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Familiarize Yourself With the Fundamentals of Chess Tactics

If you want to improve your chess tactics, start with studying the fundamentals.

I’m sure you are familiar with the scenario where you are presented with a tactical puzzle and you must try to find the solution:

However, the focus of this lesson is not on the actual solution. Instead, we will take a step back and study the underlying mechanics (the fundamentals) of tactical combinations, which form the foundation for improving your tactical skills.

In chess, tactical combinations are based on three main areas that need to be considered:

  1. Tactical Targets
  2. Tactical Patterns
  3. Forced Moves

By combining these three elements, you can create powerful tactical combinations that can help you gain material, win the game, or defend against your opponent’s threats.

First of all, it is important to understand the potential targets. Understanding the targets will help you focus your attention where it is needed.

1. Tactical Targets

Tactical targets are the weaknesses or vulnerabilities in your opponent’s position that you are trying to exploit. Any piece or square that you can make a threat against can be a potential target.

In our example:

Diagram above: The position illustrates two targets in white’s position:

  1. An exposed king on g1 (the king is exposed to checks)
  2. An undefended bishop on b4 (known as a hanging piece)

An awareness of potential targets can help you find tactics in your games. (In the next lesson we will look at common tactical targets that you should know about.)

Let’s move on to tactical patterns.

2. Tactical Patterns

A tactical pattern (also know as a tactical motif or theme) is a known tactical idea that you can use to exploit the tactical targets. It is called a pattern because the same idea can be applied in various positions. Pins, forks and discovered attacks are typical examples of tactical patterns.

In our example, it is black’s turn to move and he can exploit the targets with a tactical pattern known as a fork:

Diagram above: 1… Qd4+ forces white to deal with the check against their king and then, on the next move, black’s queen will capture the undefended bishop on b4.

There are many well-known tactical patterns that you should be aware of and we will soon study these patterns in greater detail.

3. Forced Moves

In most chess positions, either player has a few options to choose from. However, in some cases you can force your opponent to respond in a very specific way.

Tactical ideas are often discovered when you consider where forcing moves lead to, even if those moves appear to be mistakes at first. That is why you should always take a moment to consider all the checks, captures and threats in the position.

In a future lesson in this course we will look at specific things you can do to improve the accuracy and speed of your calculations.


To summarize, when you are looking for a tactical combination, you typically need to answer these three questions:

  1. Where are the potential targets in the position?
  2. Can I use tactical patterns to exploit those targets?
  3. And where do the forcing moves lead to?

If the student forces himself to examine all moves that smite, however absurd they may look at first glance, he is on the way to becoming a master of tactics.

Cecil Purdy

NEXT: Study the Common Targets That Can Be Exploited by Tactics