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

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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).