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Pin Tactics

Here’s what you will learn:

• What is a pin tactic?
• What is a relative pin?
• What is an absolute pin?
• What is a cross pin?
• What is a situational pin?
• What is the difference between a pin and a skewer?
• Why pin tactics are so powerful
• The 3 chess pieces that can create pin tactics
• Examples of pin tactics using a bishop
• Examples of pin tactics using a rook
• Examples of pin tactics using a queen
• How to use pin tactics to their best effect
• How to escape from chess pin tactics
• Chess Tactics: Pins (Training Puzzles)
• Chess Tactics: Pins (Beginner Puzzles)
• Chess Tactics: Pins (Intermediate Puzzles)
• Chess Tactics: Pins (Advanced Puzzles)

What is a pin in chess?

Pin tactics occur when an attacked piece cannot move without exposing an even more valuable piece (or target) behind it. There are a number of different variations of pin tactics. You get:

• Relative Pins
• Absolute Pins
• Cross Pins
• Partial Pins
• Situational Pins

I’ll give you an example of each.

What is a relative pin?

A relative pin is a when the value of a pinned piece is relatively lower than the piece behind it.

In the case of a relative pin, the pinned piece could still freely move – but it’s usually not a good idea because it would expose a relatively higher-valued piece behind it.

What is an absolute pin?

In the case where a piece is pinned to the king, it is illegal for that piece to leave the file or diagonal that it is pinned on, else this would leave the king in check.

In other words, if a piece is pinned to their king it is referred to as an absolute pin.

What is a cross pin?

When a piece is pinned from two directions, it is referred to as a cross-pin.

An interesting observation (Partial pins)

In many cases a pinned piece could actually still move along the rank or diagonal it is pinned on.

The diagram illustrates that even though black’s queen is technically in an absolute pin – she can still legally move on the b8-h2 diagonal. When a pinned piece still has limited movement, such pin is referred to as a “partial pin”.

What is a situational pin?

A situational pin refers to a scenario where it’s not obvious that a piece is pinned, but a closer observation will reveal that the piece is indirectly pinned. The example below will illustrate the idea:

A situational pin is usually a bit more difficult to spot because the consequences of moving the pinned piece is not as obvious as is the case with a relative pin or an absolute pin.

What is the difference between a pin and a skewer?

Before we continue with the study on pin tactics, I want to explain the difference between a pin and a skewer. At a first glance they appear to be quite similar but their effect on the position is usually very different. In the case of a pin, the pinned piece has a lower value than the target behind it. But in the case of a skewer the piece at the front in the line of attack has a higher or similar value to the piece behind it.

The diagrams below will illustrate the difference between a skewer and a pin.

Here’s a common chess pin:

And a skewer…

Note how the effect of the ordinary pin is usually not as dangerous as the skewer. In many cases, although not always, a skewer is more powerful than a pin. This is because in the case of a skewer the threat is always immediate, whereas in the case of an ordinary pin your opponent usually has more time to deal with it.

Why pin tactics are so powerful

Pin tactics are one of the most common tactical patterns in chess. In fact, you will hardly ever see a game where pins did not play a role at some point during the game – which is another important reason to study them.

The power of pin tactics inspired the chessmaster, Fred Reinfeld, to coin the phrase: “The pin is mightier than the sword,”  which is of course a word-play on “The pen is mightier than the sword”.

Pin tactics have unique advantages that make them a very powerful weapon in chess:

1. You can reduce the current value of your opponent’s piece. When you pin a piece, it’s usefulness can be significantly restricted. The pinned piece cannot perform as it should because moving it will expose another target.
2. You can limit your opponent’s defensive resources. A pinned piece is usually a weak defender. In fact, a pinned piece often has little or no effect on the squares it is supposed to defend.
3. You can increase the pressure on your opponent by attacking the pinned piece. In some cases you can even win material if you can bring enough pressure to bear on the pinned piece.

Chess Tactics: Pins – The 3 chess pieces that can create pin tactics

Only the long range pieces (queen, rook and bishop) can create pins.

Interesting fact: In an endgame position with only kings, pawns and knights on the board, pin tactics aren’t possible.

Examples of pin tactics using a bishop

Bishops can create pin tactics on a diagonal when two or more targets exist on a diagonal. Of course these targets must be on the same color squares as the bishop that creates the pin. Here’s an example:

When you study tactics, it is useful to study the factors that made the tactic possible. By doing this simple step, you will improve your “tactical awareness” since you will train your mind to notice the signs that indicate possible tactics. In this particular example the factors were:

1. The black king is exposed, making him vulnerable to all kinds of possible threats
2. The black queen and king are two valuable targets present on the same diagonal, which make them vulnerable to a pin tactic
3. The white bishop moves on the same color squares than the targets in black’s position

Note that a pin is usually much more effective when the pinning piece (white bishop on d5) has a lower value than the piece it pins (black queen on e6). For example, white could also create a pin by playing Qd5? but it wouldn’t be effective since black could simply exchange the queens.

Examples of pin tactics using a rook

Rooks can create pin tactics by exploiting targets on the same rank or file. Here’s an example:

Factors that made the pin possible:

1. There are two black targets present on the d-file, making them vulnerable to a pin tactic.
2. The black Rd8 is undefended. This is an important bit of detail since after white plays Rd1, moving the Bd7 will result in black losing the Rd8.
3. There is already tension between the white and black bishops. By pinning the Bd7, white will win it on the next move.

Examples of pin tactics using a queen

The queen is the most flexible piece in creating pin tactics, since she can create a pin on rank, file or diagonal. Here’s an example:

This example shows why the queen is such a powerful piece, 1.Qd5! makes numerous powerful threats at the same time.

Notice the factors that made this pin tactic possible:

1. Black’s Ra8 and Qd7 are both undefended. Undefended pieces are more vulnerable to tactics since moving the pinned piece will lose the piece behind it.
2. The black Nc6 and Bd6 are only defended by high-value piece (the queen). Pawns are the most effective defenders of your pieces. This example shows why high-valued pieces are not ideal defenders.

A square can be a target

As I’ve stated before – a pin does not always involve pieces only. In some cases a piece can be pinned to an important square (situational pin). Here is an example:

Factors that made this pin tactic possible:

1. The exposed position of black’s king makes him a primary target for possible tactics.
2. The black Ne5 is only supported by a high-value piece. Pieces that aren’t defended by pawns are more vulnerable to tactics.
3. The better development/activity of the white bishops means tactical combinations are more likely to work out for white.

How to use pin tactics to their best effect

The usefulness of a pin will always depend on the position at hand. But there are also some general ideas you can use to get the most from pin tactics:

1. Add pressure on a pinned piece by attacking it
2. Exploit squares that seem safe but are in fact undefended due to a pin
3. Find tactical combinations that indirectly relies on the pinning motif

Below are a few examples illustrated in their simplest form, but they can be used in more complex situations too.

Add pressure on a pinned piece by attacking it

A pinned piece is often more vulnerable and so it makes sense to attack it, if you can.

By definition, pinned pieces can’t move without exposing another target. Therefore it makes sense to increase the pressure on a pinned piece – by attacking it, if you can.

Exploit squares that seem defended but are in fact undefended due to a pin

A pinned piece is a poor defender and you should aim take advantage of it.

At a first glance the d6-square seems to be defended by the Be7. However, Be7 does in fact not defend the d6-square due to the pin by the Re1.

Find tactical combinations that indirectly use the pin motif

Even when a pin does not exist yet, the threat of creating a pin can in itself be a useful weapon.

In chess, a threat is sometimes more useful than its execution. In the above example, white didn’t make an actual pin, but used the possibility of the pin (the threat) to achieve another objective (winning material).

How to escape from a pin tactic

It’s great when you can use pin tactics on your opponent, but what to do when you are on the receiving end of a such tactic? Ideally you should have anticipated the possibility of the pin tactic in the first place. Just because you overlooked the pin tactic, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed. There may yet be a way out!

Here are a few common ideas you can use to try escape from a pin tactic:

1. Make a threat (tempo-move) with one of the pieces trapped in the pin tactic
2. Use a counter-tactic to remove the pinning piece
3. Move the pinned piece to protect the target behind it at the same time
4. Break the pin tactic by moving a defender in-between the pinned pieces

Let’s see a few examples on how to escape from pin tactics against you. (Most of the time I use simple positions to illustrate an idea. However, these ideas often work in more complicated situations too).

Make a threat with one of the pieces trapped in the pin tactic

When your piece is trapped in a tactic, you should try find a way to move that piece whilst, at the same time, making a threat of your own. Here’s an example of such a counter-tactic:

Note: In the case of an absolute pin, the pinned piece cannot move. Therefore this escape method wouldn’t work if black’s king were on e8, instead of the rook. (It is generally much harder to escape from an absolute pin).

Use a counter-tactic to remove your opponent’s pinning piece

Another way to potentially escape from a pin is if you can find a way to get rid of the piece that pins you.

In the above example, white uses a tactical idea (fork), followed by exchanging the knight for the bishop that performs the pin.

Note: After 1.Ne7+, black should play 1…Rxe7, followed by 2… Bxd3 – which results in an equal exchange of material while white escapes the pin. However, if after 1.Ne7+ black plays 1… Kh8? then 2.Nxf5 (threatening Nxg7) gxf5 3.Rxd7, white wins material.

Move the pinned piece to protect the target behind it at the same time

Another useful idea that can sometimes help you escape from a pin tactic, is to move the pinned piece to a square where it also defends the target behind it. Here’s an example:

This is a very effective way to escape from pin tactics but you can easily overlook such an opportunity if you’re not aware of the idea.

Break the pin by moving a defender in-between

In the position below, black’s knight on f6 is pinned. Not only is white is threatening to play Nxf6+ (which would cause damage to the pawn structure in front of black’s king), but white is also threatening to exploit the pinned knight by playing d4-d5! on the next move.

Black wants to prevent that white plays their d4-pawn to d5 on the next move. The best way to do this, is to break the pin on their knight by playing 1… Be7. Once the pin is broken, the knight on f6 now helps to defend the d5-square.

In the last part of this study on pin tactics you get a few puzzles to test your skill. These puzzles will also serve to further improve your understanding of pin tactics in chess. We’ll start with easy puzzles and then work our way up to some advanced pin tactics puzzles.

Chess Tactics: Pins (Training Puzzles)

Important Reminder: Working through these lessons on chess tactics can be very taxing. I suggest you take a break and get back to these exercises when you feel the need to do so. There is no benefit in pushing yourself when you are in fact only lowering the quality of your training.

Chess Tactics: Pins (Beginner Puzzles)

The first few pin tactics will be fairly easy so that you can clearly understand the impact of a pin tactic in simpler situations.

Beginner Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 1

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Solution

Comment: The point here is that white’s pawn on f2 is absolutely pinned by the black bishop on b6.

Beginner Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 2

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Solution

Comment: Since a pinned piece is usually restricted in its movement, it makes sense to add pressure by attacking it.

Beginner Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 3

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Solution

Comment: The black bishop is pinned because moving it away will allow white to play Qxd8+ (the white rook on d3 supports the white queen). On the other hand, if the bishop doesn’t move, white will simply capture it on the next move, Bxd7+.

Beginner Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 4

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Solution

Comment: White takes advantage of the absolutely pinned pawn on f7 and threatens Qxf7# on the next move. If black tries to defend the f7-pawn, by playing 1… Re7, then 2.Qh8# will be checkmate. Black could prevent the checkmate, but at the cost of the queen – by playing 1… Qf5 which allows 2.Bxf5

Beginner Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 5

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Solution

Comment: This one is quite tricky because there are pins all over the place. Even though white’s queen is pinned – black’s rook on g7 is also in an absolute pin by white’s bishop. However, by playing 1… Qd1+, black will capture the white queen on the next move, with 2… Qxg4. The point is that the white queen is absolutely pinned on the g-file, which makes 2. Qxd1 an illegal move.

Chess Tactics: Pins (Intermediate Puzzles)

The next few pin tactics puzzles are a bit harder and demonstrates how pin tactics work in slightly more complex situations.

Intermediate Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 1

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Solution

Comment: 1.Qe5! pins the black knight (and threatens to capture it on the next move, Qxd5) but also prevents 1… Rxe7 since if black does that, white can play 2.Qe8+ Rxe8 3.Rxe8# Or if black plays 1… Rc5 to try defend the knight on d5, then again white can play 2.Qe8+ Rxe8 3. Rxe8#. This pin on black’s knight is particularly effective since the black queen on a5 is undefended. This again proves why you must be very careful when placing a pieces on an undefended square – they often become more vulnerable to tactics.

Intermediate Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 2

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Solution

Comment: It is easy to see that the pawn on f3 is absolutely pinned by the bishop on b7, yet it is somewhat harder to realise this means you can actually place your queen on g4! By training tactics regularly and by studying interesting examples, your tactical skill will improve over time.

Intermediate Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 3

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Solution

Comment: 1.Rxc5 takes advantage of the fact that the d6-pawn is pinned by the white rook on d1 but, at the same time, it also clears the d5-square so that the white bishop can play Bxc6 on the next move.

Intermediate Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 4

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Solution

Comment: After 1… Qxg2 2. Rxe2, white’s queen is in an absolute pin by the bishop on c6. Since black is threatening to capture white’s queen on the next move, black might as well give up their queen for the bishop, 3.Qxc6 bxc6. Black will reach a winning endgame position.

Intermediate Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 5

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Solution

Comment: White’s move, 1.Rh4, effectively pins the black bishop – because if it moves, then 2.Rh8# is checkmate. It’s not immediately obvious why this pin is useful but the point is that white will play Bd3! on the next move, threatening Bxh7# and there is nothing black can do to avoid disaster. If black plays 1… Be4 check, then white could simply play 2.Kg3, still threatening Rh8#

Now we get to the advanced pin tactics puzzles. These puzzles can be very hard but it will illustrate the surprising effect of pin tactics in highly complex positions. Even if you can’t solve the puzzles on your own, it would still be helpful to you if you study the solutions.

Advanced Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 1

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Solution

Comment: White wants to increase the pressure against the pinned knight on c6. Even though the move 1.d5 attacks the black knight right away, the main idea behind this move is actually that it clears the d4-square. On the next move white will play Nd4 and win the pinned black knight, Ie. 1.d5 exd5 2.Nd4, followed by Bxc6

Advanced Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 2

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Solution

Comment: White’s move, 1.Nxd6!, exploits the fact that black’s rook on e6 is pinned in two directions. For example, if black plays 1… Rxe1, then 2.Qxf7+ Kh7 3.Qxg7# is checkmate. On the other hand, if black plays 1… Qxd6, then white can simply capture the black queen, Qxd6, and win material due to the pin on the e-file.

Advanced Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 3

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Solution

Comment: White exploits the absolutely pinned black knight in the process in the process of trapping black’s queen. After 1.Rb4 Qf5, white can play g4 and attack the trapped queen (the rook on b4 now defends the pawn on g4). The hardest part of the exercise is to realise you can use the absolute pin on black’s knight to achieve another objective – trapping black’s queen.

Advanced Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 4

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Solution

Comment: Black noticed that the move Nd8 right away, fails because white can play Ba4! (moving the bishop out of the pin and defending the white rook at the same time). This is why black first plays 1… b3! (threatening bxc2) and if white plays axb3, then the b3-square will be occupied – which means the move Ba4 won’t defend the rook on c1 anymore.

Advanced Chess Tactics: Pins Puzzle 5

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Solution

Comment

1… Ne3! threatens 2… Rxf1# and therefore white is essentially forced to take the knight, with 2.fxe3. However, after black then recaptures with 2… fxe3, there will be nothing white can do to stop the threat of black’s next move 3… e2! Note that white also can’t play 3.Kf2 because that would be check by the black pawn on e3.

I hope you enjoyed these examples of pin tactics and that you will soon get the chance to use it!