A Foundation for Beginners Forty Five

We spent a few weeks talking about the place tactics has in your tool box of chess skills. I stated that tactics was an important part of your skill set, but not the only tool to rely upon to win games. Today we are going to enter the world of tactics in detail, and look at the basic tactics all beginners should know. While you do need to know tactics and the principles that guide them, keep in mind that you need to become skilled in all aspects of the game equally. We will start with the most basic tactic, the pin. However, before we start, let’s briefly talk about the positional opportunities that create a situation in which tactics can be employed.

In the games of beginners, tactical opportunities often occur by accident because the beginner isn’t fully aware of the danger of having their pawns and pieces aligned in certain geometric patterns. In the games of stronger players, because those players know how dangerous tactics can be, these geometric patterns are avoided if possible. What do I mean by opportunities and geometric patterns?

To employ or use a tactic against your opponent, your opponent’s pawns and pieces must be arranged in a specific way, creating a geometric pattern. This arrangement gives you an opportunity to use a tactic. Fortunately, the geometric pattern is a simple straight line along a rank, file or diagonal. If your opponent’s pawns and/or pieces are lined up along a rank, file or diagonal, you have a potential tactical opportunity. The secret to becoming a good tactician is to always be on the look out for pawns and pieces belonging to your opponent, lined up along a rank, file or diagonal, and taking advantage of this alignment. That’s the easy part. The harder part for beginners is actually doing something about the potential tactical opportunity. Note that most tactics involve pieces but pawns can also be targeted. Let’s look at “doing something about the potential tactical opportunity” before we look at our first tactics, the pin.

Once you spot a few of your opponent’s pieces lined up along a rank, file or diagonal, you have to determine how you can take advantage of this situation. Taking advantage of the situation doesn’t just mean spotting an opportunity. It means doing something about it! Doing something about it means finding a pawn or piece, depending on the type of tactic, that can deliver the winning move. What’s the winning move? Generally, it’s winning material as a direct result of the tactic being employed. To understand what this means, let’s look at our first tactic, the pin.

Tactics can take place at any point during a game. While they generally occur most often during the middle-game, they can take place during the opening and endgame as well. Here, our game starts out normally with both players following the opening principles. After, 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…d6, and 3. Nc3, Black employs a tactic, the pin. After Black plays 3…Bg4, White has a problem with the Knight on f3. Alright, let’s review the concept of geometric alignment as it applies to this specific position. Black just moved the light squared Bishop from c8 to g4. We know that the Bishop travels and attacks along the diagonals, in this case the light squared diagonals. After move three, Black’s Bishop sits on the d1 h5 diagonal. Also sitting on that diagonal are the White Knight on f3 and the White Queen on d1. The White Knight and Queen are the pieces that are geometrically aligned. Black found a piece, the light squared Bishop, that could take advantage of this situation, White’s Knight and Queen being aligned on the same diagonal.

In a pin, there are three pieces involved; the piece doing the pinning (Black’s Bishop), the pinned piece (White’s Knight) and the more valuable piece behind the pinned piece (White’s Queen). In a pin, there is always a move valuable piece behind the pinned piece. What’s so great about a pin? If White’s Knight on f3 moves, Black’s Bishop on g4 will capture the White Queen, winning a lot of material. This is an example of a relative pin. There are actually two types of pins, relative and absolute. In a relative pin, the pinned piece can move, but the more valuable piece behind it will be captured. In an absolute pin, the more valuable piece behind the pinned piece is the King, which means the pinned piece cannot move because the game’s rules state you can never expose your King to attack. Again, moving the pinned piece would allow the King, in an absolute pin, to come under attack and that’s against the rules, so the pinned piece is stuck.

If the pinned piece isn’t going to move in either a relative or absolute pin, why bother using such a tactic? Wouldn’t it be better for Black to have moved the Bishop to a square where it at least attacks the board’s center? The idea behind the pin is temporarily stop or slow down a piece’s ability to defend or move. Take a look at the d4 square. Before the pin by Black’s Bishop, White’s f3 Knight was attacking that square. If White pushed the d2 pawn to d4, White would have both the f3 Knight and the White Queen on d1 defending the pawn. However, with the White Knight being pinned to f3, the Queen is left as the sole defender. Pins are great for temporarily removing defenders. I say temporarily because White has some recourse when it comes to dealing with this pin that can free up the Knight.

The problem with this pin is that there are ways to easily end it or get out of it. White could play 4. h3, which might lead to an exchange of Bishop for Knight with 4…Bxf3 followed by 5. Qxf3. In this case the pin would end. White can also break the pin with 4. Be2, which would allow the Knight to move because White’s Bishop on e2 would now block Black’s attack on the Queen. In our position, White doesn’t have to make either of the moves because the Knight on f3 doesn’t need to be used right away. Tactics should be well timed. Otherwise they are not as powerful. We’ll look at this idea in later articles. Most players would consider a developmental move such as 4. Bc4 since the White Knight isn’t in immediate danger.

This brings me to a point beginners should take to heart. When an enemy piece moves to your side of the board, such as Black’s Bishop moving to g4 on White’s side of the board, really take a good look at the squares that the piece is attacking. I have seen countless games in which a beginner playing White will move the Knight from f3, allowing Black to capture the Queen. Always assume that if your opponent moves a piece onto your side of the board, there may be a tactical opportunity for them.

The secret to avoiding becoming a victim of a tactic is to always note which of your pawns and pieces are aligned on ranks, files and diagonals. All you have to do is look for this pattern every time it’s your turn to move. If you find that you have pieces, since they are the primary target of tactics, in such an alignment, determine whether or not you can stop the tactic before it occurs. In our example, after Black played 2…d6, White could have played 3. h3, putting the h pawn on a square that would allow it to capture the Bishop should the Black Bishop have moved to g4. White could have played 3. Be2, also stopping or breaking the pin. Of course, these are extremely basic examples and it isn’t always this easy. However, I’m simply introducing the ideas to you. We’ll look at more complex examples later in this series of articles.

Next week, we’ll look at some more advanced concepts regarding the pin and start learning how to create tactical opportunities with combinations. I’ll also show you a position in White White ignoress a pin similar to our example, loses the Queen but still goes on to win the game. Remember, in chess there are always exceptions to our principles. I highly recommend getting a hold of some tactics training software or an app for your phone to help you hone your skills. Tactics, like anything else, requires practice if your wish to master it. Using a software program or app will greatly speed up your progress. When playing a game, you might find one tactical opportunity per game. While you should always practice tactics in physical games, it’s a lot slower to master them one game at a time. With a software program or app, you are given hundreds of tactical opportunities to work through and you might be able to solve one tactics problem in the space of four or five minutes. It’s an excellent way to improve your tactical game quickly. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Hugh Patterson

Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

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