Knowing all the different tactical devices in chess is both easy and extremely important since they turn up all the time. This means that you will be able to use them when the opportunity presents itself, and avoid falling for them when a suicidal tactical leap off the edge of the board is just a blink away.
The first tactical themes one should master are pins, skewers, forks, back-rank mates (since they occur most often) and smothered mates (since they're really, really cool). The concepts of discovered attack and double attack should be digested next. The Classic Bishop sacrifice also needs to be studied and fully understood since it teaches you about the vulnerability of the h7-point when Black is castled kingside (or the h2-point if White is castled kingside). And, since we’re on the subject of kingside castling, one should also be aware of the potential weakness of f7 and g7 (or f2 and g2). Fortunately I’ve covered these (and more) in some detail in the last few months, with Beginner Mating Patterns Part 1 (which explores back-rank mate). As you’ve noticed, I leap back and forth between positional and tactical articles.
This week we’ll be taking a look at the interesting, very effective, but oddly little-known tactical device known as the X-ray (This always makes me think of the movie, X: The Man With the X-ray Eyes (1963), which really shows my age!). The most common form of X-ray features a “party” between the Queens, Rooks, and Kings.
Black’s winning since he’s a pawn up and White’s King is far from safe. For example, 31…Rd6 intending 32…Rg6+, or 31…Rxd5 both pack enough punch to make White resign. However, Black wanted to keep things simple, so he played the unfortunate:
Here’s a slightly different version:
You can also X-ray from the side:
Here White regained material equality with 1.Rxc8 when the game should be drawn. However Black, thinking that he might has well exchange as many pieces as possible and get that draw in the books so he could run off and watch the football game, suffered a hallucination:
The same theme can be reversed:
Here White decides (wisely) to regain his pawn. Thus:
And, following the same theme, we can add to the chaos a bit with the following position. Once again White wants to regain his pawn and make a draw. He can do this by 1.Rxb8 Rxb8 2.Qxc5 or 1.Rxc5. However, he decides to set a trap (there’s no downside) so he gives 1.Qxc5 a try. Black can now do just about anything and draw, such as 1…h6, ...Rxb5, etc. But Black goes for the bait:
So far all the examples have been Rook and Queen affairs. It’s time to invite the Bishops to the party too!
In this position Black’s quite proud of himself. He’s an Exchange and a pawn up and threatens mate in two by …Ra1+. Unfortunately, there’s a bothersome X-ray to deal with:
Here's another example of Bishop mischief. This position is very much in White’s favor. The point count will tell you it’s even (a Rook – 5 points, for a Bishop – 3 points and two pawns – 2 points = 5 to 5). However, white’s powerful pawn center, the vulnerability of Black’s pawns on f7, g6, and h5 (all on light squares), and most importantly the weakness of the light squares around Black’s King leaves Black in a sorry state. In view of all this one can fully understand Black’s desire to gobble the pawn on e4. But, alas, it’s untouchable:
We’ve looked at X-rays that feature Queens, Rooks, and Bishops, but it turns out that a Knight X-ray is also possible.
White’s Queen and Knight are both under attack. 1.Qxc6 Rxc6 is more or less equal, as is 1.Rb5. However White can make use of his X-ray control over c7 by...
Of course, an X-ray can also be a mix of pieces. Our next example shows a Bishop and Knight tandem. In this position the f3-Bishop X-rays through Black’s Bishop to the pawn on b7, which allows...
[I usually add prose and variations to most of the puzzles. Click SOLUTION, and then MOVE LIST to discover what explanatory or insane thing I might have said.]
Prelude to an Explosion
Black faces a bit of a dilemma. His Knight is attacked three times and only defended twice, and his a7-pawn is threatened by Bxa7. Black dealt with these threats by playing 1…b6, defending his pawn. However, didn’t that hang the Knight? What happens if White plays the obvious 2.Rxd3?
Our next one is how the “famous game” I mentioned in an earlier puzzle actually went. It's not an X-ray but it is heavily influenced by the possibility of an X-ray.
In the following position Black should play 1…Bd7, although after 2.Bxd7 Rxd7 3.c4 the vulnerability of the Black King still leaves White with the better chances. However, Black felt that he should be able to take the d5-pawn. After all, White’s Queen is pinned to the King and …Be4 is also a huge threat.
What happens if Black decides to take the d5-pawn?
I’ve saved the hardest for last.