Pin tactics occur when an attacked piece cannot move without exposing an even more valuable piece (or target) behind it. Mastering pin tactics is an important step in improving your tactical skill.
Normal pin vs. Absolute pin
- Diagram left: Normal pin. Nc3 can still move but then black will capture the Ra1.
- Diagram right: Absolute pin. Rd4 absolutely cannot move since it would be illegal to do so.
Why pin tactics are so powerful
The power of pin tactics inspired the chessmaster, Fred Reinfeld, to coin the phrase: “The pin is mightier than the sword.” Pin tactics have specific advantages that make them useful:
- The usefulness of a pinned piece can be significantly restricted since moving it will expose another target.
- A pinned piece is a weak defender, since it has less or no effect on the squares it is supposed to defend.
- A pinned piece can be won if it can be attacked enough times without the opponent finding a sufficient defense.
The 3 chess pieces that can create pin tactics
Only the long range pieces (queen, rook and bishop) can create pins.
Interesting fact: In an endgame position with only kings, pawns and knights on the board, pin tactics aren’t possible.
Pin tactics using a bishop
Bishops can create pin tactics on a diagonal when two or more targets exist on a diagonal. Of course these targets must be on the same color squares as the bishop that creates the pin. Here’s an example:
When you study tactics, it is useful to study the factors that made the tactic possible. By doing this simple step, you will improve your “tactical awareness” since you will train your mind to notice the signs that indicate possible tactics. In this particular example the factors were:
- The black king is exposed, making him vulnerable to all kinds of possible threats
- The black queen and king are two valuable targets present on the same diagonal, which make them vulnerable to a pin tactic
- The white bishop moves on the same color squares than the targets in black’s position
Note that a pin is usually much more effective when the pinning piece (Bd5) has a lower value than the piece it pins (Qe6). In the above example, white could also create a pin by playing Qd5? but it wouldn’t be effective since black will just exchange the queens.
Pin tactics using a rook
Rooks can create pin tactics by exploiting targets on the same rank or file.
Factors that made the pin possible:
- There are two black targets present on the d-file, making them vulnerable to a pin tactic.
- The black Rd8 is undefended. This is an important bit of detail since after white plays Rd1, moving the Bd7 will result in black losing the Rd8.
- There is already tension between the white and black bishops. By pinning the Bd7, white will win it on the next move.
Pin tactics using the queen
The queen is the most flexible piece in creating pin tactics, since she can create a pin on rank, file or diagonal. Here’s an example:
This example shows why the queen is such a powerful piece, 1.Qd5! makes numerous powerful threats at the same time.
Notice the factors that made this pin tactic possible:
- Black’s Ra8 and Qd7 are both undefended. Undefended pieces are more vulnerable to tactics since moving the pinned piece will lose the piece behind it.
- The black Nc6 and Bd6 are only defended by high-value piece (the queen). Pawns are the most effective defenders of your pieces. This example shows why high-valued pieces are not ideal defenders.
A square can be a target
A pin does not always involve pieces. In some cases a piece can be pinned to an important square. Here is an example:
Factors that made this pin tactic possible:
- The exposed position of black’s king makes him a primary target for possible tactics.
- The black Ne5 is only supported by a high-value piece. Pieces that aren’t defended by pawns are more vulnerable to tactics.
- The better development/activity of the white bishops means tactical combinations are more likely to work out for white.
How to use pin tactics to their best effect
The usefulness of a pin will mostly depend on the position. But there are also some ideas you can use to get the most from pin tactics:
- Add pressure on a pinned piece by attacking it
- Exploit squares that seem safe but are in fact undefended due to a pin
- Find tactical combinations based on the pinning motif
Below are a few examples illustrated in their simplest form, but they can be used in more complex situations too.
Add pressure on a pinned piece by attacking it
Pinned pieces can’t move without exposing another target. Therefore it makes sense to add pressure by attacking it – if you can.
Exploit squares that seem defended but are in fact undefended due to a pin
At a first glance the d6-square seems to be defended by the Be7. However, Be7 does in fact not defend the d6-square due to the pin by the Re1.
Find tactical combinations that indirectly use the pin motif
In chess, a threat is sometimes more useful than its execution. In the above example, white didn’t make an actual pin, but used the possibility of the pin (the threat) to achieve another objective (winning material).
How to escape pin tactics
It’s great when you can use pin tactics on your opponent, but what to do when you are on the receiving end of a such tactic? Ideally you should have anticipated the possibility of the pin tactic in the first place. Just because you overlooked the pin tactic, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed. There may yet be a way out!
Here are a few common ideas you can use to try escape from a pin tactic:
- Make a threat (tempo-move) with one of the pieces trapped in the pin tactic
- Use a counter-tactic to remove the pinning piece
- Move the pinned piece to protect the target behind it at the same time
- Break the pin tactic by moving a defender in-between the pinned pieces
Let’s see a few examples on how to escape from pin tactics against you.
Make a threat with one of the pieces trapped in the pin tactic
Nc6 is pinned by the Ba4 and also attacked by the Rc1. At first glance is seemed hopeless, but black can move the pinned piece and make a threat at the same time.
Solution 1… Nd4 2.Bxe8 Ne2+, followed by Nxc1.
Note: In the case of an absolute pin, the pinned piece cannot move. Therefore this escape method can’t work in the case of an absolute pin. (It is generally much harder to escape from an absolute pin).
Use a counter-tactic to remove your opponent’s pinning piece
In the above example, white uses a tactic to save the Rd3 from the pinning piece (Bf5).
Solution: 1.Ne7+ threatens Nxf5 on the next move, removing the offending bishop on f5. Black should play 1…Rxe7, followed by Bxd3 which results in an equal exchange of material, but white escapes the pin.
Move the pinned piece to protect the target behind it
Solution: 1… Nf6 moves the pinned piece away and defends the target behind it (Re8) at the same time. This is a very effective way to escape from pin tactics.
Break the pin by moving a defender in-between
Black wants to prevent 1.Nxf6, which forces gxf6, which will weaken black’s pawn-structure on the king side.
Solution: Black can play 1… Be7 which “breaks the pin” and also helps defend the Nf6. Since the pin is broken, black is now threatening Nxe4.
Pin tactics training exercises
As I have written before, the most effective way to study tactics is to study them by motif. By making an in-depth study of pin tactics, you get a much better understanding of how they work in different situations.
I’ve created a course that will help you master the most important chess tactics motifs.
You can get it here: Chess Tactics: 20 Motifs Chess Course