I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. It’s now time to start the new year, which will hopefully, bring us all some much needed relief! This week, we’re going to look at a tactic called the skewer which is a close cousin to the pin. This will be an easy lesson because the skewer is almost identical to the pin except for the relationship between the pinned piece and the piece behind it. Thus, since you know how a pin works, you’ll be able to learn the skewer with little effort. In fact, this is such an easy lesson, I am not going to provide a diagram that demonstrates the skewer. Instead, you are going to set the positions up on a chessboard so you can practice your chess notation skills. Let’s get started.
To quickly review our lesson on the pin, a pin takes place on a rank, file or diagonal. Only the long distance pieces – the Queen, Rook and Bishop – can deliver or execute the pin. The pin involves three pieces: The piece doing the pinning, the pinned piece, and the more valuable piece behind the pinned piece. You can spot potential pins by looking for opposition pieces lined up along the ranks, files and diagonals. The skewer is almost the same as the pin, with one exception.
In a skewer, there are three pieces involved. Only the long distance pieces can execute a skewer – the Queen, Rook and Bishop. Skewers also take place along ranks, files or diagonals. What’s the difference between a pin and a skewer? In a skewer, the piece being pinned is worth more in relative value than the piece behind it (on the same rank, file or diagonal). In a pin, the piece being pinned is worth less than the piece stuck behind it. In a skewer, the piece being pinned is worth more than the piece behind it and therefore it moves when attacked, leaving the piece behind it to be captured. As with the pin, the piece doing the actual skewer needs to be worth less than the piece being skewered. You also have to make sure the piece doing the skewering is protected or cannot be freely captured. Let’s set up a position on the chessboard.
On an empty chessboard, place the White King on e1 and the Black King on f8. Place the White Queen on e3 and a White Rook on b3. Lastly, place a Black Rook on h8 and a second Black Rook on h7. It’s Black to move. We know that Skewers take place along the ranks, files and diagonals. We know that the long distance pieces – the Queen, Rook and Bishop – are able to execute a skewer. We know that in a skewer, the more valuable piece is in front of the less valuable piece. Therefore, it should be easy to spot the skewer!
In our example, Black can play 1…Rh3, which skewers the White Queen and Rook along the 3rd rank. Notice that Black’s Rook on h8 protects the Black Rook on h3. When the Queen moves, Black will be able to snap up the White Rook on b3, winning a piece. A key point to note with a skewer is that if you’re using a piece whose value is equal to the piece at the end of the skewer (the White Rook), you need to be able to capture that piece free of charge. If the White queen was able to defend the White Rook, this would simply lead to an equal exchange of material. If this skewer had taken place along a diagonal with a Black Bishop skewering the White Queen and Rook, even if White’s Queen could defend her Rook, the exchange would be good for Black, making the skewer successful because of the lower value of the Black Bishop compared to that of the White Rook. With tactics, you want to come out ahead in any trade of material resulting from the tactic.
What should White do after Black plays 1…Rh3? Just give up the Rook since it cannot be defended? Beginners tend to move their Queen to a safe square without really looking at the position in depth. They panic because they don’t want to lose their precious Queen. It turns out that this skewer is a dud! It looks like White is going to lose the Rook because losing the Queen would be worse. However, there’s something we’ve looked at over the last few months, the idea of making a bigger threat, that can be used by White to turn the tables on Black!
When your opponent makes a threat, take a long, hard look at the position and see if you can make a bigger threat. Often, a tactic can be defused if you can find a bigger threat than your opponent is making. What would be a bigger threat that Black couldn’t ignore? The biggest threat of all, check (checkmate itself is not a threat but the end of the game. Of course, the threat of a possible mate is a huge threat). White can retaliate with 2. Qc5+! Now, Black has to deal with the check, playing 2…Kf7, and White is free to move the Rook on b3 out of danger. You have to be extremely careful when creating and using tactics because a good player can turn the table on you and end up winning the game. This example is actual from a student game. It continues with White playing 3. Rb7+…Ke6, 4. Rb6+…Kd7, 5. Qc6+…Ke7, 6. Qc7+…Ke8 and finally 7. Rb8# and it’s over!
White didn’t panic, instead he looked for a bigger threat. Fortunately, he saw a check against the Black King which allowed him to then move the White Rook out of danger. The best skewers involve a King and either a Queen or Rook being the pinned piece and the piece behind it. The King is the more valuable piece in front of either the Queen or Rook. We will explore this type of skewer next week. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!