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

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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).