The X-Ray motif is an important part of your chess tactics repertoire, and it is very simple to learn once you understand the premise. Though this motif is considered basic by many advanced chess tacticians, learning it can greatly improve your arsenal when it comes not just to recognizing situations on the board, but planning and executing attacks against your opponent. In fact, it’s considered to be basic because of how effective it is – you see it used all the time in both beginner level games as well as championship level matches. When used properly, the X-Ray can be one of the most devastating attacks you’ll have at your disposal, so it’s important to practice it. In this article, we’ll take a look at what the X-Ray motif is, what it can do, and how you can use it to your advantage.
The central premise of the X-Ray attack is the concept of attacking an opponent’s piece through another of the opponent’s pieces. Instead of just targeting an opponent’s piece directly, you will learn to challenge your opponent through the indirect means of the X-Ray. This will allow you to force their move and still cost them a piece in the process, thus giving you a material advantage over the opponent.
First, we’ll discuss what an X-Ray is, and what the components and pieces involved in the move are. Then, we will go over the basics of how the X-Ray works in chess, as well as how you can identify each of its separate components and use it to your advantage to get the most value out of the pieces at your disposal in the future. We’ll discuss examples of how the move is used in different contexts, and how those situations differentiate from one another.
Because the X-Ray relies on long range for its setup and execution, the pieces used by the attacker in this maneuver are the queen, bishop, and rook. Any of these pieces can be utilized to set up and carry out an X-Ray, and there’s no particular advantage of using one over another – it will depend entirely on the situation in which you find yourself and your opponent’s pieces. The best way to determine which of these pieces will be most valuable in a given situation is to practice with all of them.
The basic components of an X-Ray attack (this motif is related to a skewer) are easy to follow and recognize. We’ll go over it now so that we can get a good picture of how the maneuver works at its base level, and how it can be valuable. In this type of play, an attack is made on two pieces which are in a line. In this case, the more valuable of the two pieces is positioned in front of the other piece, which is of lesser value. The attacker positions his or her piece in such a way that it threatens the opponent’s more valuable piece directly, but also indirectly threatens the less valuable piece through the first piece. The opponent feels compelled to move the higher value piece in order to prevent it from being taken, thus creating an opening for the attacker to take the less valuable piece.
This is valuable because although the opponent moves their more valuable piece and prevents the attacker from taking it, the attacker still gains a material advantage since they are nevertheless capturing the less valuable piece behind it. If the defender fails to recognize the X-Ray, they stand to lose a more valuable piece as well. The result is that the opponent is down a piece as well as a turn, since you forced them to respond in a way you predicted. Additionally, you will likely be able to threaten the more valuable piece once the opponent has moved it out of the way, since you will know where their most likely avenue of escape is and can position a threat there as well.
In an example of another common type of X-Ray, there are two attacking pieces involved against the defender. This is similar to the previous example in that one of the attackers is threatening the opponent’s less valuable piece indirectly through a more valuable piece, but differs with the modifier of a second attacker, which targets the less valuable piece directly. This means that even in the case where the defender is able to neutralize the indirect attacker, the attacker’s second piece is still able to capture the original target. Often in this case if the defender neutralizes the first attacking piece by taking it with their more valuable piece, that piece can then be threatened in another way by the attacker.
Mastery of the X-Ray motif is important because it exemplifies a type of thinking you will often find separates casual chess players from chess enthusiasts. This motif teaches you that you can challenge and threaten an opponent in more ways than just what appears to be straightforward. In fact, doing so with an indirect move such as an X-Ray can often be a far more effective means of attack since it forces your opponent to behave in a way you expect. If you’re controlling your opponent’s moves as well as your own, you’re effectively determining the game’s outcome.
Use the X-Ray tactics provided in the Tactics Training Room here on ChessFox to practice recognizing the many different situations in which the various types of X-Rays can occur. Doing these drills will help you not only to see these situations as they occur, but actively force the game in the direction of allowing you to set an X-Ray up. Additionally, it will help you to recognize when your opponent is going for this type of maneuver, thus giving you a chance at escaping it or avoiding it entirely, before it can occur.
Once you have mastered this motif, think about how you can use it as a tactic in your broader game strategy. This is a fundamental piece of the 7 skills you are learning, and shows how all of the skills work together to make you a better chess player.