A Foundation for Beginners Ninety One

We’ll continue our examination of beginner’s tactics. This week we’re going to look at a tactic called the skewer. Is this an easy tactic to learn? Well, yes and no! If you have read my previous articles on the pin, you already know the underlying dynamics of this tactic. While similar to a pin, there’s one key difference that has to do with the arrangement of the pieces and the conditions under which this tactic is used. Let’s dig in!

In a pin, you have three pieces involved; the piece doing the pinning, the pinned piece and the more valuable piece situated behind the pinned piece. This more valuable piece can be directly attacked by the piece doing the pinning should the pinned piece move. Thus, if you have a pinned piece and it moves, your opponent will be able to capture the more valuable piece behind it (the pinned piece and more valuable piece behind it are on the same rank, file, or diagonal).

There are three pieces involved in a skewer; the piece doing the skewering, the skewered piece, and the less valuable piece behind it. Less valuable? It turns out that the biggest difference between the pin and skewer is the placement of the two pieces according to their value. In a pin, the more valuable piece is behind the less valuable piece. In a skewer, the less valuable piece in behind the more valuable piece. Therefore, when the skewered piece is attacked, it moves out of harms way, allowing the less valuable piece behind it to be captured.

Like the pin, there are two types of skewers, the absolute skewer, in which the King is attacked and once it moves, the less valuable piece behind it is captured. There’s a relative skewer as well. The relative skewer involves any other pair of pieces excluding the King. Skewers take place along the ranks, files, and diagonals. Only the long-distance pieces – the Queen, Rooks, and Bishop – can participate in a skewer. See, this isn’t that difficult!

What can complicate things for beginners is knowing when to employ a skewer. Set up the following position on a chessboard: A White Bishop on a3, the White King on g1, the Black King on g7 and a Black Rook on h8. It’s White to move. If White plays 1. Bb2+, the more valuable Black King must move out of check, allowing the White Bishop to capture the Black Rook on h8. This skewer works for multiple reasons.

For one, the value of the White Bishop is less than that of the Black Rook. While the Black King would most likely capture the White Bishop, White would come out ahead in this exchange since the Black Rook is worth two points more than the White Bishop. When executing a skewer, make sure that the piece doing the skewering is worth less than the piece behind the skewered piece. However, if there is no pawn or piece available to recapture the piece doing the skewering, then you can use material of any value.

Sewers work best if your opponent’s King is the skewered piece. This is because any attack on the King must be dealt with immediately. This brings me to an important point regarding skewers. They are easier to set up and execute during the late middle-game and endgame. Why? With more pawns and pieces on the board, you have more options for stopping a skewer, such as blocking the skewer by moving a protected piece in its path. During the endgame, you’ll see skewers because there is less material on the board to stop the skewer. Therefore, consider skewers when there are fewer pawns and pieces on the board.

To set up a skewer, you employ the same method used for setting up a pin. Look for enemy pieces aligned along the same ranks, files, and diagonals. The hardest part of setting up a skewer is calculating the value of the material involved. For the skewer to be successful, the piece doing the skewering should be worth less than the opposition piece that will eventually be captured once the more valuable piece moves out of the way.

Mull these ideas over. Next week, we’ll dig a little deeper and look at some examples of skewers in more detail. Practice setting up a few skewers and playing them through. If you’re having trouble doing this, read through this article again and repeat the process. Next week, I’ll give you some further instructions on skewers complete with examples. See you then!

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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