Skewer tactics

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Skewer tactics in chess occur when an attacked piece must move to safety but will expose a lower-valued piece (or target) behind it. A skewer tactic is sometimes referred to as a “reversed pin”.

Relative skewer vs. Absolute skewer

Since pin tactics and skewer tactics are so similar (both exploit two targets present on the same file, rank or diagonal), this article will mainly focus on the differences between the two.

normal relative skewer
Relative skewer. Black’s queen on g7 should move since the queen has a higher value than the rook on g8.

 

absolute skewer
Absolute skewer. Black’s king on 6 absolutely must move since he is in check. White will play Bxg8 on the next move.

Skewers tactics are often more forcing than pin tactics

skewer
A skewer is usually more forcing than a pin.

The only difference between the diagram above and the one below is that the positions of the black rook and knight is swapped around. It shows that a skewer is often more threatening than a pin.

pin
Pin.

Even though skewer tactics are similar to pin tactics, they do have certain advantages over pins. First of all, the threat created by a skewer is more direct and (usually) more effective in winning material.

Additionally, since a skewer makes a threat against a higher-valued piece, it is usually harder to escape skewer tactics.

A useful trick in setting up skewer tactics

In a significant amount cases, skewer tactics become possible as the result of a clever preparation move:

A piece-exchange. Here is a simple example to illustrate the idea:

skewer setup
White to move. How can you setup a skewer?

Solution

White uses a piece-exchange to lure a higher-valued piece to a square where it becomes a target. (The idea of using exchanges to create new targets works in many other tactical motifs too).

skewer setup solution
1.Rxd6 Kxd6 2.Bf8+ will get the Rb4 and wins a knight in the process.

This example also shows why it is so important to consider all moves where you can capture one of your opponent’s pieces (even if they can capture you back). You have to check whether you can create a new target by means of the exchange.

How to escape from skewer tactics

We aren’t computers – we make mistakes. And being trapped in a skewer tactic will in most cases cause you to lose material. However, don’t accept your fate right away. There are usually a few ideas you can consider to help you find a way out.

“Escape ideas” are almost always based on creating some kind of counter-attack with one of the pieces your opponent is targeting.

Here are a few simple examples that illustrate the main ideas you can use to escape from skewer tactics:

1. Make a threat or check (tempo-move) with one of the pieces trapped in the skewer tactic

escape skewer
How can white escape the skewer?

Solution

The white queen can escape by using a check as a tempo move, Qd5+.

1.Qd5+

Black has to deal with the check, which gives white time to save the Ra1 on the next move.

2. Use a counter-tactic to remove the piece responsible for the skewer

escape skewer 2
How can white escape from the skewer on their queen?

Solution

White can escape by playing Re7+, followed by Rxb7 – removing the bishop responsible for the skewer on white’s queen and rook.

escape skewer 2 solution
1.Re7+ follwed by Rxb7. Note how the bishop on g2 will help support white’s rook on b7.

3. Move the skewered piece to protect the target behind it at the same time

escape skewer 3
How can black escape from the skewer against their queen?

Solution

Black can move the black queen to safety and at the same time protect the Re8, by playing Qb8.

escape skewer 3 solution
1… Qb8 moves the queen out of danger and at the same time defends the rook on e8.

4. Block the skewering piece by moving a defender in-between

escape skewer 4
How can white escape the skewer attack on his queen?

Solution

White can play 1.f4 and escape by blocking the attack from the black bishop.

escape skewer 4 solution
1.f4 breaks the skewer.

Of course you will not always be able to escape from tactics. You should always try to avoid being trapped in the first place. However, even if you overlooked something, there is often a way out. Don’t give up right away!

I trust this article helped you get a much better understanding of skewer tactics. It is important to study patterns (also know as motifs). It will help you get a better understanding of how those patterns work in various situations.

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