The Ladder Trick

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The ladder trick is another useful pattern you should know if you want to improve your tactical skill.

It’s a well-known chess tactic that usually involves your opponent’s queen. The ladder trick relies on two tactical ideas: 1) removing a defender and 2) x-ray.

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

White to move.

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).

1.Re8+ Rxe8 2.Qxd5 or 1. Re8+ Kh7 2.Rxd8

The first variation (1.Re8+ Rxe8 2.Qxd5) features the ladder trick in it’s pure form. It’s called the ladder trick since the moves 1.Re8+ Rxe8 resembles pulling the ladder from beneath the black queen, removing her support and causing her to fall (will be captured).

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

White to move. What would you do?

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


1.Bxd5 draws the black queen away from defending the e8-square and at the same time it opens the e-file for the rook on e1. If black recaptures the white bishop (with their queen), then that would allow white to use the ladder trick.

1… Qxd5 allows 2.Re8+ (the ladder trick).

(Note that if black does not play 1… Qxd5 then white won a bishop in any case.)

2.Re8+ Rxe8 3.Qxd5 is the ladder trick idea.

1.Re8+ illustrates “removing the defender” since the black rook on e8 is supposed to defend the queen on d5. But note that the above solution could also depend on the pinning motif. (That is if black now plays 2… Kh7 instead of 2… Rxe8).

2… Kh7

If black plays 2… Kh7, then white relies on the fact that even though the black rook on d8 is defended by the one on c8, it is pinned!

3.Qxd5 takes advantage of the pin on the black rook, Ie. 3… Rxd5 4.Rxc8

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 – be sure you understand it well!