Chess Tactics: 7 Powerful Patterns to Know

From the Lecture Series: How to Play Chess — Lessons from an International Master

By Jeremy Silman, International Chess Master

There are no shortages of chess tactics, from highly complicated, to the super-simple. However, there are a few that occur all the time. These are a major part of your chess foundation, because if you don’t know them, you’ll be blown out of the water time and time again. The patterns in question are pin, skewer, fork, decoy, Zwischenzug, discovered attack, and double attack. Once you master all 7 of these powerful themes, you’ll find yourself with a major advantage over your opponents every time.

a picture of a chess Board and chess pieces
(Image: By Hutsuliak Dmytro/Shutterstock)

This is a transcript from the video series How to Play Chess: Lessons from an International Master. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Watch lecture 4 from the series How to Play Chess: Lessons from an International Master, and follow along with the puzzles below.

Learn more about the basics of chess and how it began

Puzzle 1

Black decides to make a trade

Black decides to trade Rooks, so he plays 1…Rxb3, expecting White to recapture the Rook by 2.Qxb3 or 2.axb3.

White to Move:
White needs to get his Rook back

What is White’s best move?


White to Move: Black is in for a surprise

Although Black has captured White’s Rook, White doesn’t recapture right away. Instead, he uses a Zwischenzug (an in-between move) to win a pawn.

  • 2.Qxe6+

Black can’t move his Rook to safety because his King is in check. So, Black is forced to move his King.

Black to Move: Black is in check
  • 2…Kf8

Only now, after winning a free pawn, will White recapture the Rook on b3.

White to Move
Time to regain that Rook!
  • 3.Qxb3

Black wanted a Rook trade, but he didn’t anticipate that the loss of a pawn was part of the package.

White is a pawn ahead

Puzzle 2

Black to Move

Black can capture a seemingly free pawn by  1…Qxa2. Would you make that move?


White to Move

Black has just captured White’s pawn on a2. It turns out that taking on a2 is a losing blunder.

  • 2.Bd5!

Learn more about how pawns are the most complex pieces on the chessboard

Forking Black’s Queen and Rook, and winning a full Rook.

White’s Bishop simultaneously attacks Black’s Queen and Rook

Puzzle 3

White to Move

White has 2 pawns for a Knight, which means that Black is up material. However, White’s proper move shows that a simple material count doesn’t have any meaning in this particular position. What is White’s best move?


White to Move: One move changes everything
  • 1.Rd1

This not-very-subtle move creates a pin against the Knight and the eighth rank. Because moving the Knight (1…Nf6, for example) walks into a mate by 2.Rd8+ Ne8 3.Rxe8 mate, Black finds himself facing a difficult decision.

Black to Move: Can Black save his Knight?
  • 1…Rd6

Black decides to protect his Knight with his Rook.

White to Move: Find the decisive blow
  • 2.e4

Thanks to the fact that Black’s Knight is pinned to its Rook, White will capture the Knight and end up with a decisive material advantage.

Black’s Knight will soon be a mere memory

Puzzle 4

White to Move

Black’s King is in the center, which is never good if several pieces remain on the board. How can White take advantage of Black’s unfortunate King position?


  •  1.Ba4!

Learn more about how to castle, the difference between checkmate and stalemate, and the etiquette of play

White creates a decoy by the use of this Bishop pin against Black’s Queen and King.

Black to Move: He doesn’t have much of a choice
  • 1…Qxa4

Black’s Queen had to capture that Bishop, but now Black’s Queen is no longer protecting the e6-pawn.

White to Move: The e6-pawn is about to fall
  • 2.Qxe6+

This check carries a heavy punch: It wins a pawn, checks Black’s King, and threatens Black’s Rook (a double attack against Black’s King and Rook).

Black to Move: Black has to move his King and give up his Rook
  • 2…Kf8

2…Be7 3.Qxc8+ is just as bad.

White to Move: Time for White to cash in
  • 3.Qxc8

White easily won the game due to Black’s vulnerable King and having a Rook and a pawn for Black’s Bishop (point count: 3 extra points for White).

Black is hopelessly lost

Summing Up

Pins, forks, decoys, double attacks, and Zwischenzugs are all tactical building blocks that constantly appear in the games of beginners and world champions. One might think that if they can take down the world’s best players, then they must be difficult to learn. However, the opposite is true: A bit of study and practice, and they will be with you for life.

Learn more about the Must-Know tactical patterns in chess

Key Terms

  • Decoy: The idea is to pull a piece away from an important job (often by making use of a pin, a skewer, or some other tactical device), leading to doom in another area, or to pull a piece to a square it doesn’t want to be on, with agonizing results for the opponent.
  • Double Attack: In a way, you can think of forks, skewers, and pins as double attacks, because 1 piece attacks 2 at the same time. In fact, the main idea of a double attack—making 2 threats at once—is the backbone of the vast majority of tactical themes.
  • Fork: A tactical maneuver in which a piece or pawn attacks 2 enemy pieces or pawns at the same time.
  • Pin: An attack against 2 pieces at once—one a direct attack and the other an X-ray attack. A true pin attacks the less-valuable piece first, while the more-valuable piece is the one attacked via X-ray.
  • Skewer: The same as a pin, except the more-valuable enemy piece is attacked and the X-rayed piece is the less-valuable one.
  • Zwischenzug: Meaning “in-between move,” a German term for an often unexpected reply thrown into an expected sequence of moves.

Common Questions About Chess Tactics

Q: What are the best chess tactics to open with?

The best chess tactics depend on who goes first and what your goals are, but some of the classics for White are 1.Nf3, 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.c4.

Q: How many basic tactics exist in chess?

Four basic chess tactics exist and every player should know them: Fool’s Mate, Forks, Pins, and Skewers.

Q: Can playing chess raise your IQ?

Studies have shown that the strategizing in chess can make you more liable to strategize in other areas due to mimicry and thus can actually raise IQ.

Q: What exactly is Fool’s Mate in chess?

Fool’s Mate is the actual checkmate of your opponent in the least amount of moves from the beginning. It can only be done when playing as black.

This article was updated on 12/29/2019

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