A Foundation for Beginners Forty Six

Last week, we started our exploration of tactics. We worked through the basics of a specific tactic called the pin. The pin involves three pieces: the piece doing the pinning, the pinned piece, and the more valuable piece behind the pinned piece. There are two types of pins, the relative pin, in which a player can move the pinned piece at the cost of the more valuable piece behind it and the absolute pin. In an absolute pin, the piece behind the pinned piece is the King which means that the pinned piece cannot move. Why? Because you can never expose your King to check! This week, we’ll close out our study of the pin by looking at an example in which the pin fails. Wait a minute, are you saying that a pin might not work? Yes I am. However, pins work more often than not. What I’m really saying is that you have to consider a few key points before employing a pin.

Pins are a useful tactic because they can slow a piece down, sometimes stopping it from participating in the game. While in a relative pin, the pinned piece has the ability to move, doing so comes with a material cost. It can also backfire on the person doing the pinning. This brings me to an important point regarding pins and tactics in general: Pins and other tactics are only fully successful if they are well timed and well thought out. While tactics can lead to a decisive advantage, there are ways your opponent can turn things around and defuse your tactical bomb. Let’s look at an example from a student game. This is a classic example of a pin that seems to be a material winning proposition. However, it turns into a disaster!

The game was played between two of my beginning students, one of whom was prone to employing tactics every chance he could. It should be noted that both students had been shown, during one of my lectures, this specific positional situation (White’s mating attack). Both students were beginners at the time of this game. I want to remind you again, that chess has a plethora of principles that guide our play. When we use them, we tend to do better. However, when we use them mechanically, treating them as rules rather than guidelines, we can get into serious trouble. Strong players don’t play mechanically. Strong players know how to bend the principles to their advantage without breaking them. Just remember that there’s a fine line between bending and breaking principles and you don’t want to cross that line.

The game starts off with 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…d6. Black’s second move signals the playing of Philidor’s Defense, a once popular opening for Black. Normally, Black would play 2…Nc6 to defend the Black pawn on e5. The student playing Black does play 2…Nc6 (after 2. Nf3) in most of his games. However, he decided to try this specific opening out. The problem with 2…d6 is that it denies Black’s f8 Bishop access to the a3-f8 diagonal. You want to give long distance pieces, such as the Bishop, mobility or room to move. Greater mobility means greater power! The game continues with 3. Bc4…Bg4. White has played the first three moves of the Italian Opening while Black creates a pin. This specific pin against the White Knight on f3 occurs often in the openings of beginners who have recently discovered tactics but less often in the openings of stronger players. A question I had for the student playing Black was “what are you stopping the White Knight from doing?” What I meant was, does the White Knight need to be pinned to stop it from performing an important task? The answer is no! White’s Knight on f3 does help control the board’s center, which you want to do during the opening. However, the Knight isn’t making any real threats that need to be stopped. Always have a good reason for using a tactic. While pinning the White Knight to it’s Queen does stop the Knight from moving, the White Knight really wasn’t going to move because it is well placed on f3 and should remain their for a while.

White doesn’t bother to break the pin or threaten Black’s Bishop on g4 by moving the h pawn to h3. White instead plays 4. Nc3 while Black plays 4…Nc6. Now, White makes a move that Black didn’t see coming, 5. Nxe5! Because both players are beginners, we can forgive the student playing Black for suddenly smiling, thinking that White just made a huge mistake. After all, White just gave up his Queen. When I show this example of a pin for the first time, I tell my students that they should always look carefully at a position when one player suddenly seems to give up their Queen or any piece for that matter. I tell my students to ask a single question, “why would my opponent make such a move?” In this game, Black falls victim to mechanical thinking!

Students learn the value of the pawns and pieces. They use these values to calculate the outcome of their material exchanges. The student playing Black, looked at his Bishop, looked at White’s Queen, and sadly looked at nothing else (not to mention he saw this same type of position a month prior to the game). Black’s biggest problem? He was so busy looking at White’s side of the board, he neglected taking a look at his side of the board! Play continues with Black playing 5…Bxd1, snapping up the White Queen. Now White starts an unstoppable mating attack that begins with 6. Bxf7+. Black’s King is forced to move to e7 with 6…Ke7. White delivers the final death blow with 7. Nd5# and it’s game over!

While this is a rare example of winning by ignoring a pin, it should serve as a warning to tactical practitioners. Even the seemingly best tactical plays can be turned around, which we’ll explore in later articles. The point I want you to take home here is that you need to put more thought into your tactics than just coming up with the positional set up needed to employ them. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

If you are considering a tactic, such as a pin, ask yourself if pinning the piece in question really helps you. In our example, does the White Knight on f3 really need to be stopped? While that Knight was doing it’s part to control the board’s center during the opening, it wasn’t doing something that warranted the pin. Had White’s Knight been doing something, such as attacking a minor Black piece that was undefended, then the pin would have stopped the White Knight from capturing the undefended Black piece. If White’s Knight captured the undefended minor piece, Black would capture White’s Queen, winning material. Always have a good reason for employing a tacking, especially with pins.

Always look at your side of the board when setting up and executing a tactic. In our student game, had Black paid attention to his side of the board, he would have seen the threat to the King. Tactics can become null and void if your opponent can create a stronger threat. Really be weary if your opponent ignores your pin and moves the pinned piece. In our game, Black could have not taken the Queen and instead played 5… Nxd5, winning the White Knight and protecting his g4 Bishop. Next week, we’ll look at the Skewer, which is similar to the pin. Here’s a game 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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