A Foundation for Beginners Fifty

This week, we’re going to start looking at what makes up the core of any good tactic, the combination. The combination is simply a series of moves that set up and execute a tactic. All tactics require a combination of moves to be made in order for them to be executed. Of course, you could stumble into a tactical opportunity accidentally, but these tendencies to happen only in the games of beginners. You’ll never see accidental tactics in the games of the best players! Today, I am going to give some concepts and ideas to think about over the next week. I just want you to let them sink in. Next week, we’ll put them into practice.

The art of creating combinations (a series of moves) that produce a positive tactical outcome (a working tactic) requires some work. It is a learned skill, one that is developed over time. This is one of the most difficult areas of study for beginners. However, there are ways to streamline the process a bit, and that’s what we’ll look at today. The first part of developing your combination skills is being able to identify potential tactical opportunities or targets.

When I show a game played by a master to my students and a tactical opportunity suddenly appears within that game, my beginning students think it’s a magic trick. Abracadabra, the tactic magically appears out of nowhere! However, like the magic trick performed by a magician, it’s carefully set up and executed with precision timing. Even when I explain this to my students, they still treat it as if a wizard had just conjured up a ghost out of thin air.

All tactics have a common starting point, whether they’re executed by a master or a beginner. That starting point is identifying a potential tactical opportunity. How do you do this critical part of the process? By looking for a pattern unique to tactics, pawns ans pieces lined up along the same, rank, file or diagonal. This is a universal starting point. I have my students look for this geometrical pattern before they consider any move when it’s their turn, no matter what phase of the game they are in.

We have been looking at pins and skewers over the last few weeks, so that’s what we’ll focus on this week. However, this method will apply to the next set of tactics we study. When we study tactics such as the fork, we’ll see that the creation of a combination becomes more complex. However, the fork still starts with identifying the same pattern as the pin and skewer. With each game turn, you should closely examine your opponent’s position to see if any of their pawns or pieces are lined up along the ranks, files or diagonals. Of course, before considering a tactical play, make sure to check for any attacks on your own pawns and pieces and deal with them first.

Let’s say you spot an opportunity to pin one of your opponent’s Knights to it’s Queen. You’ve seen that your opponent’s Knight and Queen are lined up along the same diagonal. Now you have to find a piece that can execute the tactic, such as a Bishop. Let’s say that Bishop is blocked in by a pawn. This means that you will first have to move the pawn and then the Bishop to the square that allows it to pin the opposition Knight to it’s Queen. This is the combination of moves that allows you to execute the tactic.

Before jumping into a tactic, you need to consider whether or not going through with the combination of moves will help your game or hurt it. Just because you can create a tactical play doesn’t mean you should do it! After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6 and 3. Bc4, Black has the opportunity to create a combination of moves that leads to a pin by the Black c8 Bishop against the White Knight on f3. While Black only needs to make two moves to create the tactic, is it worth making those two moves? Does this pin help our game?

Certainly, moving the Black Bishop on c8 to g4 and pinning the White Knight on f3 to it’s Queen on d1 keep’s White’s Knight in place. After all, if the Knight moves, Black’s Bishop will win the White Queen. However, it requires moving the d7 pawn to d6. This move by Black blocks in the f8 Bishop. Also, wouldn’t Black be better served if another minor piece was developed instead of a pawn? Playing 3…Nc6 would be more active an opening move. Again, just because you see a tactical opportunity doesn’t mean you should take advantage of it. Always compare your goal during a specific game phase to the employment of a tactic and determine if one outweighs the other in terms of good play.

There is also the idea that, if Black went through with moving the d7 pawn to d6 followed by moving the c8 Bishop to g4, White could either break the pin by moving the Bishop on c4 to e2 or push the h2 pawn to h3, forcing Black’s g4 Bishop to either move or trade itself for the Knight on f3 (Bxf3 then Qxf3). If Black traded Bishop for Knight and then White captured back with Queen takes Bishop, White would have it’s Queen and Bishop on c4 aimed at f7, threatening checkmate.

Another consideration, especially with pins is the question “does a piece really need to be pinned. In our example, the White Knight on f3 is on a great opening square but it isn’t really doing much in terms of the position. Sure, it is controlling the center, which is an opening goal, but it isn’t as if the Knight is playing a critical role in the position at the moment. A tactic such as a pin is only useful if the pin prevents a piece from performing an important task, such as defending a critical or key square.

What I want you to do this week is to play through some games played by the masters. Do an internet search for “Best tactical chess games” and play through a few of those games. Take what you’ve just learned here and apply it to those games. When a tactical play occurs, go back two or three moves and see how the pieces involved in delivering the tactics were moved. Also look for a tactical opportunity with each move played in the game. You’ll find them by noting any pieces belonging to the same side lined up along the ranks, files or diagonals. Also look at how players managed to get out of any tactical problems they faced. This will help you with next week’s article when we delve into some actual examples of tactics and the creation of the combinations that led to them. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Hugh Patterson

Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

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