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How to Identify and Remove a Defender in Tactical Combinations

This lesson will focus on another very important tactical pattern–removing a defender (also known as removal of the guard, or undermining).

A piece that performs an important defensive role is often handicapped by the burden. That piece (the defender) can be vulnerable to tactical ideas because removing it would leave something else undefended.

Identify the Defender

In the diagram below we can observe that the black queen on c8 MUST defend the rook on b7, (else white would play Qxb7#).

tactics observe important defender

Since we can identify the black queen as an important defender, we can then consider whether it is possible to exploit the queen in some way.

White’s next move illustrates the point:

attack important defender

Diagram above: By playing 1.Rd8! white exploits the fact that the black queen is tied to defending the black rook on b7. If black plays 1… Qxd8, then 2.Qxb7# is checkmate. On the other hand, there is not much else black can do.

When a piece performs an important defensive task we refer to that piece as a defender. And since the piece is defending something important, the piece itself becomes vulnerable.

Two Logical Ways to Remove a Defender

When you’re looking to exploit an important defender you can either:

  • Capture the defender or
  • overload the defender.

Now we can study a few examples so that you can further improve your tactical skill. I will start by using simple examples that illustrate the point, but then I will also include a few advanced examples–then you can see the power of these tactics in more complicated situations.

Capture the defender

Capturing a defender (often under the guise of a “piece-exchange”) will leave the previously defended piece or square (that the defender was supposed to defend), more vulnerable.

Capture the Defender / Example 1

tactics capture important defender

Diagram above: The white knight on c3 performs an important defensive role–it is the only defender of the white queen. How can black exploit this defender?

Solution: 1… Bxc3+ removes the defender of whites queen and checks the white king. On the next move black will capture white’s queen.

Capture the Defender / Example #2

In the next example we can observe that white could play Nf6+, forking the black king and queen. However, the black bishop on e5 defends the f6-square:

capture important square defender

Diagram above: How can white exploit the fact that the black bishop defends the f6-square?

Solution: White can temporarily sacrifice material by playing 1.Qxe5 dxe5 2.Nf6+ Kg7 3.Nxd7, winning a bishop in the process.

Capture the Defender / Example #3

In the diagram below we can observe that the black bishop on d7 is an important defender of the pawn on h3:

tactics capture important defender pin

Diagram above: How can white undermine black’s defenses of the pawn on h3?

Solution: 1.Rxd7 Rxd7 2.Rxh3 pins the black queen to her king (note that the white queen on d3 defends the rook on h3).

Overload the Defender

Removing a defender by overloading it is also referred to as deflection, since you deflect the defending piece away from the task it was supposed to perform. The examples below will demonstrate how you can exploit an important defender by overloading it.

Overload the Defender / Example #1

The black queen on e8 performs two important defensive tasks:

  • defends the bishop on b5
  • defends the a8-square, else white could play Qa8+, followed by Qxb7
overload important defender weak back rank

Diagram above: How can white prove that the black queen is overloaded and can’t defend everywhere? The next diagram illustrates the solution:

overload important defender weak back rank solution

Solution: 1.Rxb5 wins material by overloading the defender of the a8-square (the black queen). In other words, if black plays Qxb5, then white can play Qa8+, followed by Qxb7.

Note: White could also play 1.Nxd6, but this is not as good as the solution move because black will play 1… Qf8 and put pressure on white’s pinned knight.

Overload the Defender / Example #2

Here we see that the black queen has again two defensive tasks:

  • defends the knight on f6
  • helps defend the g4-square (in coordination with the knight on f6), else white could play g4#
overload important defender checkmate

Diagram above: How can white prove that the black queen is overloaded? the next diagram illustrates the solution:

overload important defender checkmate

Solution: 1.Qxf6 proves that the black queen is overloaded in trying to defend both the f6-knight and the g4-square. In other words, white won the knight, but if black now plays Qxf6, then g4#! is checkmate.

Overload the Defender / Example #3

The next example is unique in the sense that it is not immediately obvious why the black knight on f6 is overloaded with defensive tasks:

overload important defender obstructing

Diagram above: The black knight on f6 defends the pawn on d5 but also obstructs the white queen from playing Qxg7# The next diagram illustrates how white can take advantage of this:

overload important defender obstructing solution

Solution: 1. Rxd5 Qe8 2. Bxc4 wins two important pawns and proves that the black knight on f6 is overloaded (it cannot defend both the d5-pawn AND the Qxg7# threat).

Tactical combinations that are based on removing a defender in some way are good examples of why the interaction between chess pieces is the foundation of tactical combinations.

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