This week, we will end our examination of the skewer by looking at some basic examples. These examples will help you understand the underlying mechanics of this tactic, as well as when and how to use it correctly. Let’s set up the chessboard so we can work through the first example.
Place a White Rook on h1 and the White King on g1. Place the Black Queen on a8 and the Black King on e8. It’s White to move. There are three pieces involved in a skewer: The piece doing the skewering, the skewered piece, and the less valuable piece stuck behind it. We know that the long-distance pieces –the Queen, Rooks, and Bishops – are the pieces we use for a skewer. Therefore, it should be easy to spot this specific skewer. White plays 1. Rh8+! Because White’s move is an attack on the Black King, Black must deal with the check and nothing else. The only way Black can get out of check is by moving the King. The problem Black has is that moving the King out of check will allow the White Rook to capture the Black Queen. This is an example of a powerful skewer. In general, any skewer involving the King will be more powerful in nature because a check must be answered immediately.
This is an endgame position. I mention this because during the endgame there is far less material on the chessboard. Having fewer pawns and pawns and pieces in the game makes it easier to launch a successful skewer. This is why you see skewers taking place mostly during the endgame. While there’s nothing to stop a skewer from happening early in the game, it’s simply easier to create and successfully execute them when there are fewer pawns and pieces on the chessboard.
Let’s look at another position: The only piece position you’ll be changing is that of the Black King. The White King is on g1, and the White Rook is on h1. The Black Queen remains on a8. However, the Black King is now placed on b8. While there is still a skewer to employ, the outcome is different. In the previous example, three squares separated the Black King and Queen. This distance stopped the King from being able to reduce the loss occurred by Black after White plays 1. Rh8+. After the Black King moves, the White Rook wins the Black Queen free of charge. In our new position, after the Black King moves out of check, and the White Rook captures Black’s Queen, the Black King can capture the White Rook. Black loses four points of material rather than the full nine lost in the first example.
I bring this up because many beginners don’t use the relative value of the pawns and pieces to their advantage, Beginners will think a piece for a piece is a fair trade, not remembering that there’s a wide difference between the individual piece’s value. The beginner still might not make the trade if they don’t win the target piece outright. I teach my students pawn and piece value in terms of making or losing money. If the piece you capture the enemy piece with is worth less than that enemy piece, you’re making money. In our example, White makes $4.00 from the exchange ($9.00 – $5.00). What if it was Black to move first in this position?
If it were Black to move, White wouldn’t have to worry. Why? Because Black’s Queen is worth more than the White Rook. Thus, if Black played 1…Qa1+, White’s King would move, and it would have to be the Black Queen who gets out of the way, since the White Rook would be attacking the Queen. However, it might not turn out well for White if the White King was more than one square away. This would allow the Black Queen to capture the Rook free of charge. That would spell “the end” for White. It comes down to piece value when considering a skewer.
When you’re a victim of a skewer, try to defend the target piece if possible. Too many beginners move their more valuable piece as far away as possible from the attack, thinking they’re keeping that piece safe. Imagine if the White King moved to f2. The Black Queen could capture the Whit Rook and go on to win the game. A suggestion I make to all my students is to not panic. Beginners, because they are new to the game, tend to see things in black and white. Chess is a game that rewards those who see the grey areas, such as not panicking and making desperate moves. In the last example, because the value of the attacker is less than that of the target piece, the exchange will not happen, as long as you defend that piece.
The best skewers are those in which a King is involved, the King is too far away from the target piece to defend it, or no other pawn or piece defends that target piece. Because of this, you’ll see more opportunities for skewers during the endgame. Remember, your opponent is looking for tactical plays as well, so keep a close watch on any of your pieces aligned on the ranks, files, and diagonals. Next week, we’ll look at the world of discovered attacks and checks. See you then.