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

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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).