The ladder trick is a well-known chess tactic that usually involves your opponent’s queen and rook. It’s a very useful pattern to know!

The trick relies on two underlying tactical ideas: 1) removing a defender and 2) x-ray.

Here’s an example of the ladder trick in its simplest form:

Diagram above: White to move. Can you spot the ladder trick?

Solution below.

Diagram above: White can play 1.Re8+, which forces black to either give up the defense of his queen (1.Re8+ Rxe8 2.Qxd5) or otherwise lose material in anycase (1.Re8+ Kh7 2.Rxd8 and now the white queen and rook defend each other through x-ray).

It’s called the ladder trick because the moves 1.Re8+ Rxe8 resembles pulling the ladder from beneath the black queen, removing her support and causing her to “fall”.

Here’s another position that shows the same ladder trick idea in a slightly more complex situation:

Diagram above: White to move. What would you do?

If you understand how the ladder trick works, then it will be easier to find it in more complex situations too:

Diagram above: Bxd5 draws the black queen away from defending the e8-square and at the same time it opens the e-file for the white rook on e1. White essentially won a piece because if black recaptures the white bishop (Qxd5?) then that would allow white to use the ladder trick.

Diagram above: If black plays Qxd5, then white can play Re8+ (the ladder trick).

Diagram above: Re8+ illustrates “removing the defender” since the black rook on e8 is supposed to defend the queen on d5. But what happens if black now plays Kh7, instead of Rxe8 (as in the diagram below)?

Diagram above: We know if black plays Rxe8 then we will capture the black queen. But what happens if black instead plays Kh7?

Diagram above: If black plays Kh7, then Qxd5 wins material in any case.

If you play chess regularly, then the ladder trick is a tactical opportunity that will most probably appear in your own games sooner or later!

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