The 5 most common tactical motifs in chess

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In this lesson you will learn the 5 most common tactics in chess. These are the tactical motifs that occur most often in chess games.

The 5 most common tactics in chess are:

  1. Forks (Double-Attacks)
  2. Pins
  3. Removing the defender
  4. Discovered attacks
  5. Tempo-moves
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Together, the 5 motifs mentioned here represent a large chunk of all the tactics that occur in actual games. It’s good if you can make an in-depth study of numerous tactical motifs, but if your time is limited and you want to learn only the most important ones – then it should be these ones. I’ll give an example of each below.

1. Forks (Double-attacks)

A fork, or double-attack, occurs when your move makes 2 or more threats at the same time. A fork or double-attack is a powerful tactical idea because it’s hard (or sometimes impossible) for your opponent to defend against multiple threats at the same time.

2. Pins

The power of a pin lies in the fact that the pinned piece essentially can’t move since doing so would expose another, more valuable, target. The point is that you can often find a way to take advantage of the immobilized (pinned) piece.

3. Removing the Defender

When a piece or important square is defended, then that piece or square can become vulnerable once you remove its defender. This is usually done by a trade, threat or sacrifice that removes the defending piece.

4. Discovered Attacks

A discovered attack occurs when you move a piece away that reveals a strong threat from a piece that was behind it. The power of this idea lies in the fact that you can also use the moving piece to make a strong threat of its own.

5. Tempo-moves

A tempo move is a move that gains time by making a threat that forces your opponent to defend passively. This kind of move is particularly useful if you can use the tempo to achieve a tactical (or even strategic) advantage.

The example below demonstrates how black uses tempo-moves (in this case checks) to eventually remove the defender of white’s queen:

How do I know these are the most common tactics?

I don’t claim a scientific conclusion but I base my results on 3 areas of reference:

  1. 30+ years experience as a chess player
  2. 15+ years experience as a chess coach (I’ve seen countless tactical ideas that occur in real-world situations)
  3. Researching chess puzzles and databases to see which motifs occur most often

Final thought on the 5 most common tactics in chess

These 5 tactics all have one thing in common – they take advantage of targets in the opponent’s position.

It’s important to study how these motifs work because a deep understanding of them will not only help you use them in your games but will also help you create powerful combinations.

Back to chess tactics.