We’ll wrap up our look at tactics over the next three weeks and move onto a set of middle-game principles that will greatly help you during this game phase. As with the opening principles, each remaining phase of the game – the middle-game and endgame – have their own set of principles to guide your play. The reason I am presenting tactics first is because many of the middle-game principles you’ll be introduced to have been covered during our study of tactics. This week, we’re going to look at a new tactic, the skewer. Don’t panic and think “yikes, yet another complicated tactical subject I have to learn!” Actually, you already know the underlying mechanics of the skewer because it is extremely similar to the pin. Let’s get started!
We’ll start by reviewing the pin, the first tactic we studied. In a pin, one piece forces another piece to remain on it’s square because if that piece moves, a piece of greater value will be captured. Take a look at the example below:
In the above example, the Black Bishop on g4 is pinning the White Knight on f3 to the White Queen on d1. While White can move the Knight, Black would most likely capture the White Queen and gain a substantial amount of material. Pins take place on the ranks, files or diagonals, and only the Bishops, Rooks and Queen can execute a pin. There are three pieces involved in a pin, the piece doing the pinning (the Black Bishop), the piece being pinned (the White Knight) and the more valuable piece stuck behind the pinned piece (the White Queen).
A skewer has a similar positional architecture, except the piece of greater value is in front of the piece of lesser value. Therefore, when the piece of greater value is attacked, it moves which allows the piece of lesser value to be captured. Skewers also take place along the ranks, files or diagonals and can only be executed by the Bishops, Rook and Queen. An easy way to remember the pieces that can employ a skewer (or pin) is to think about the pieces that are long distance attackers (Bishop, Rook and Queen) Let’s take a look at a skewer. The example below comes from one of my student’s games.
In the example above, Black’s Bishop is on g4 (move seven) as it was in our example of a pin. However, rather than having the White Knight on f3, we have the White Queen on f3. On the d1 square, we have a White Rook. Remember, in a skewer, the piece of greater value is in front of a piece of lesser value. In a pin, we reverse this, with the piece of lesser value being in front of the piece of greater value. Of course, White will move the Queen to avoid a greater material loss, allowing Black’s Bishop to capture the White Rook on d1.
Skewers tend to happen later in the game, especially going into the endgame. The example above is from a beginning student’s game, which is why you see the skewer happening early on. You should note that once the Black Bishop captures White’s Queen, it will be free to escape which means that Black wins the full nine points of material. In general, during the the middle-game, tactics like skewers and pins tend to lead to an exchange of material rather than a free capture, so you have to do your mathematical calculations carefully. Beginners often find a skewer (or pin) and don’t do the math, ending up with an even trade of material, such as a Knight for a Bishop or worse, losing material, such as a Rook for a Knight.
When using any tactic, you always want to compare the values of all the pieces involved in that specific tactic. This is crucial because if you do not do this, you’ll end up losing material. In a skewer, you want to make sure that there is a piece of greater value in front of (along a rank, file or diagonal) a piece of lesser value. In our example of a skewer, the White Queen is the piece of greater value and the White Rook is the piece of lesser value. The greater the value of the two pieces being skewered, the better the results. By results, I mean gaining a material advantage. If you took the above position and replaced the White Rook on d1 with a White Knight and then placed the White Rook on f1, things would change completely in terms of a material gain. White’s Queen would move out of the line of fire, Black would capture the White Knight on d1 and then be recaptured by the White Rook on f1. This would leave to an even exchange of material, a Bishop for a Knight.
I cannot express how important it is to compare the relative value of the material (pawns and pieces) involved in a tactic. While tactics can be used for mating attacks, their primary goal is to gain a material advantage. Therefore, you should always try to create tactics that win or give you a gain of material rather than simply produce an even exchange of material, unless of course, it helps set up a mating attack (which we will look at later on in this series of articles). As I mentioned earlier, skewers tend to appear later in the game. This is true with most tactics because with fewer pawns and pieces in the game, there are fewer ways to stop tactical plays, plus it’s easier to spot potential tactics when the board is less cluttered.
This was a fairly easy tactic to learn because you already knew the underlying mechanics from your study of the pin. However, next week, we’ll dig into discovered attacks which can be a bit more difficult to master. Here’s a game to enjoy until then.