Author Archives: Hugh Patterson

About 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).

The Importance of Tactics Nine: Putting It All Together

Over the last eight articles, we’ve explored basic tactical ideas and have seen how important a role tactics play in the game of chess. Of course, great chess playing requires more than simply being good at tactics. Master level players will incorporate and employ tactics in their overall plan but know that tactics alone don’t solely win games. They know that many other elements contribute to whether or not they win or lose. However, tactics are often the decisive winning element in the games of beginning and intermediate players. Today we’re going to look at a single game in which one player, Boris Spassky, employs tactics impressively. First, we’ll break the game down into two key positions, isolating a two specific examples and looking at the series of moves leading up to each tactical play. Then we’ll see the entire game played out in my game of the week. By looking at some specific tactical examples within the game and then playing through the game in it’s entirety we’ll better understand when and where we should use our new found tactical tools.

We talked about the power of the pin early in this series of articles. Of course, beginners often stumble into an opportunity to employ a pin due to their opponent’s poor handling of his forces on the chessboard. However, at a master level of play, even a simple tactic such as a pin can require a great deal of positional work to set that tactic up. In our first example, we’ll look at the series of moves that led up to the first pin. Boris Spassky, commanding the White pieces (Avtonomov playing Black), demonstrates why he is such a fantastic chess player (he’s also my favorite chess player of all time so pardon my bias). Note that there are more complex and deeper reasons for some of the moves made in this game then I’ll be mentioning. However, this article is written for the beginner so we’re sticking with basic principled tactical reasoning here. Let’s jump right into the action:

Studious beginners and Grandmasters alike know that castling your King to safety is critical. An unsafe King becomes a target for your opponent’s pawns and pieces and an overwhelming number of games have been lost throughout chess’s long history (at all level of play) due to not castling the King. Therefore, Spassky castles his King with 1. O-O. However, there’s more to this move than simply sheltering your King from the opposition’s forces. Activating your King-side Rook (or Queen-side Rook when castling Queen-side) is an added bonus to castling. Beginners have a bad habit of leaving their Rooks dormant throughout the game. Rooks can play a crucial roll during all phases of the game as we shall soon see. Black responds by playing 1…a6. This move prevents Spassky from checking the Black King with his c4 Bishop which might lead to a trade of light squared Bishops (don’t give your opponent an opportunities to check your King, especially when it may lead to an exchange of pieces (such as your light squared Bishop) that include a piece you might need later on. Spassky now plays 2. Qe2. Why play such a move? We’ll find out momentarily. Black plays 2…b5, pushing the Bishop off of the c4 square. One thing you’ll want consider, whenever reasonable and possible, is to push your opponent’s pieces back, away from your King, while moving your pieces forward towards your opponent’s King. Now, the White Bishop simply move to b3 with 3. Bb3.

Master level players make a point of building up their pawn and piece’s activity, methodically moving their forces to specific squares and only then, launching their attack, whereas beginners tend to launch premature attacks which contributes to their losing games. Black plays 3…Nc6, putting pressure on both d4 and e5. Spassky responds with 4. Nc3, bringing his Queen-side Knight into the game and putting pressure on the d5 square. After Black plays 4…cxd4, it looks like Spassky has to either move his Knight on c3 or capture the attacking pawn with exd4. Absolutely not! Spassky plays the wonderful 5. Rd1 and now the d4 pawn is pinned to the Queen. This is the difference between top level players and beginners. The beginner would panic and either move the Knight or capture the pawn. However, Spassky set up a potential pin a few moves back. Remember when he castled and then moved his Queen up a rank? This combination of moves allowed the Rook to move from f1 to d1 where it now pins the Black pawn on d4 to the Black Queen on d8. A nice piece of tactical work by a great tactical artist of the chessboard! Take a look at the next example from our game:

The only different between the first example and this example is that black has moved his light squared Bishop to the long diagonal running from a8 to h1. Take a good look at this position. See if you can spot any potential future pins for White. Really take a look at the position before reading further and write down any moves that could create a pin. The first move that Spassky makes is going to capture the d4 pawn. How would you recapture it, with 1. Nxd4 or exd4? Think in terms of creating a pin! Remember, my friends who are beginners, when given the choice of capturing with a variety of pawns and pieces, we should (unless the position warrants otherwise) capture back with the unit of least value. Therefore, 1. exd4 is the correct move. It’s a better choice than 1. Nxd4 because capturing back with the pawn creates an absolute pin along the e file. Notice that, after the e pawn captures the d4 pawn, the White Queen on e2 is pinning Black’s e6 pawn to the Black King on e8. While the Black e6 pawn is dormant, it’s future use will be limited as long as it’s pinned. Absolute pins can be lethal since the pinned piece cannot be moved. Spassky, of course, plays 1. exd4.

It looks like White’s pawn on d4 is heading towards d5 which is why Black plays 1…Nb4 which does two important things. First, the Black Knight on b4 is attacking the d5 square. This adds another defender to that square (d5). Remember, as long as the Black e6 pawn is pinned, it cannot aid in the defense of d5. Second, it allows the Black Bishop on b7 to also aid in the attack on d5 now that the Black Knight has moved off of c6. Good chess players know how to make moves that don’t block in their pieces. Spassky now plays 2. d5, pushing the pawn forward. While Black would love to capture the White pawn on d5 with his e6 pawn, he can’t because that pawn is absolutely pinned to the Black King. Now we’re seeing the power of pins when employed by a highly skilled Player. Black captures back with 2…Nbxd5. Unfortunately, the black Knight on d5 is now pinned to the Black Queen on d8, thanks to the Rook on d1. White now has two pins going, both involving Black’s most important pieces, the King and Queen. One pin is bad enough, but two? Now Spassky plays 3.Bg5 and an additional pin is added to the mix, the White Bishop on g5 pinning the Black Knight on f6 to the Black Queen on d8! Any casual player would simply tip his King in resignation and go home to tend to his greatly bruised ego. However, Black makes what I consider to be an important move that the beginner should take note of! Black plays 3…Be7! Put yourself in Black’s shoes. You have to deal with three separate pins and since you can only move one piece at a time, you’re facing possibly least three move to break each of the various pins. Take a moment to note each pin before reading on. There’s an absolute pin and two relative pins. Which do you deal with first? The absolute pin comes to mind. However, what if you could stop two of the pins in a single move. Black does so by playing 3. Be7. Bravo! This simple move temporarily stops both the pin involving the Black Knight on f6 and Black Queen on d8 (being pinned by the White Bishop on g5) as well as the pin involving the Black e6 pawn and the Black King on e8 (being pinned by the White Queen on e2). The placement of the Black Bishop on e7 relieves some of the pressure Black is feeling in this position. Moves that do move than one thing are excellent moves to make! However, the Black Bishop on e7 may be feeling a bit overloaded at the moment!

Before I let you loose to play through the game in it’s entirety. We should discuss a few key points regarding tactics employed in the above examples. Notice that not much, in the way of material has been captured. Top level players know that successful attacks require that the attacker build up his position. Also, the more pieces you have in play, the greater the opportunity for tactics. In military terms, this means getting all your troops onto the battlefield, carefully positioning each member of your army where it will do the maximum amount of damage when the fighting starts and be able to exploit an opportunities! You should also note that you have to set tactics up. In the first example, Spassky castled his King to activate the Rook followed by moving his Queen up one rank so the Rook could move from f1 to d1. It’s important to note that Spassky waited until the right moment to bring his Rook over to d1. Timing is extremely important when employing tactics. You have to wait until the right moment to unleash the tactical beast. Here’s the game from start to finish. You’ll find a great example of removing the defender on move 19. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Eight: Removing the Defender

Often, a beginner will see checkmate close at hand except for one small problem, there’s an opposition pawn or piece standing between the beginner and victory. “If only that pawn or piece wasn’t on that square”, muses our intrepid beginning player. “I’d win this game if my opponent would just move that darn pawn (or piece)!” His opponent also sees it as the one member of his army stopping checkmate, so he’s not going to move that pawn or piece unless he’s forced to. What is our poor beginner to do? After all, if that opposition pawn or piece isn’t going to move then how’s he going to win?

The beginner facing this dilemma, refers back to his limited chess training and thinks “maybe I can somehow trade a piece of lesser or equal value for the piece standing in the way of my mating plan, but I’ll have to move that piece of lesser or equal value into position to do so.” Of course, following this plan means spending extra time to do so and extra time might give the opposition an opportunity to stop the attempted checkmate! While experienced players might laugh at this notion of only trading pieces of lesser or equal value to clear a path to checkmate, all the beginner has to go on, regarding the exchange of material, is what they’ve learned so far in their chess education, namely that you should always try to exchange material in a manner that is profitable for you or at least equal. In other words, trade or exchange material of lesser value for pieces of higher value or trade material of equal value for material of equal value.

The beginner, thinking in these terms is thinking mechanically which is part of the learning process. When a beginner starts playing chess, they tend to make terrible trades, such as giving up a Rook or Queen for a minor piece (with no great positional gain or compensation for their loss) because they don’t understand the relative value of the pieces. Chess teachers and coaches, such as myself, spend countless hours teaching our beginning students the value of the pieces and how to make profitable exchanges. Thus, when the beginner is faced with a position in which an opposition pawn or minor piece is standing in the way of their mating attack, they don’t consider the idea of trading a piece of greater value for one of lesser value, even if it allows checkmate to occur (remember, beginners haven’t developed their pattern recognition skills and often don’t see a potential checkmate).

We call this tactical idea removing the defender. The defender is any pawn or piece that protects a key square near it’s King. Typically, Knights on f6 for Black or f3 for White are key defenders when castling has occurred on the King-side. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, it’s White to move. The White Queen on e4, backed up or protected by the White Bishop (the Queen’s bodyguard) on d3, would be able to deliver checkmate with Qxh7 if it were not for one huge problem, the Knight on f6 which is guarding h7 (along with the King) while also attacking the White Queen. The beginner would look at Black’s Knight of f6 and his Queen on e4 and think, “I had better move my Queen so the Knight doesn’t capture it!” Our beginner might have glanced at his Rook on f3, then at the Knight on f6, but thought “this goes against the principles of making good trades. I’d be crazy to trade a five point Rook for a Three point Knight!” This is mechanical thinking at it’s worst. Certainly, it wouldn’t be a good trade based solely on the relative value of the pieces. However, the Knight on f6 is standing in the way of White delivering checkmate (as well as attacking the White Queen). The Knight on f6 is a crucial defender of the mating square h7. Therefore, to deliver checkmate, White must remove this defender even though, from a relative piece value point of view, the trade is not advantageous for White. The more experienced player wouldn’t think twice about trading Rook for Knight since doing so removes one critical defender of h7 and subsequently allows checkmate. Remember, beginners have a limited chess knowledge base and will often consider specific game principles as rules rather than principles, which can be bent or broken at times. Let’s return to our example.

White sees that the Knight on f6 is both attacking the White Queen on e4 and defending the h7 pawn, along with the Black King (who is also defending h7). The h7 square has two defenders and two attackers. In order to deliver checkmate on h7, White need to remove one of those defenders, the Black Knight on f6. White therefore plays 1. Rxf6, leaving the Black King as the sole defender of the h7 pawn. Now there are two attackers going after this pawn (h7) and only one defender. It’s important to note that the King isn’t really in any position to defend when there are two or more attackers! Now it’s Black to move. Here, black breaks a principled idea, never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps your game. While White has bent a principle regarding the exchange of material, Black’s bending of our principled idea of never capturing pawns and pieces unless it helps your position will have dire consequences.

The beginner commanding the Black pieces in this example thinks mechanically, grabbing material to come out ahead in this exchange rather than asking the critical question, why would White trade a Rook for a Knight?” He should have visually seen the answer within the position on the chessboard, the answer being “to remove a crucial defender that allows checkmate!” Had Black deduced, by looking at the position careful rather than grabbing material, he might have played 1…g6 (a miserable move to have to make) rather than 1…Bxf6 which leads to White’s second move 2. Qxh7#.

The idea I want you to remember is this: Avoid mechanical thinking. Playing mechanically often means that you mistake game principles for rock solid rules. The numerous and sound principles that guide us towards making good moves during our games can also lead to our downfall. The best chess players in the world know when to employ sound game principles and more importantly, when to bend those principles. Principles are guidelines not rules written in stone. In the case of removing the defender of a key square, especially when doing so leads to checkmate, would you rather stick to the principles or bend them a little and win the game? I thought so! We’ll look at some further examples of removing the defender next week. However, between now and then, let’s have a look at an extremely famous game in which a Queen is traded for a Knight leading to checkmate. Paul Morphy was extremely successful at removing the defender. If there’s any beginner’s topic you’d like to see here, please feel free to email me and I’ll write an article about that topic. Enjoy this classic battle on the chessboard!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Seven: Double and Discovered Attacks

In chess, one player takes his or her turn moving a single or pawn or piece. The the opposition moves one pawn or piece in this cycle, turn after turn being repeated until the game ends. The only exception to this rule is castling (when the King and one Rook move at the same time). Each time it’s your turn, you have to decide which pawn or piece to move and follow through with that move since you can’t pass when it’s your turn (we’ve all been in positions where being able to pass on our turn would have helped us but the game’s rules forbid it). The secret to playing good chess is knowing just which pawn or piece to move when it’s your turn! When your opponent attacks one of your pieces, you can either move that piece to a safe square, defend that piece or exchange your piece for your opponent’s attacking piece. However, what if your opponent makes a move that suddenly leaves two of your pieces attacked? You can save one at the cost of the other. How can a single opposition move cause two of your pieces to come under fire? It’s a question I ask members of my beginner’s classes on a regular basis. The answer that my students most often give is by employing a fork. While they’re right in one regard, they’re often surprised when I tell them that there is another tactical method for attacking two pieces at once, a method that can be more devastating than a fork. It’s the double and discovered attack, and many a player has been sent down the road to ruin with this tactical idea.

We’ll look at the discovered attack first. The idea behind the discovered attack is simple. Have a look at the diagram below. Sometimes, a picture (or in this case a positional diagram) can be worth a thousand words when it comes to an explanation!

It should be noted that I use student games for many of my tactical examples because they’re the type of positions most beginners will find themselves in. While studying the tactics of Grandmasters is important, these top level players often set up tactical plays after deep and extensive calculations. Beginners don’t yet have the skill set to make deep calculations, thus I use positional examples in which the tactical play presents itself with little in the way of deep calculations on the part of the beginning tactician. In other words, poor positioning of the opposition’s pieces. In our example from a student game, the White Rook on e1 would pin the Black Queen on e7 to the Black King on e8 if it weren’t for the White Bishop on e3. It’s White’s move. White plays 1. Bd4, unleashing a discovered attack by the White Rook on the Black Queen. Black is all but forced to trade his Queen for the White Rook on e1 with 1…Qxe1. White plays 2. Rxe1+ and now Black makes a fatal mistake, blocking the check with 2…Be7. Why is this a mistake? Because White now plays 3. Bxg7 and Black’s King-side Rook will be captured.

In a discovered attack, the attacking piece is stuck behind another piece, unable to attack until the piece blocking it moves. In our example, the Bishop moved to d4 and the Black Queen was suddenly pinned to her King, attacked by the Rook. There’s another important consideration here, namely where to move the blocking piece. In our example the Bishop moved to d4 where it eyed the g7 pawn. When Black used his Bishop to block the check by White’s Rook, the White Bishop was able to capture the now unguarded g7 pawn and then go on to win the trapped Rook. The point here is to carefully consider where you’re going to move the piece that unleashes the discovered attack. You want to move that piece to a square that attacks another piece or pawn. Remember, when two pieces are under attack, often only one can be defended. In our example, our discovered attack works because the Rook was of less value than the Queen which means White won the exchange. Had it been a Rook pinning a Rook rather than a Rook pinning a Queen to the opposition King, it would have been an even exchange. However, what really made this discovered attack work was Black’s poor choice of pieces to block the Rook check on move two for White. Had Black used his Knight, the Bishop would have been able to defend g7. If you’re the victim of a discovered attack, carefully examine the squares the piece that moved (the e3 Bishop) is attacking, because in our example, the Bishop was able to do further damage. Now we’ll look at the double attack.

With a double attack, one player makes a move that allows the attack of two opposition pieces at the same time. It’s very similar to the discovered attack but with a double attack, two specific pieces are attacked at the same time and at least one of those pieces is undefended and/or the attackers are worth less than the attacked pieces. In our student example of a discovered attack, the second victim of the attack was the g7 pawn which was defended. Unfortunately, Black removed the pawn’s defender which allowed the pawn (and then Rook) to fall. In the above example, it’s White to move. White plays 1.d4. Which attacks the undefended Black Bishop on e5. The Bishop could move except there’s a discovered attack on the Black Queen by the now freed White Bishop on c1. While the Queen is defended, she is worth far more than the Bishop, so she has to move. Black plays 1…Qh5 and White wins the Black Bishop with 2. dxe5. Black tries to mate the White King with 2…Ng4, but White stops this potential checkmate with 3. h3, which attacks the Black Knight.

The differences between discovered and double attacks is not that great because often a discovered attack leads to a double attack. The point you should remember, as a beginner, is that one piece can be saved (in most cases) and one piece will be lost. The trick to executing this tactic is to, as in the case of other tactics, constantly examine, the ranks, files and diagonals on which your opponent’s material sits. This also means that you have to watch your own ranks, files and diagonals because your opponent might just use this tactic on you! Next week, we’re going to look at this topic in greater detail. I chose to give you a very simplified look at this tactical concept just to introduce you to the discovered and double attacks. There’s more to it but as they say, you have to walk before you can run. Next week we’ll learn how to calculate tactics 234 moves in advance. Just kidding! Even Magnus Carlsen couldn’t do that. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Six

In the last few articles, we looked at a tactic called the pin in which a piece of lesser value was stuck in front of a piece of greater value along a rank, file or diagonal. Should the piece of lesser value move, the piece doing the pinning, the attacker, swoops in and captures the piece of greater value. With a skewer, the piece of greater value switches places with the piece of lesser value. A typical pin might be composed of a Black Bishop on g4 pinning a White Knight on f3 to the White Queen on d1. With a skewer, we’d have the Bishop still on g4 but the White Queen would be on f3 and the White Knight on d1. Of course, this rearrangement wouldn’t work for the Black Bishop unless that Bishop was protected with, for example, a Black pawn on h5 to back the Bishop up. While there are similarities between a pin and a Skewer, there are definite differences between the two.

As with the pin, the pieces able to partake in a skewer are your long distance attackers, the Bishops, Rooks and Queen. As I’ve said before, tactics are important and can turn a game around in your favor when used wisely. I say “when used wisely” because many beginning and intermediate players depend on tactics too much. They play solely around the idea of setting up tactical positions in order to gain a material advantage. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with employing tactics, you have to be careful when setting a tactical play up. Why? Because you may have to weaken your position when making the first move or two in a tactical combination, setting the tactic up. Of course, if your opponent is oblivious your plan, you’re fine and the tactical play is successful. However, if your opponent spots the potential tactical play, you’ll end up trying to correct your positional weaknesses. Use your tactics wisely, allowing the opportunity to present itself through poor opposition moves (especially if you’re a beginner) rather trying to set up complicated positions that force tactics. As you improve, so will your ability to spot tactical opportunities and set up combinations. Remember, we first learn to walk before learning to run. Here’s an extremely simple example of a skewer:

As I mentioned earlier, a skewer takes place when a piece of higher value is pinned in front of a piece of lower value along a rank, file or diagonal. In our example, White’s Queen is stuck in front of the White Rook along the f1-a6 diagonal. The Queen is worth nine points or dollars (I use money because everyone, both young and old, can relate to the value of a dollar) and the Rook behind it on the diagonal is worth five points or dollars. Again, the set up is like a pin but the more valuable piece is in front of the piece of lesser value (the reverse is true for a pin). The piece attacking the Queen, Black’s light squared Bishop, is worth three points or dollars. It’s important at this juncture to remember that ideally, the piece attacking the skewered piece should be of lesser value than the piece stuck at the tail end of the rank, file or diagonal where this tactic takes place. However, the value of the pieces involved in a skewer can have varying values but we’ll get into that later on. In our first example, the Queen will have to move, otherwise Black will end up with an even greater material gain. When the Queen moves, 1.Qd1, Black snaps up the Rook with 1…Rxf1 followed by 2. Qxf1. Black has traded a three dollar Bishop for a five dollar Rook netting two dollars. Always consider the value of any exchange before engaging in one!

This skewer for Black was only profitable because Black’s Bishop had protection, namely the pawn on b5. If the pawn wasn’t there then White would simply capture the Bishop! This would be a problem for Black! Now let’s look at skewers in which the piece at the tail end of the skewer is of equal or lesser value that the attacking piece. In our first example, the Bishop was worth less than the Rook trapped behind the Queen. Therefore, trading itself for the Rook makes sense. However, what if a Queen is skewering a piece of greater value, such as the opposition King to a piece of lesser value such as a Rook. Take a look at the example below:

In the above student game example, White plays 1. Qh7+ which directly attacks the Black King. However, this is more than just a check because when the Black King moves, 1. Kc8, the Rook behind it on the seventh rank is then captured by the White Queen after 2. Qxa7! This greatly changes the balance of material in favor of White. While White had more material that Black going into this endgame position, the loss of Black’s Rook is a game changer! While the piece being captured (the Black Rook) was worth less than the Queen, it’s capture eliminated an opposition piece making it much easier for White to win the game. During endgame play, the loss of material is devastating since you have fewer pawns and pieces with which to deliver checkmate. Therefore, using a skewer to create a deficit in opposition material can be a winning tactical play for you.

In the above example, the skewer worked because of two factors. The first factor is that the black King was positioned two squares away from the Rook. To protect the Rook, the Black King would have to be on an adjacent square to the now captured piece, but this leads me to point two, the Bishop on f3. White’s light squared Bishop was on a square that allowed coordinated play between both White pieces. The White Bishop on f3 covered the c6, b7 and a8 squares which means the Black King had no access to those squares and couldn’t protect his Rook. Piece coordination is critical when creating or employing tactics.

When looking for potential skewers, as in the case of the pin, you want to keep an eye on any rank, file or diagonal on which there are pieces. Tactical plays can often fall into your lap when playing against opponents who don’t followed principled play. To avoid falling victim to a skewer, you should always look at any rank, file or diagonal on which you have pieces. The last example of a skewer is a common tactical theme during the endgame. To avoid such a loss you want to make sure you have, your pieces protected. During this student game, Black had an opportunity earlier in the endgame to protect his Rook but didn’t. While our last example used the White Queen to Skewer the Black King and Rook, a White Rook could have done the same job. The advantage the Queen has is her ability to cover diagonals as well. If you’re a beginner or just became an intermediate player, I’d suggest looking for potential skewers rather than trying to set them up with a series of moves. After you’ve developed better chess vision, being able to see the entire board and spot potential problems for both you and your opponent, then consider creating combinations that lead to skewers. Also, remember that tactics are a two way street which means your opponent might skewer you if you’re not keeping a watchful eye over the ranks, files and diagonals your pieces sit on. We’ll continue our examination of tactics next week but until then, here’s a game to enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Game Gangster Style

We’re going to take a break from tactics to look at one of the many places I teach chess but will return to our tactical studies next week. Teaching chess to children is only part of my chess teaching career. I teach teenagers, adults, coach chess teams and teach chess to extremely hardened criminals, both young and old. Many of my incarcerated students are members of violent street gangs. I put my personal feeling about people who commit crimes aside when I teach the game of chess to these men. My job is not to pass moral judgment on these students but to teach them how to make better life decisions through chess. Imagine being in a room with four to six men, some of whom have committed acts of terrible violence, with the guards standing outside the classroom, close but not close enough to save my life if need be. Surprisingly, I am comfortable there because these men know I’m there for them, working pro bono as their lawyers would say. I don’t charge for my services when working in the jails. I work without pay because if I can get just one of these men to make better life decisions and not end up back in jail, I’ve succeeded and that’s reward enough! When I explain the game of chess, I do so in their terms, terms they can relate too. They don’t need another smart guy in a suit and tie using large words that they don’t understand. They need to hear it in the language of the streets, gang-speak. Here’s how I explain the game of chess:

“The streets are owned by those who take them. Gangs own the streets and the more streets you own, the more power you have. When one gang wants to increase its power they take control of streets belonging to another gang. Of course, the gang losing their hard fought for streets are not going to give them up without a fight. The gang trying to expand their territory sometimes decide to take out the other gang’s leader, their King. Chess is about taking out the other gang’s King, plain and simple. However, you have to play it smart because you only have so many soldiers in your army. Lose those soldiers and you’ve got no one to fight for you and worse yet, no one to protect you. While you might think yourself strong and tough, one man can’t hold back an army.”

When I introduce each player’s army, I do so using street hierarchy, the pecking order within the chain of command. I also introduce them to the word hierarchy, pointing out that you get a lot farther in life when you sound smart because in the end words hold more power than fists. Here’s my introduction of each player’s army:

“In the game of chess, both players start with an equal number of gang members. In other words, you start the fight with the same number of soldiers and firepower. This means you both enter the war with no real advantage.” At this point, someone will yell out “well then, how the #%$# am I going to win?” This is a great question since most of these guys win street wars by going into the fight with a superior force or firepower. It brings up an important point: All things being equal, you win by being smart, knowing where and when to fight your battles, not just jumping in with all guns blazing. We talk about a few historical battles in which the side that one was greatly outnumbered. How did they do it, my students want to know. They become engaged very quickly, often thinking they can use this information on the hard and unforgiving streets. I make a point to remind them that our goal, via chess, is to make better life decisions or life choices and it was bad decision making that landed them behind bars. Now we meet the gang:

“You are the Kingpin and with that title comes power and respect. However, being the Kingpin also means that other Kingpins are out to get you any chance they have. You’re worth more dead than alive to your enemies. This means you have to have protection for if the King falls, so does his empire. On the flip-side, you’re trying to topple your sworn enemy’s empire so your gang needs to divide it’s activities between protecting you and taking down your rival Kingpin! You life as Kingpin is one of constant offense and defense, always carefully balancing the two.”

We then meet the gang or army, starting with the Corner Boys. “The Corner Boy is a loyal soldier who dreams of being the Kingpin’s top lieutenant on day. It’s an entry level position which means he has to do all the dirty work, such as being the first into battle. In chess, we call this soldier the pawn. The pawn is first into the fight and, if he can reach the other side of the board, he is promoted. He’s no coward which is why he can only move forward. However, don’t think that just because you have eight pawns at the games start you can carelessly throw you foot soldiers, the pawns, into the meat grinder of battle. You’re going to need these troops until the bitter end. Those Kingpins who keep more Corner Boys around when the battle winds down will stand a better chance of winning. Remember, every pawn that can cross the board and reach it’s end can promote to the deadliest of assassins, the Queen. We’ll get to her later.”

We talk about a bit about war and how armies work together to win the battle. It’s important to understand that you have to use your army in a coordinated fashion.

“Next we meet the up and comers who are a few rungs up the chain of command ladder. These soldiers, the Knights and Bishops, have their own individual fighting skills and follow closely behind the Corner Boys or pawns. They don’t stand around waiting for the fight to come to them. They get into the fight early on during the opening but pick where they fight very carefully. Their power is strongest when they’re in the thick of the fight, the middle of the board. Bishops are soldiers armed with a sniper rifle, meaning they can attack and do great damage from long distances. When you can’t get a clear shot with your snipers, you bring in the Knights who, because of their ability to jump over other pieces and pawns, can drop into an attack like a special forces soldier parachutes into battle behind enemy lines. We call this special group, the minor pieces and like the army’s special forces, you have a limited number of these highly trained fighters. Use them wisely because they rule the beginning of any fight on the chessboard. Now we’ll look at the game’s big guns, the major pieces the Rooks and the Queen.”

I usually give a pop quiz regarding the pawn, Bishops and Knights as well as the chessboard itself. You’d be surprised at how well my students retain the information I’ve presented them thus far. Their strong retention might come as a surprise though. Most of these students, no matter how bad their criminal activities have been, are not stupid and when you present the game in terms of the street, they get it. I continue:

“Rooks are seasoned warriors. They’ve survived as long as they have because they know just when to come into the fight. They know better than to jump into the fight as soon as it starts. They let the youngsters, the pawns, Knights and Bishops, tear into the enemy and wear them down. The Rooks are like powerful cannons that mow down everything in a straight line. They can blast across the ranks and files of the board so standing in their way can be a deadly affair. They like to have a clear shot, especially at the enemy King so give them a clear line of sight. Remember though, you have to bring your army into battle carefully. The pawns start things off, followed by the Knights and Bishops. Once this part of your army gains control of the board’s center, then you can bring the heavy hitters into the mix. However, you don’t want to throw your Rooks directly into the fight but instead, use them for holding down lines of attack, the ranks and files.”

I introduce the Queen next. In the male dominated culture of gangs, woman are not considered to be equals. However, as I explain, “ The Queen is the deadliest of killers, combining the powers of the Bishop and Rook. She’s the toughest member of the gang. She can destroy all who walk across her path. Yet as powerful as she is, you must take care with her not because she’s a lady but because as dangerous as she is, she will be mercilessly hunted down if she enters the fight too soon. Her power is so strong that she can make a threat and the enemy will stand up and take notice. The queen is often the assassin that goes after the enemy King. However, she often only gets one chance so use her powers wisely.”

That is how I get tough guys interesting in chess. The game not only helps them with making better life decisions but I’ve seen rival gang members form friendships through the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week when we resume our tactical studies. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Five

This week, we’re going to look at pins involving the Rook and Queen as well as go over some key concepts regarding this tactical tool. We’ll start with a review of a few key concepts. Why review what we already know? Let me tell you a little story about my past. I’ve always had a love affair with motorcycles, owning my first bike at the age of seventeen. When you’re seventeen, just coming up with the money to buy a motorcycle is a gargantuan task for a lazy teenager. I ended up buying the most broken down three stroke Cafe Racer because it was all I could afford. When something went wrong, which was nearly daily, I was at the mercy of the neighborhood mechanic who charged a lot for repair work. Fortunately, he took pity on me and decided to teach me how to fix the bike myself. He taught me motorcycle repair one tool at a time.

My mechanic mentor, upon asking him why I had to learn how to use one tool at a time, patiently explained that you must master one tool before moving on to the next because each tool was used for a specific circumstance and the tools were interrelated, being used together, harmoniously in order to accomplish a specific task. He also stated that, when learning to use each tool, a quick review of that tool’s use greatly helped when mastering it. This idea stuck with me throughout my life and became a cornerstone in my own teaching methods Therefore, we’ll start with a review of the pin.

As stated in the previous article, a pin occurs when a piece (the piece doing the pinning) attacks a piece (the pinned piece) that sits on a rank, file or diagonal in front of a more valuable piece. Thus, a pin takes place when one piece is attacked and should that attacked piece move, a piece of greater value will be captured. With relative pins, the piece being pinned can move at the cost of the more valuable piece behind it. In an absolute pin, the pinned piece cannot move because the piece behind it is the King. Take a look at the diagram below:

In this example, it’s Black to move. Black sees that the White Bishop on f4 is hanging (unprotected). Of course, we never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps our position. Here, capturing the White Bishop does help Black’s position. How does it help? By playing (Black to move) 1…Bxf4, White’s Rook on d2 is now pinned to the White King on c1. This is an absolute pin which means that the piece being pinned cannot move because doing so would expose the King to capture. Since you cannot capture the King in chess, you cannot move the pinned piece! The Rook, in the above example, is also attacked by the Black Queen on d8. Two attackers and one defender spells trouble for White. Even if White plays 2. Nf3, adding a second defender of the Rook on d2, it wouldn’t matter because Black would happily trade his Bishop for White’s Rook. This simple example serves to make a few key points you should always keep in mind regarding pins and tactics in general:

The first point to remember is that tactics in which one of the pieces involved is the King tend to have more dire results for the victim of the tactical play. The reason for this is because the tactic in question, a fork for example, includes a check, forcing the King to move at the expense of the other piece. In the case of a pin, the pinned piece is literally super glued to it’s square because it cannot move. This brings up another point, putting pressure on the pinned piece. In the above example, The Black Queen was attacking the White Rook on d2. However, if the Black Queen was on the a8 square instead of d8, we would move her to d8 after the Black Bishop pinned the White Rook with 1…Bxf4. When given the opportunity, and if it doesn’t damage your position, pile up on pinned pieces. While White can add another defender to the poor Rook on d2, the difference in value between the pinned piece and the piece doing the pinning means that Black will win material and this brings up the next point, always consider the value of the piece doing the pinning and the pinned piece. In the above example, the pinned Rook is worth five points and the Bishop doing the pinning is worth three points. Try to use pieces of lesser value to do the pinning. However, there’s another reason for pinning pieces that doesn’t involve gaining material via an exchange. Pins, especially absolute pins, can stop the pinned piece from becoming involved in the game! In the above example, the White Rook on d2 would love nothing more that capture the White Queen on d8. However, even though the Black Queen is there for the capture, White cannot do a thing about it because the White Rook is absolutely pinned to it’s King by the Black Bishop on f4. Now that we’ve reviewed a few key pinning concepts, let’s move on to Rook and Queen pins. Before we start, remember, you have to keep a constant and watchful eye over all ranks, files and diagonals because these are the places where pins occur.

We’ll start by looking at Rook pins. The Rook is a major piece, along with the Queen. Because the Rook has a relative value of five points, you have to be cautious when using a Rook for pinning purposes. The reason for being cautious has to do with the Rook’s value. If a Rook is pinning a protected minor piece, worth three points, to a more valuable piece, such as the Queen, you’re simply keeping the pinned piece from participating in the game because should the minor piece move, the Rook captures the more valuable piece. If we reverse things, having a minor piece such as a Bishop pinning a Rook to a Queen or King, the minor pieces could trade itself for the pinned Rook, coming out ahead in the exchange of material. However, in the case of Rook pinning a Bishop that’s protected, an exchange wouldn’t be favorable. Therefore, you’d be pinning the minor piece to keep it out of action. However, a Rook can be extremely valuable, exchange-wise, if the pinned piece is the Queen. Take a look at the example below:

In this student game example, the game starts out 1. e4…d5. After 2. exd5, Black decides to develop the King-side Knight with 2…Nf6. This seems reasonable since Black develops a minor piece, bringing him one step closer to Castling King-side, and attacks the White pawn. White plays 3. d6 and now Black makes his first mistake, capturing away from the center with 3…exd6. The reason this move is problematic is because it leaves the Black King exposed on the e file. Try to capture towards the center when given the opportunity. Of course, in the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez, when White trades the Bishop on b5 for the Knight on c6, Bxc6, we capture away from the center with dxc6 which opens up a diagonal for Black’s light squared Bishop and gives the Black Queen some breathing room. White now naturally develops a Knight with 4. Nf3 and Black wastes time with 4…c5. I say “wastes time” because you want to get your minor pieces into the game and get your King off of the exposed e file, meaning the development of the King-side minor pieces (King-side Castling). White plays 5. Bc4 and Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 5…Nc6. White Castles with 6. 0-0 and Black makes the worst move, 6…Qe7. Anytime you place your Queen in front of your King on an open file, you’re asking for serious trouble. The young man playing the White pieces takes advantage of this and plays 7. Re1, pinning the Black Queen to its King. Now, Black is stuck having to block this pin with either 7…Ne5 or 7…Be6. Either way, Black is going to end up with a pinned minor piece which may soon fall to additional material moving in to attack the now pinned piece. In this example, pinning the Black Queen to her King has created a dreadful situation that will cost Black material and at the least leave him with a terrible position.

Pins in which the Queen is doing the pinning can be extremely dangerous for the player employing the pin because you’re using your most powerful and valuable attacking piece to do the pinning. Because the Queen is worth more in relative value than the individual pawns and pieces, you’re not going to make a profit, material-wise, in trading your Queen for any of your opponent’s material. Therefore, Queen pins tend to be employed to keep the pinned piece out of play, at least temporarily. However, if you add the right second attacker to the pinned piece, things change. Let’s have a look:

Here, the White Queen is pinning the Rook on f7 to the King, which is an absolute pin. The Queen is worth more than the pinned piece so a second attacker is needed to make the pin profitable. White plays, 1. Ng5 and no matter what Black does, the Knight will capture the Rook on White’s next turn.

When pinning with pieces of higher value, you need to think things through, very carefully. Adding pressure via additional attackers (attacking the pinned piece) is a good way to ensure a positive result. Rooks love open and semi open files, especially when there’s an opposition King at the other end of the file. Queens can certainly pin pieces but don’t look for a quick win of material unless you add pieces of lesser value into the mix, using them to put pressure on the pinned piece. Remember, once the Queen comes out into the game, especially early on, she becomes a target for the opposition. Next week we’ll look the the skewer which is similar to the pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

The Important of Tactics Four

The pin, at least as far as chess is concerned, is mightier than the sword! In the last three articles, we looked at a tactic called the fork. Like the fork, a pin requires that the tactician (you) keep an eye out for pieces that lie on ranks, files and/or diagonals. Unlike the fork, a tactic all of your pawns and pieces can engage in (from pawn to King), pins require the use of your long distance pieces, the Bishop, Rook or Queen. A pin takes place when one piece is attacked and should that attacked piece move, a piece of greater value will be captured. The pieces involved in a pin must lie on a rank, file or diagonal, thus the employment of a Bishop, Rook or Queen. There are two types of pins, the absolute pin and the relative pin. In an absolute pin, the piece behind the piece being attacked is the King which means the piece being attacked cannot move. With a relative pin, the piece being attacked can move but if it does the piece behind it, which is of greater value than the attacked piece, will be captured. Therefore, Absolute pins hold greater weight since the pinned piece is literally glued to the square it’s on due to blocking an attack on the King in question. There are three pieces involved in any pin, the piece doing the pinning (Bishop, Rook or Queen), the piece being pinned (Knight, Bishop, Rook or Queen) and lastly the piece of greater value that sits behind the pinned piece (with at least one empty square between it and the pinned piece. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, we have a relative pin. It’s important to note that a relative pin can be ignored at the loss of the more valuable material behind the pinned piece. However, pins, as we shall see, are not always rock solid! The game starts off with both players advancing their e pawns with 1. e4…e5. White develops the King-side Knight with tempo, attacking the e5 pawn while Black defends it, 2.Nf3…Nc6. White moves the King-side Bishop to c4, with 3. Bc4, denoting (possibly) the Italian Opening. Black plays 3…d6, which adds a second defender to the e5 pawn and allows the Black Queen-side Bishop to develop. When Black made this last move, White should be able to clearly anticipate that the newly freed Bishop on c8 will come down to g4, pinning the f3 Knight to the White Queen on d1. White continues development with 4. Nc3. Now Black plays 4…Bg4 activating the pin. How effective is this pin? As we shall see shortly, it doesn’t deter White at all. In fact White plays 5. Nxe5, acting as if the pin is non-existent!

It should be noted that White had two alternatives to 5. Nxe5. White could have blocked the pin with 5. Be2, allowing the Knight on f3 to move without consequence to the Queen. White could also have pushed the h pawn with 5. h3, nudging the Black Bishop away or forcing a trade. However, a trade of Bishop for Knight would have caused the White Queen to capture back which would have had the Queen and c4 Bishop aimed at the weak f7 square. In the case of an exchange, we wouldn’t capture back with the g2 pawn because that would leave doubled pawns and a hole in White’s King-side pawn structure should White castle King-side. However, White ignored the pin altogether leaving Black with the opportunity to capture the White Queen.

Any good chess player commanding the Black army would first look closely at the position, especially the placement of the Knight on e5, the Bishop on c4 and the White Knight on c3. They’d immediately avoid the Queen capture and quickly defend the f7 square. However, our greedy player took the White Queen with 5…Bxd1. Now it’s too late. White first checks the Black King with 6. Bxf7+. The Black King is forced to e7 with 6…Ke7 and White delivers the final blow with 7. Nd5#, checkmate!

I used this example because it teaches us an important lesson regarding pins and that lesson is that a pins are not always as strong as they seem. While Black won the White Queen, White won the game and you don’t win by having more material than your opponent! However, the idea behind this pin was to keep the Knight on f3 from participating in the game. If White didn’t have the opportunity to deliver checkmate, the Knight would have been stuck on f3 as long as the Black Bishop remained on g4 and the White Queen on d1. Pins are employed to keep opposition pieces from participating in the game. In our next example, we’ll see an absolute pin, one in which the King is behind the pinned piece, in this case the Queen.

It’s extremely dangerous to have your Queen directly in front of the King on either a rank, file or diagonal. In the above example, the Black Queen (f7) is in front of the Black King (e8) on the h5-e8 diagonal. White takes advantage of this mistake by playing 1. Bh5 pinning the Queen to the King. It’s important to note that this pin only works because the Bishop is protected by the White Queen on d1. Because the King is behind the Black Queen, her majesty cannot move out of the line of fire. She has no choice but to capture the attacking Bishop with 1…Qxh5 or moving the King, losing the Queen either way. Now White plays 2. Qxh5+, winning Queen for Bishop and attacking the poor Black King. The key factors that made this pin successful were first, it was an absolute pin. When a King is behind a pinned piece, as is this case, the pinned piece cannot move out of danger. The second factor regarding this successful pin was the protection of the White Bishop by the White Queen. If the Bishop wasn’t protected, it would simply be captured by the Black Queen free of charge. Because the White Queen guarded the Bishop, the pin was successful.

The key to all pins is looking for a rank, file or diagonal occupied by two opposition pieces, one being more valuable than the other. It’s important to remember that if the piece being pinned can attack the piece doing the pinning, the piece doing the pinning needs protection. In our example involving the Black Queen and King, the value of the pinned piece was greater than the value of the piece doing the pinning, making it an extremely deadly tactical play. If we replaced the Black Queen with a Black Knight, the pin would have the effect of Keeping the Knight glued in place, unable to move because it was shielding the King from attack. While this would be useful because it would keep the pinned piece out of the game temporarily, it wouldn’t have the same effect as being able to win the opposition Queen.

If you have the chance, you should always add pressure to a pinned piece. What do I mean by this? Add another attacker to the pinned piece. Pile up attackers on the pinned piece to really put the thumbscrews to the opposition’s position. Pawns are great for this because if a piece is pinned and then attacked by a pawn, the piece is a goner!

We’ll go into more detail regarding pins in my next article and introduce Rooks and Queen into this tactical tool. Remember, potential pins are seen only to those who closely examine the ranks, files and diagonals continuously throughout the game. It’s the keen eye that finds them. I suggest you look at some random games in any chess books or databases you have and see if you can spot potential pins. If you see a potential pin and it doesn’t get played in actual the game you’re looking over, see if you can determine why. This will teach you both how to spot potential pins and also how to determine whether they’ll work. Happy hunting. Here’s a game to enjoy until then.

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Three

Tactics can quickly decide the games of beginning and intermediate players, so knowing how and when to employ them is crucial if you wish to improve your game. Of course, tactics are not a guaranteed way to win but they can change the material balance in your favor and thus make it easier to win due to having a larger army than your opponent. We looked at pawn and minor piece (Knight and Bishop) forks in the last two articles. Now we’re going to look at major piece (Rook and Queen) forks. There is a difference between pawn, Knight and Bishop forks versus Rook and Queen forks. That difference has to do with the value of the material doing the forking. Pawns, for example, are great at forking because they have the lowest relative value. When a pawn forks two pieces, you automatically end up with a material gain. Knights and Bishops, when forking major pieces, (Rooks and Queens) also lead to a material gain. However, when you’re using a Rook or Queen to fork, you have to be careful because of their high relative value. If you have a Rook forking two minor pieces, and those minor pieces are protected by pawns or other minor pieces, then you’re apt to lose material should you follow through with the fork and capture one of those minor pieces!

We’ll start by looking at Rook forks. Rooks have the ability to move along the ranks and files. Unlike the Bishop who can only control diagonals of one color, the Rook can cover both black and white squares simultaneously. Because a Rook is worth more than a minor piece or pawn, your target pieces when using a Rook to fork should be a piece of higher value, such as The King or Queen and an unprotected piece of lower value, such as a Knight or Bishop. Why not a piece of equal value? Well, a piece of equal value would be another Rook and you can’t fork another Rook because that other Rook would simply capture your Rook! As with all forks, the set up is critical to your success. Take a look at the example below:

This is an extremely simplified example but it demonstrates what I just mentioned above regarding the idea of forking a piece of greater value than the Rook and a piece of lesser value. In our example, the White Rook moves to d6 (1. Rd6+) where it checks the Black King on h6 while also attacking the Bishop on a6. The King moves (1…Kg5) and the Rook captures the Bishop with 2. Rxa6. Nice and easy. However, if Black had a Knight on b8, this fork wouldn’t work because the Knight would protect the Black Bishop and following through with the exchange would leave you trading a five point Rook for a three point Bishop. Forks work when the piece being captured after the other piece has moved isn’t protected. However, what if we substitute A Black Queen for the Black Bishop and the White Rook we’re using to fork King and Queen has a bodyguard? Take a look at the example below:

Here, the Rook moves to the forking square, d6 (1. Rd6+). Since it’s checking the Black King, Black has the choice of moving the King and losing the Queen (and the game) or Capturing the Rook. Black opts to capture with 1…Qxd6. Now we see why the Rook needed a bodyguard. Remember, the Queen moves like both a Rook and Bishop, so forking a Queen with either of these two pieces requires a bodyguard for the forking piece. White plays 2. Bxd6, winning the Queen at the cost of a Rook. The net gain of this tactic is four points of material, trading Rook for Queen. With major piece forks, you often need a bodyguard to assist the forking piece to ensure a gain of material. Thus, the more valuable the piece doing the forking the more carefully you must set up your fork. There is one place where Rooks can can be highly effective against lower valued material, namely the pawns!

Rooks love to reek havoc on the seventh and second ranks, especially when the initial pawn structure (pawns on their starting squares) is somewhat intact. Let’s take a look:

White plays 1. Rd7, forking the Black pawns on c7 and e7. Black can only protect one of those pawns which means White captures the other one free of charge. After 1…Rfe8, White plays 2. Rxc7 winning a pawn. Black blunders with 2…Rac8, attacking the White Rook, thinking White will trade Rooks. However, the White Rooks says “time to take another pawn” and plays 3. Rxb7. Black decides to cover his a7 pawn with 3…Ra8 and the White Rook runs away after creating a three to one Queen-side pawn majority for White with 4. Rb3. This actual tragedy was from a student game in one of my beginner’s classes. White went on to win after being able to promote a Queen-side pawn. Of course, we can thank the Rook for creating the pawn majority!

The above example shows how powerful the Rook can be when it comes to rounding up pawns. However, you must be careful when going on a pawn hunt with one of your Rooks because of the Rook’s value. Hunting pawns with Rooks and Queens can be hazardous to your position’s health. It’s better not to hunt pawns in the first place because you have greater tasks to be tackled, such as winning the game by creating strong positions! Now we’ll look at some Queen forks.

Since the Queen is the most valuable piece aside from the King, you have to be extremely careful when using her, especially when it comes to forks. If you miscalculate your tactical assault, you may become the victim rather than the other way around. When forking with the Queen, it’s best for the beginner to only consider forks that involve the opposition King as one of the forked pieces. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black is threatening to capture the a2 pawn. White could simply move the Queen to b1 or c2 to defend it. However, wouldn’t it be better to win the Rook outright? White can further improve upon his material advantage by employing a fork. Using a Queen fork, White plays 1. Qb3+ which forks the Black King and the annoying Black Rook. After black blocks with 1…Rf7, White plays 2. Qxa2 equalizing the material balance. Of course, if the Black Knight was on b4, this fork wouldn’t work. You should always make sure the pieces you’re planning on capturing after employing the fork aren’t protected.

When using Rooks and Queens for forks, you have to take care because these are your major pieces, having the highest material value. Therefore, you need to make sure they can’t be recaptured after you execute the fork. As I mentioned in the previous two articles, the way to find potential forks is to look for pieces that share a rank, file or diagonal. Rooks fork on the ranks and files. Queens have an advantage in that they can fork on the ranks, files and diagonals. Their disadvantage is that they’re at the top of the relative value scale so if you lose your Queen due to a faulty tactical execution, you’re down a lot of material. Next week we’ll start our examination of pins, a deadly tactic you should know how use. Until then, here’s a great gambit game from the romantic era of the game we all love. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Two

As promised, we’re going to continue our examination of tactics for the beginner. Last week, we looked at the power of the Knight fork. Because a Knight cannot be blocked when attacking, the opposition is left with one less choice (the other two being capturing or running/moving out of the attack) when dealing with the Knight. Also the Knight’s “L” shaped movement makes it difficult for the beginner to clearly see this piece’s target squares when compared to the linear movement of the other pieces. Now we’ll look at how the pawn and Bishop can be used in tactical forks to win material. Remember, everyone in your chess army can fork.

As I mentioned last week, forking opportunities rarely just present themselves when you play against an experienced opponent. You have to set them up with a combination of moves which is the hard part of learning how to become a tactician! Some of these combinations require a move or two while some may take three or more moves to set up. With forks involving pieces other than the Knight, the trick to setting up a tactical play is to look for lines (ranks, files or diagonals) on which opposition material sits. We’ll start by looking a a pawn fork. This example is a simple tactical trick employed by many savvy young players and requires setting the tactic up with a combination of moves:

So our game starts off with a typical e pawn opening, 1. e4…e5. No tricks here, just the simple application of opening principles, controlling the board’s center with a pawn. On move two, White attacks the e5 pawn with 2. Nf3 and Black properly defends with 2…Nc6. White plays the Italian Opening with 3. Bc4 and Black responds with 3…Nf6. Both players are employing sound opening moves that fight for the center of the board. White develops another minor piece with 4. Nc3. Now Black looks at the position and spots an opportunity for a fork. Obviously, there’s no immediate fork but, as I mentioned earlier, tactical plays more often than not, have to be set up. Black sees that by advancing the d pawn from d7 to d5, he’d be forking the Bishop on c4 and the e4 pawn. While the Black Queen protects the Black pawn, White’s pawn on e4 that would capture the Black pawn and that would be that. However, Black has an idea. What if there was a White Knight on e4 rather than a pawn? In this case, a Black pawn on d5 (protected by the Queen) would be forking both the c4 Bishop and the e4 Knight. This would be a worthwhile fork since White would lose one of his pieces. How does Black lure the Knight to e4? By temporarily sacrificing his own Knight with 4…Nxe4. White, being inexperienced thinks that Black has blundered by capturing the pawn and happily captures the Knight with 5. Nxe4. Black advances his d pawn, 5…d5, forking the Bishop and Knight, winning a pawn at the end of this tactical exchange!

Note that in the above example, the fork works because the pawn had a defender, the Black Queen, and it was attacking two pieces of greater value. Pawns are excellent at forking because of their low relative value in relationship to the pieces. It’s important to remember that forks are most effective when the unit forking is worth less than the material being forked (unless one of the forked pieces cannot be defended)!

Now let’s look at a Bishop fork. You’ll want to keep in mind that Bishop forks requires more thought when setting up. What do I mean by this? Any attack by a Knight cannot be blocked due to it’s ability to jump over other pieces. The Knight also has the ability to fork up to eight pieces at the same time (in theory as compared to actual positional practice). With the pawn, because of its having the lowest relative value, any pair of pieces (it can only fork two pieces at a time) being forked are at a disadvantage because those pieces are worth more than the pawn. With Bishops, Rooks and especially the Queen, you have additional details to address before forking with these pieces. We’ll look at Rook and Queen forks next week.

At the start of the game, you have two Bishops, one that travels along the light colored squares and one that travels along the dark colored squares. Because of this, a Bishop of one color (square) will only be able to fork pieces that sit on squares of that Bishop’s color. Thus, a dark squared Bishop can only attack or fork pieces on dark colored squares. Now we’re going to look at a series of forks in a single game, employing both Knight and Bishop working together, that leave the player of the White pieces in ruins just ten moves into the game. The key point here is that only a specific combination of coordinated pieces and a carefully thought out series of moves makes this devastating tactical play work. Let’s take a look:

The opening used in the above example is the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Queen’s Gambit is a very solid opening played by many of the world’s top players. However, as we shall see, just because it’s played by top players with ensuing good results doesn’t mean that less experienced players will have successful results employing it. There are a few noteworthy ideas or concepts to consider regarding this example.

First off, we see two well timed Knight and Bishop forks, almost back to back, that have devastating results. Secondly, the minor pieces involved in this tactical slaughter work together, with one minor piece supporting the other. When you seriously study tactics, you’ll find that pieces work with one another in a balanced or harmonious way. One pawn or piece protects the forking piece, which allows that piece to execute the tactical play. Sometimes, a piece will be temporarily sacrificed in order to clear a line (rank, file or diagonal), allowing another piece to deliver the tactical play. Thus, in order to successfully employ a tactic, pawns and pieces must work together. Material harmony is the phrase of the day! Let’s get to our example.

The game starts with a d pawn opening which can lead to a semi-closed or closed game. In closed games, where pawns and pieces tend to render long distance attackers such as the Bishops, Rooks and Queen powerless due to a lack of open squares ( but not completely powerless), the Knights are often the stars of the show. However, in this game, Black uses a combination of a long distance attacker, in this case the Bishop, and the Knight who rules in closed positions harmoniously. After 1. d4…d5, White plays 2. c4, indicating The Queen’s Gambit. Now it’s up to Black to either accept or decline the gambit. When Black plays 2…Bf5, he states that he’s not accepting the gambit. The Black Bishop on f5 is following the opening principles, attacking a central square. White now plants the Queen-side Knight on it’s own active square with 3. Nc3 which attacks the Black d5 pawn. Black defends the pawn with 3…e6. White develops his King-side Knight with 4. Nf3, a principled opening move. Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 4…Nc6. White follows with 5. Qb3. It’s here that White’s game starts to weaken. While the White Queen is targeting the Black pawn on b7, is it a good idea to bring one’s Queen out early to attack a pawn that can easily be defended? In short, the answer is no. The Queen should never be used to hunt down pawns during the opening!

How does Black defend the seemingly hanging pawn? He doesn’t. Instead, Black plays 5…Nb4, literally depositing the Knight on the Queen’s head. The reason this works is because of piece coordination. The f8 Bishop protects the Knight so the Queen cannot capture the b4 Knight! White makes an essentially pointless check with 6. Qa4+. I say pointless because this move actually helps Black’s game, allowing Black to make a move he was already considering, 6…c6. Never makes moves that help your opponent!

White decides to attack Black’s pawn structure with 7. cxd5. Since the Black pawn on c6 is pinned to Black’s King by the White Queen, Black has to capture back with the e pawn, right? Absolutely not! Black instead plays the nasty fork, 7…Nc2+, attacking the White King and Queen-side Rook. Hold on because it gets worse! After White moves his King with 8. Kd1, Black responds with 8…Nxa1. What’s worse than losing the Rook on a1? After White goes about the business of pawn grabbing with 9. dxc6, Black unleashes another devastating fork with 9…Bc2+, forking Queen and King. Needless to say it’s all downhill for White after this. We can learn a few valuable lessons regarding forks from this example.

In the above example, we saw the power of piece coordination when employing a fork. White’s mistake was wasting time by bringing his Queen out early and sniping at Black’s pawns. Had White looked more closely at the Black Knight and Black’s light squared Bishop, he wouldn’t have ended up losing so much material early on. Of course, you’ll rarely get to employ two tactical forks back to back but this example demonstrates the power of a well timed and coordinated tactical play. Next week we’ll end our examination of forks and move on to the mighty pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics One

It’s been said that chess is 99% tactics. While this isn’t completely true when it comes to more experienced players, it’s often true when it comes to the games of junior players! More experienced players, both young and old, know how to shut down potential tactical plays attempted by their opponents. If a more experienced player is faced with an opponent who is better at tactical play, they know how to create a closed position that reduces the opposition’s tactical opportunities greatly. However, the beginner often doesn’t has enough experience to follow suit. Many beginners, again both old and young alike, lose games because of a well timed tactical play. This doesn’t mean that this tactical play solely determines the game’s outcome. It does however give the tactician an advantage, one that creates a positional weakness that can fester into a losing game over the long run.

Over the next few articles we’re going to explore a number of basic tactics that the beginning player can employ in their own games. However, it should be noted that, as a beginner, you shouldn’t expect these exact positions to suddenly appear on the board when you play chess. Our examples serve as positional motifs or ideas/concepts rather than exacting positions that you must reach in a specific move order.

We’ll start with the fork. A fork has a completely different meaning within the world of chess as opposed to it’s meaning in the world of culinary arts. A fork in chess leads to a gain of material while a fork in the culinary arts is a utensil you use to either eat with or serve food with! In chess, a fork is one pawn or piece attacking two or more pieces at the same time. Yes, I said pawn because even this seemingly lowly little fellow can engage in tactical forks. Even the King can fork other pieces but not until you reach an endgame position! Everyone in your chess army can fork material which is why the fork is such a powerful tactical weapon!

Perhaps the greatest forking piece is the Knight who, if positioned on a central square, can simultaneously fork or attack up to eight pieces. While the Queen (who travels along ranks, files or diagonals) can also fork up to eight pieces at once , she’s your most powerful piece (in general) which means employing her for tactical duty can be more dangerous that using a Knight! Considering the value of the pieces, it’s better to risk a minor piece for a tactical play than a major piece. You have two Knights but only one Queen! The Knight also has a special power that stops the opposition from blocking a Knight attack or fork and that’s the Knight’s ability to jump over other pieces. This special ability means that you cannot block a Knight when it attacks. This being the case, we’ll concentrate on Knight forks in this first article on tactics.

The Knight is perhaps the most difficult piece for the beginner to master. Remember, the Knight moves in an “L” shape which makes it difficult to follow visually (for the beginner) since the other pieces move in a more linear fashion (straight lines along ranks, files or diagonals). This non-linear pattern of movement can be a bit tricky at first for both the player employing the Knight in a game and the player having to defend against the Knight. However, it’s well worth mastering our horsey friend because of it’s very unique abilities. Let’s take a look at an example of a Knight fork. It’s important for you to keep in mind that forks require being set up. While forks do sometimes present themselves seemingly out of the blue, more often than not, they require being set up. We call this set up a combination. A combination is a series of moves that align opposition pieces on specific squares that allow a tactical play, in this case a fork, to occur. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black makes a move, 1…Qxc3, that the beginner might think is terrible, trading a Queen for a Knight. From a monetary viewpoint (assigning a dollar value to the pawns and pieces rather than relative point values), Black appears to have just traded nine dollars for three dollars. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say “I’ll give you nine dollars if you give me three dollars back” unless you had a really good reason (insanity doesn’t count)! In our example, White jumps at this seemingly lopsided exchange of material with 2. Qxc3. White is certainly happy to have won a Queen for a minor piece, in this case a Knight! However, this is a “set up” move for Black’s tactical play, 2…Ne2+ which turns out to be a fork. Black is simultaneously attacking the White King and Queen at the same time. Because White must get out of check and the forking Knight can’t be captured nor blocked, the King has to move and the Queen is lost with 3. Kf1…Nxc3. Black has employed a fork and is up a minor piece for his efforts. It’s important to remember that this tactical play, a fork, had to be set up employing a combination of moves. Let’s look at another example:

Our first tactical example was more advanced than the type of forks you find in the games of beginners. I included it because it involved an idea we’ll look at in later articles, the concept of temporarily sacrificing material as part of a tactical play. In our second example, we meet a Knight fork that occurs a great deal in the games of beginners, one that involves the King-side Knight and Bishop. This is a forking pattern you’re likely to see quite a bit as a novice player. Why does this fork appear in many games? Because the target square, f7, is the weakest square on the board at the start of the game (White’s counterpart is f2). The f7 and f2 squares are weak because the square’s only defender is the King at the game’s start. If one piece attacks one of these two squares, such as a lone Bishop capturing the f7 or f2 pawn, the King whose job to protect that square either has to move, because he’s in check, or capture the Bishop. Either way he loses the right to castle. When the Bishop attacks the same square but has a piece protecting it, the King cannot capture the attacking piece. In our example, the Bishop supports or protects the Knight who has captured the f7 pawn so the Black King can’t do a thing about it. The Knight has not only captured the f7 pawn but is forking the Black Queen and Rook. Let’s play it through!

The first two moves, 1. e4…e5 and 2. Nf3…Nc6 are standard opening fare. Both players stake out a claim in the center with their initial pawn moves. White attacks the e5 pawn with his King-side Knight and Black develops the Queen-side Knight to defend it. White plays 3. Bc4, the start of the Italian Game. White also targets the f7 pawn with this Bishop move. Black makes a seemingly good move, 3…Nf6. Black’s last move makes sense since both Knights attack all four of the center squares. Since control of the board’s center is a key opening game principle, Black has little to worry about, right? Wrong! When White plays 4. Ng5 a problem suddenly appears for Black! There are now two attackers aimed at the f7 pawn and only one defender, the King! Black plays 4…Be7, hoping to escape his troubles by castling on the next move. However, it’s too late because White plays 5. Nxf7, winning the pawn and forking both the Black Queen and Rook. Worse, yet, the Black Queen is trapped so she’ll be captured on the next move.

This was a simple introduction to one of the many great tactics you should learn in order to improve your game. We’ll look at other forks in greater detail over the weeks to come but rather than provide you with a game to mull over this week, I’ll give you an exercise to do. Set up a chessboard with the pieces randomly placed about the board. Place them on the board very quickly without thinking about where they’re going. After removing any illegal positions such as a King in check, see if you can find any potential forks, either immediately or by using a combination of moves to achieve. You’ll start to develop an eye for forks. Since you’re playing both sides of the board, make sure to try and stop potential forks as well. You’ll learn a great deal about creating and defending against forks doing this. Get ready for another round of forks next week.

Hugh Patterson