There are no shortages of chess tactics, from highly complicated, to the super-simple. However, there are a few that occur all the time. These are a major part of your chess foundation, because if you don’t know them, you’ll be blown out of the water time and time again. The patterns in question are pin, skewer, fork, decoy, Zwischenzug, discovered attack, and double attack. Once you master all 7 of these powerful themes, you’ll find yourself with a major advantage over your opponents every time.
This is a transcript from the video series How to Play Chess: Lessons from an International Master. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
Watch lecture 4 from the series How to Play Chess: Lessons from an International Master, and follow along with the puzzles below.
Learn more about the basics of chess and how it began
Black decides to trade Rooks, so he plays 1…Rxb3, expecting White to recapture the Rook by 2.Qxb3 or 2.axb3.
What is White’s best move?
Although Black has captured White’s Rook, White doesn’t recapture right away. Instead, he uses a Zwischenzug (an in-between move) to win a pawn.
Black can’t move his Rook to safety because his King is in check. So, Black is forced to move his King.
Only now, after winning a free pawn, will White recapture the Rook on b3.
Black wanted a Rook trade, but he didn’t anticipate that the loss of a pawn was part of the package.
Black can capture a seemingly free pawn by 1…Qxa2. Would you make that move?
Black has just captured White’s pawn on a2. It turns out that taking on a2 is a losing blunder.
Learn more about how pawns are the most complex pieces on the chessboard
Forking Black’s Queen and Rook, and winning a full Rook.
White has 2 pawns for a Knight, which means that Black is up material. However, White’s proper move shows that a simple material count doesn’t have any meaning in this particular position. What is White’s best move?
This not-very-subtle move creates a pin against the Knight and the eighth rank. Because moving the Knight (1…Nf6, for example) walks into a mate by 2.Rd8+ Ne8 3.Rxe8 mate, Black finds himself facing a difficult decision.
Black decides to protect his Knight with his Rook.
Thanks to the fact that Black’s Knight is pinned to its Rook, White will capture the Knight and end up with a decisive material advantage.
Black’s King is in the center, which is never good if several pieces remain on the board. How can White take advantage of Black’s unfortunate King position?
White creates a decoy by the use of this Bishop pin against Black’s Queen and King.
Black’s Queen had to capture that Bishop, but now Black’s Queen is no longer protecting the e6-pawn.
This check carries a heavy punch: It wins a pawn, checks Black’s King, and threatens Black’s Rook (a double attack against Black’s King and Rook).
2…Be7 3.Qxc8+ is just as bad.
White easily won the game due to Black’s vulnerable King and having a Rook and a pawn for Black’s Bishop (point count: 3 extra points for White).
Pins, forks, decoys, double attacks, and Zwischenzugs are all tactical building blocks that constantly appear in the games of beginners and world champions. One might think that if they can take down the world’s best players, then they must be difficult to learn. However, the opposite is true: A bit of study and practice, and they will be with you for life.
Learn more about the Must-Know tactical patterns in chess
- Decoy: The idea is to pull a piece away from an important job (often by making use of a pin, a skewer, or some other tactical device), leading to doom in another area, or to pull a piece to a square it doesn’t want to be on, with agonizing results for the opponent.
- Double Attack: In a way, you can think of forks, skewers, and pins as double attacks, because 1 piece attacks 2 at the same time. In fact, the main idea of a double attack—making 2 threats at once—is the backbone of the vast majority of tactical themes.
- Fork: A tactical maneuver in which a piece or pawn attacks 2 enemy pieces or pawns at the same time.
- Pin: An attack against 2 pieces at once—one a direct attack and the other an X-ray attack. A true pin attacks the less-valuable piece first, while the more-valuable piece is the one attacked via X-ray.
- Skewer: The same as a pin, except the more-valuable enemy piece is attacked and the X-rayed piece is the less-valuable one.
- Zwischenzug: Meaning “in-between move,” a German term for an often unexpected reply thrown into an expected sequence of moves.