Lesson 8 – Important tactics you should know

A tactic is a move, or even a short combination of moves, whereby a player achieves an objective by exploiting certain targets in their opponent’s position. Tactics are powerful, and they lurk around every corner, which is why they bring a lot of tension, anticipation and fun to the game. One good tactical combination can determine the outcome of the game and that is why you should pay special attention to tactics. In this lesson you will learn the 4 most important tactical patterns a few techniques that could possibly help you escape if your opponent traps you in a tactic.

Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).


Important tactics you should know

In this lesson you will learn a few important tactics. Tactics can help you win your opponent’s pieces but before you can properly understand tactics, there are a few important terms you must know. The first term you already know – threats (You’ll remember threats from the lesson on the middle-game). And you know that a threat is when you attack one of your opponent’s pieces and threaten to capture it. Or if you make a move that threatens to make an exchange where you win points, then that would also be a threat.

Here’s an example of a threat:

White can threaten to capture the undefended knight on c7 by moving the queen to d7.
White can threaten to capture the undefended knight on c7 by moving the queen to d7.

If you move the queen to d7, you will attack the knight, and black will save the knight by defending it or by moving it to a safe square. Another term you should know, is a target. A target is a piece or a square which you can make a threat against. There are different types of targets. The first kind is referred to as an undefended piece, also known as a hanging piece. In this position you can see that black’s knight is a hanging piece, because nothing is defending it. White’s bishop is also a hanging piece. When a piece is hanging then that piece is usually an easy target because it’s easy to threaten that piece by attacking it. But a target is not always a piece, it could also be a square. For example, if you move your queen here…

White can make a threat against the h8-square, threatening checkmate if the queen moves to h8 on the next move.
White can make a threat against the h8-square, threatening checkmate if the queen moves to h8 on the next move.

… then you would be making a threat against this square because you are actually threatening to checkmate black’s king on the next move. If you put your queen on h8 then black’s king cannot go anywhere and he also can’t capture your queen since he will then be in check by your bishop.

The next term you should know, is a tactical pattern. A tactical pattern is a trick you can use to effectively attack various targets. And in this lesson, I will show you four tactical patterns. The first tactical pattern is known as a fork. You already know it’s often good if you can make a threat against your oponent but it is even better when you can make a move that carries multiple threats at the same time. For example, if you move your queen here…

A fork is when your move makes multiple threats at the same time.
A fork is when your move makes multiple threats at the same time.

… then you are threatening to capture the hanging knight on c7, but you are also threatening to checkmate black’s king. Black has a big problem now because how can he stop both threats with only one move? He can’t. And since he would rather not be checkmated, he will block the checkmate – maybe he will push a pawn to block your queen, but then of course white will capture the hanging knight and win 3 points. I’ll show you another example of a fork.

White moves the knight to fork black's king and rook. The king must move (check) and then white will capture the rook.
White moves the knight to fork black’s king and rook. The king must move (check) and then white will capture the rook.

Here it’s white’s turn to move and he can now fork black’s king and rook by moving the knight here. Black’s king will be in check but at the same time white’s knight is threatening to capture the rook. But since black’s king is in check, he must do something about it first, and after the king moves out of check, white will capture the rook. This also serves as a reminder why you should keep your king safe, because when your king is exposed, then he is a vulnerable target that your opponent can exploit by means of tactics, as happened here.

The second tactical pattern I’ll show you is known as a pin. A pin is when you attack a target, but that piece can’t move because behind it is another valuable target. Let me show you an example:

White can move the bishop to c3 and pin black's rook.
White can move the bishop to c3 and pin black’s rook. The rook can’t move, else the king would be in check.

White moves their bishop and pins the black rook. The rook can’t move otherwise the king would be in check. This means on the next move white will capture the rook and win 5 points. Here is another example of a pin:

White pins the black knight. If it move, white will capture the black queen. On the next move white can capture the knight.
White pins the black knight. If it move, white will capture the black queen. On the next move white can capture the knight.

White could have exchanged his knight for black’s knight, but he has an even better idea. He moves the queen to c3 to pin the black knight because if the knight moves then white could capture the queen. And white now has two pieces attacking the knight and since the knight can’t move, white will capture it on the next move and win 3 points.

The third tactical pattern I’ll show you is known as a discovered attack. I’ll explain it using this example:

Discovered attack. The bishop moves to check black's king and at the same time the rook "discovers" an attack on black's queen.
Discovered attack. The bishop moves to check black’s king and at the same time the rook “discovers” an attack on black’s queen.

White’s bishop acts like a mask in front of the rook, because if the bishop weren’t there then white’s rook would be attacking the black queen. In this situation you can sometimes move away the mask and at the same time try to make a threat with this piece. For example, you can capture the pawn on h7 and check the black king and at the same time you will now be threatening to capture the queen, and since black must do something to get his king out of check, you will get the queen on the next move and win a lot of points in the process.

Here is another example of discovered attack:

The white bishop moves to check the black king and at the same time white's queen discovers an attack on the black queen.
The white bishop moves to check the black king and at the same time white’s queen discovers an attack on the black queen.

White’s bishop is the mask in front of the queen. Once it moves, white’s queen will be attacking the black queen. White can move the bishop away, capture this pawn and check black’s king. And again, once black gets their king out of check you capture the queen. So, this is how a discovered attack works.

The fourth tactical pattern I’ll show you is known as removing the defender. If you follow this example you will understand how it works.

Black's knight defends their queen but we can remove this defender!
Black’s knight defends their queen but we can remove this defender!

Black’s knight is defending the queen. If white captures the queen right now, then the knight will simply recapture, and it would be an equal exchange. But white has a better plan. He exchanges the bishop for the knight…

White removes the defender of black's queen, with check, and will capture black's queen on the next move.
White removes the defender of black’s queen, with check, and will capture black’s queen on the next move.

Of course, it is check too and if black captures the bishop then you’ll notice the black queen is now a hanging piece, because we removed the defender, and now we can simply capture the queen. By the way, I just want to draw your attention to the fact that many of these tactics involve checking an exposed king – which again proves why it’s so important to try keep your king safe. Here’s another example of removing the defender:

White wants to move the knight to f6 to fork black's king and queen, but black's bishop on e5 defends the f6-square.
White wants to move the knight to f6 to fork black’s king and queen, but black’s bishop on e5 defends the f6-square.

If you count the points in this position, then you will notice the points are equal. Now if white could put their knight on f6, he would fork the black king and queen, but the problem is, this bishop will simply capture the knight. So, this bishop is the defender here because it’s defending this square. So, what you want to do now, is see if there is a way to remove the defender. And you can as the rook can capture the bishop…

White sacrifices the rook, but it is worth it because if black takes the rook, white can fork black's king and queen with their knight.
White sacrifices the rook, but it is worth it because if black takes the rook (with the pawn on d6), then white can fork black’s king and queen with their knight by moving the knight to f6.

and even though in itself it’s not a good exchange, it is however, still a good idea because if black actually captures you then you can fork the king and queen and win even more points because the king must get out of check, and then you will capture the queen. This is also an example of what we call a sacrifice. A tactical sacrifice is when you sacrifice a few points because you know you will win even more points on the next move. As in this case – white is willing to sacrifice the rook for a bishop and lose 2 points, because he knows on the next move he will fork black’s king and queen.

In the last part of this lesson I’ll show you how you can sometimes escape when your opponent tricked you with a tactical pattern. The first thing you should do, is to relax and don’t move quickly. Take some time to think about the situation because there is often a way to escape. I’ll show you a few examples.

Black moves the knight here and now he forks your two rooks.

Black forks your two rooks. Can you somehow escape?
Black forks your two rooks. Can you somehow escape?

Of course, if he captures your rook, you can capture him back but that would still be a bad exchange because you will lose 5 points and get only 3 in return. But there is something you can do: you can move your rook here and pin black’s knight…

Now the knight can't move because it's pinned to the king!
Now the knight can’t move because it’s pinned to the king!

The knight can’t move otherwise, the king would be in check. And as a matter of fact, on the next move you will capture the knight.

Here black just moved his bishop here and now he is forking your rook and knight. But there is a way to escape…

The black bishop forks your rook and knight. Can you do something about it?
The black bishop forks your rook and knight. Can you do something about it?

Yes, you can move your rook away and at the same time defend your knight…

White moves the rook to safety and at the same time defends the previously undefended bishop.
White moves the rook to safety and, at the same time, defends the previously undefended bishop.

So, if black captures the knight then you can capture back, and it would be an equal exchange.

In this last example, black moved his knight to fork your queen and rook. But you can escape.

Black forks your queen and rook. What can you do?
Black forks your queen and rook. What can you do?

In fact, you can turn the tables on black because you can move your queen here…

White moves the queen to safety and at the same time forks the black king and knight.
White moves the queen to safety and at the same time forks the black king and knight.

… and check black’s king and then once black gets the king out of check, you can capture the knight. So black thought he had forked your queen and rook, but in the end you forked his king and knight.

Now I should also say that there won’t always be a way to escape from a tactic, but if you stay calm and think about it, you will sometimes find a way to escape. This is the end of the lesson on tactical patterns and in the next lesson I’ll show you the four most common mistakes in chess and I’ll also show you how to avoid making them in your own games.

End of Lesson 8 – Important tactics you should know