. Often, the player who has employed a tactic, such as a pin, will ignore their side of the board, putting all their attention into the location of the tactic. Look for a weakness such as a check to their King or a tactic that garners you more material. Don’t automatically try to stop the pin. Look for a bigger threat first.
Next week, we examine a short game in which a seemingly great relative pin collapses and cost the playing doing the pinning the game. Play around with this position and see if you can create any pins during the first ten moves of a game yourself. See you next week!