A Foundation for Beginners Twenty Two

This week, we are going to start delving into the world of tactics. You have probably heard the world tactics used in unison with the word strategy, as in the phrase strategy and tactics. The two words are actually very different in meaning. Strategy can be thought of as the overall plan that helps you win the war, while tactics can be considered the individual battles that propel you towards the goal of victory or winning the war. Tactics can be defined as a series or combination of moves that give a player some sort of advantage, usually having to do with a material gain. We will start our exploration of tactics today by examining one of the most basic tactics, the pin. We will also touch on some of the ideas discussed last week as well. Now, let’s look at the first tactic you should have in your tactical toolbox, the pin. Play through the example below:

After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…d6, 4. Nc3, we see a fairly basic sequence of opening moves. If we compare White’s position to Black’s position, it appears that White is better, since White has both Knights and the Bishop centrally positioned. White’s two Knights control all four of the center squares and we know that controlling the center is the name of the game during the opening. Black, on the other hand, only has one minor piece in play, the Knight on c6. However, it’s Black’s move and Black now essentially takes one of White’s pieces out of play with the move 4…Bg4. When beginners, unfamiliar with tactics, look at this move by Black, they often scratch their collective heads, wondering what the big deal is. After all, it looks like one minor piece (the Black Bishop) is attacking another minor pieces (the White Knight), and the White Knight is protected by both the White Queen on d1 and the g2 pawn. What’s the big deal?

Looks can be very deceiving in chess! Black’s last move has little to do with a possible trade of minor piece for minor piece. This example of a pin has everything to do with White’s Queen on d1. We know that Bishops travel and attack diagonally. This means that if you follow the Black Bishop from g4, along the d1-h5 diagonal, to d1, you’ll see that the Bishop would be attacking the White Queen on d1 if White’s Knight wasn’t blocking the attack on f3. The point of this pin is that if White moves it’s Knight on f3, the Black Bishop on g4 will capture the White Queen on d1, trading a three point Bishop for a nine point Queen.

There are three pieces involved in a pin, the piece of lesser value, the pinned piece and the piece of greater value sitting behind the pinned piece. White can move the Knight on f3 but it would come at the cost of the more valuable Queen on d1. Only the Bishops, Rooks and Queen can employ pins. There are two types of pins, the absolute and the relative pin. The example above is a relative pin, meaning that the pinned piece can move (but at the cost of the Queen). Let’s take a look at an absolute pin:

After 1. d4…d5, 2. Nc3…e6, 3. Nf3, again we see that White has greater control of the board’s center (d4, d5, e4 and e5). However, Black now plays 3…Bb4. We see a similar situation to our first example, with the Black Bishop on b4 pinning the White Knight on c3. However, there’s a key difference here. Unlike the pin involving the White Knight on f3 in the previous example, where White’s f3 Knight could move, the White Knight on c3 in the above example cannot move. Why? There is a rule in chess that states you cannot make any move that exposes your King to an attack (check). If the White Knight on c3 moved, the White King would come under attack and because this move is against the game’s rules, the White Knight on c3 is absolutely pinned. This is an example of an absolute pin.

Once you pin a piece, you want to pile up on that pinned piece. What do I mean by “pile up?” I mean the addition of additional attackers, especially pawns. Why pawns? Because pawns have the lowest relative value. Let’s say we are able to pin one of our opponent’s pieces to it’s King. That pinned piece would not be able to move until the pin was broken or the King got out of the way by moving. If we could then march a pawn down the board to attack the pinned enemy piece, we’d be able to win that piece for a pawn provided the pin wasn’t broken or the King moved. When you pin a piece, see if you can add additional attackers to the pin, especially material worth less than the pinned piece. With this said, how do you get out of a pin?

If you find yourself the victim of a pin, don’t panic. Often, there are easy ways to get out of a pin! A good general rule of thumb, if you find yourself in a seemingly difficult situation, is to not panic. Panicking will only make matters worse. Take a good look at the position first! Assess your opponent’s threat to determine whether or not it is serious and immediate or something that can be dealt with later on. Take a look at the position below:

After 1.e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Nc3…d6, 4. d3, Black plays 4…Bg4, pinning White’s f3 Knight to it’s Queen on d1. What’s the threat? If White moves the Knight on f3, Black captures the Queen. However, you want to look at the position further. By this, I mean look at the Squares White’s Knight controls. Are there any squares of immediate importance that will be subsequently controlled by Black due to the pin? Not really. White has some time to deal with the pin. While White’s Knight on f3 is stuck or pinned to f3, it’s not an immediate problem that needs some form of resolution. However, what would you do if White’s Knight needed it’s freedom as soon as possible? You would break the pin. Breaking the pin means putting a piece between the White Knight on f3 and the Queen on d1. White could play 5. Be2 and now the Knight on f3 could move if needed without the cost of the White Queen. However, there are some other ways to deal with a pin!

White could also play 5. h3, using the h pawn to attack the Black Bishop on g4, forcing Black to either trade the Bishop for White’s Knight or move. Now, if Black decided to exchange Bishop for Knight (an even trade), you’d want to capture back with the Queen on d1, not with the g2 pawn. The reason for this has to do with castling. If White captures back with the g2 pawn and then castle on the King-side, you’ll have a gaping hole in front of the King which makes it an easy target. You could ignore the pin and move the Knight. Wait, what? Next week, we’ll finish our examination of the pin. We’ll look at an example of a pin in which White ignores the pin to his Knight on f3, moves that Knight and loses his Queen. Fortunately, he goes on to win the game. Remember, looks can be deceiving in chess. See you 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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