What is the difference between a pin and a skewer?

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A pin tactic and a skewer tactic are visually very similar. In both cases you attack two targets on the same diagonal, rank or file. However, there is one very important difference between a pin and a skewer.

To understand the subtle but important difference between a pin and a skewer it may be useful to first understand exactly what a pin is–and then compare that to what a skewer is.

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Example of a Pin Tactic

In the example below black moved their bishop to f6 and pinned white’s knight on c3:

What is a relative pin?
Black moves their bishop to f6 and pins the white knight. If the knight moves then black will capture the even higher-valued rook on a1.

The important observation here is that the value of the knight is lower than the value of the rook behind it. In other words, in the case of a pin–the attacked piece can’t move because it would expose a higher-valued target behind it.

What is a skewer tactic in chess?

In the case of a skewer, the attacked piece has a higher value than the target behind it. This is why it’s also sometimes referred to as a “reverse pin”.

Example of the difference between a skewer and a pin

The 2 diagrams below will illustrate the difference between a skewer and a pin:

What is the difference between a pin and a skewer?
Diagram left: White plays 1.Bg5 and pins the knight on f6.
Diagram right: White plays 1.Bf3 and skewers the black queen.

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.

In many situations, although not always, a skewer is more powerful than a pin–because the threat is very direct, whereas in the case of an ordinary pin the threat is often not as serious and your opponent has more time to deal with a pin.

The grey area between a pin and a skewer

What happens when the attacked piece has the same value as the piece behind it? Would it then be a skewer, or a pin? The answer isn’t clear because this scenario is partly a skewer and partly a pin. Shall we call it a “pewer”? 😀

Summary: The difference between a pin and a skewer

Even though a pin and a skewer visually appear quite similar, their impact on the position is very different.

So to summarize the difference between a pin and a skewer: A pinned piece shouldn’t move because it would expose a higher-valued target behind it. A skewered piece should move, even though it will expose another target behind it, because the skewered piece has a higher value than the target behind it.