Do You Need To Know Mate And Tactic Names?
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Do You Need To Know Mate And Tactic Names?

| 36 | Tactics

The member grepschrop wrote: “Some players told me that it’s not important to know the names of mating patterns. My experience with kids is contrary. What is your opinion?”

SILMAN: Though one might think this is easy to answer, I have to say that we have two different animals here: The simplest and most crucial for beginners (tactical and mating patterns) are pins, back-rank mate, forks, decoys, clearance sacrifices, x-rays, windmills, deflections, skewers, and double attacks. These are "animal group one." Everyone should know these critical tactical building blocks.

Why is it important to know these names? If you don’t, you won’t know what people are saying when they toss out a tactical name (their eyes glaring at you as if you’re an outcast). Knowing the names helps you study the patterns in a more categorized manner. And having a name gives the pattern personality.

Now let’s address animal group two, which are all about mating patterns:

Scholar’s mate, fool’s mate, Boden’s Mate, Anastasia’s mate, Anderssen’s mate, Blackburne’s mate, Cozio’s mate, Damiano’s mate, Greco’s mate, Legal's mate, Morphy’s mate, Pillsbury’s mate, Reti’s mate, smothered mate, classic bishop sacrifice, etc.

Should you know all these patterns?


Yes, you should. Should you know their names? Yes and no.

There are some that you hear so often that you will know its name, like it or not (smothered mate, classic bishop sacrifice, etc). But the others are easy to forget. Is Anastasia’s mate (I quite like this name) a chess-household name? No. Why? Because these patterns aren’t everyday events.

Compare the classic bishop sacrifice, which is seen all over the place, and the name stays with you. But Boden’s mate? It’s a really cool mate, but once again, it’s rare and most players use their little gray cells for more important things.

Here’s a very common and very old trap that everyone should know: 

You can memorize its name, “Legal’s mate,” but understanding it is much more important. Some will remember the name, some won’t, and it really doesn’t matter at all. Just understand the patterns and you’re good to go.

Another must “remember the name” is the fool’s mate. Perhaps that name sticks with us since we like to think that the person falling for it is a fool (forgetting that we all have done many, many stupid things). But Pillsbury’s mate, or other mates...most people don't remember them. In this case just know the patterns unless you’re really into interesting names. That’s completely fine.


For beginners, it’s important to learn three key patterns: pin, fork, and back-rank mate. After that, I would recommend the smothered mate.


This extremely common pattern, which is very easy to understand after a few looks, is used all the time.


Forks are a real fan favorite. Whether it reminds you of Pac-Man or it teaches you just how nasty a knight can be, once you fall for a fork you’ll never forget it.

As you saw, the knight is very dangerous since it reaches in all directions and jumps over men. It’s the ultimate fork weapon. Other pieces can also fork, but a knight fork is something special.


Beginners fall for this all the time. However, more complex examples show that even grandmasters fall victim to a back-rank pattern. Since so many people get back-rank mated, it’s important that this should be one of your first tactical patterns.



When dealing with children or beginners of any age, these three patterns should be taught as quickly as possible. Not only will it save the player from falling into these patterns, there will also be a bit of mystery, and part of that mystery is the cool names associated with them.

As time goes on, teach them more and more: the double attack, deflection, the decoy, x-ray, windmill, and on and on it goes. Mastering these is easy and fun, and it will be the foundation of your tactical understanding.

Keep in mind that once you master some tactical patterns (in this case, a fork) you will win some games by using simple forks, but you’ll also win games by using that “simple” fork pattern in far more complex ways.

Here’s a famous game that shows Black using more than one fork. Can you find all of them?

Oddly, one year earlier Alekhine was the side that got forked:

Everyone falls for forks (and all the other tactical patterns), and if you don’t understand them then you’ll miss out a huge part of chess. If you don’t learn the “fork basics” you’ll never have a chance to make use of the way Alekhine used them. The same goes with all the other tactical patterns. In other words, small steps at first, masterpieces in the future!

So Mr. grepschrop, if you teach children that want to know all these exotic names, GREAT! I personally love all them. The first “animal group” should indeed be named and remembered. But most of the second “animal group” is a personal choice.

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