X-ray - Chess Taser!

  • IM Silman
  • | May 23, 2013

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...

Puzzle Time

 [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.


  • 11 months ago


    Help Me : You do not have permission to send trophies to that user!

  • 16 months ago


  • 3 years ago


    I wonder how many X-Rays have I missed in my chess games. Great articles.

  • 3 years ago


    Great article! Really instructive!

  • 3 years ago


    great, I like that this could easily happen in a game i would play!

  • 3 years ago


    This article was very helpfull thanks for posting it.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks again for a superb article!

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    Nice! It was very helpful! :)

  • 3 years ago


    because Ra8#

  • 3 years ago


    In the second-to-last puzzle, why can't the black queen just move out of harm's way?

  • 3 years ago

    NM calemcc

    Very nice article!

    I had a game involving an interesting bishop X-ray, against a 2000 USCF player. 

  • 3 years ago


    prelepo, zeleo bih sacuvati ovo u svojim alatima,na racunaru, ali neznam kako?

  • 3 years ago


    In the first example after "Puzzle time" I thought that was puzzle and thought about the funny move 1...Nxb2 seeing that after 2.Rxd5 - Qxd5! 3.Rxd5 - Rxd5 with an unstopabble Rd1 =D only problem is Bxa7 with an equal endgame I think. But even if white didn´t have Bxa7... What would be the result? I have alot of problems with these endgames and so do most  of us here on chess.com. Could you write B vs N and N vs N endgames(especially with pawn up for one of the sides)? Thank you Silman =D

  • 3 years ago


    On the whole, I love the articles and books (I own 4 or 5) of yours that I've read.  I find them to be very instructive.  

    However, I found this article to be very confusing for three reasons: 

    First of all, you set out to illustrate a single type of tactic, but you never actually explained what an x-ray is.  This is a shame, since it is my experience that many players are confused by its definition.  If you want to be confused, look at the Wikipedia article, or even the chess.com chessopedia definition!  What is it?!  A lack of a strong definition may be a big reason why so few players know the x-ray's power.

    Even more confusing is that there are a lot of other types of tactics mixed into the introductory examples, which may mislead the novice tactition.  I see undermining, back-rank threats, and forks, among others.  These sideline tactics are never mentioned, which may lead a novice into thinking the x-ray attack is something it's not. 

    Finally, there's also no specific mention in the diagrams of when and how the actual x-ray attack is employed.  You have to really look at the examples to figure out a pattern before you can understand explicitly where the actual x-ray attack is being used.

    Still, I learned something from this article, these are great tactics, and I appreciate your time and efforts.

  • 3 years ago


    Great work IM Silman, your articles are absolutely brilliant!

  • 3 years ago


    An excellent article thank you, and a lot easier for me to grasp than the positional-based articles :)

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    great article

  • 3 years ago


    I understood all of them except Helen Milligan vs. A. Setiabudi Oceania 2011. Why does black have to play Qxd5?


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