Knock-knock, who’s there? A tactic in the position!

Knock-knock, who’s there? A tactic in the position!

NM HanSchut

Players are often much better in solving tactical exercises than in finding tactical solutions in their own games when playing over the board. When you are looking for candidate moves in a real game, you do not know if there is a tactic in the position or not. If someone would tell you ‘knock-knock, who’s there?’ each time there would be a tactic in your game, your rating would undoubtedly jump a few hundred points! This is especially the case for youth players where the gap between theory and practice is the largest.

The developer of the Steps Method IM Cor van Wijgerden and one of the leading Dutch trainers IM Herman Grooten developed the following method to link characteristics of a position to tactical motives. This search strategy is an integral part of the Steps Method (Chess Steps). 

Search strategy to link positional characteristics to tactical motives.

  1. Orientation on the characteristics of the position
  • Identify general characteristics of the position (see below)
  • Pay special attention to vulnerabilities in the position of the opponent (see below)
  • Search for potential tactical themes
  1. Generate candidate moves
  • Generate candidate moves that fit with the characteristics of the position
  • Look for forcing moves as preparatory moves. In the Steps Method the following are identified: elimination of defence, chasing, luring, targeting and clearing
  • Increase the activity of your own pieces or restrict the activity of your opponent’s pieces. Piece activity can be increased by controlling squares, attacking targets and improving the coordination between pieces.
  • Improve your pawn structure or damage the pawn structure of your opponent
  1. Check calculation
  • Did I take the moves of my opponent properly into account?
  • What will in change in the position after I play my move?
  • If a combination does not work, see if changing the move order will make a difference

 Position Characteristics

 Tactical Motives

Unprotected pieces

Double Attack

(targets: material, king, square)

Pieces that lack space 

Trapping a piece

Vulnerable king (check)

Mate: gain access, eliminate defenders, bring attackers,

identify mating patterns, Double Attack

Pieces at knight/pawn distance

Double Attack of the knight/pawn

Pieces on one file, rank, diagonal  

Pin, X-ray Attack

Pinned pieces 

Attack it once more or exploit bad defender

Pieces on a battery

Discovered attack

Pieces with central defending role

Elimination of Defense:

capturing, chasing away, luring away, interfering

Passed pawns

Promotion combination:

eliminate defender, active king, breakthrough

Let me give two examples on how to apply the concept that I presented above:

White To Move

Characteristics and Tactical Themes:

- Battery Qb3, Nc4, Qd5: look for discovered attack with the knight on c4 

- Black king in the middle / uncastled - can we attack the king by forcing access or bringing more attackers?

- Nb6: Rook and Queen are at a Knight distance

Without looking at the answer I told my student that this position 'screams for' Nb6.

Solution: 1.Nb6 Qxb3 2.axb3 and White wins the rook on a8.

The difficulty of the exercise is actually seeing that Nb6 is feasible because after Qxb3, axb3 the a7 pawn is pinned. ('A pinned piece is a  weak defender'). Somehow there is this 'residual image' of a pawn on a2 that makes Nb6 difficult to find.

White To Move

Characteristics and Tactical Themes:

- Unprotected knight on e4 is a defender of the bishop on d6;

- Rc8 and Kg8 are at a knight's distance: theme Ne7 double attack;

- Rc1 and Rc8 on 1 file: potential for an x-ray attack

Solution: f3 (elimination of defender) followed by Rxd6 and Ne7+

Please also check out Herman's award winning training books: Chess Strategy for Club Players and Attacking Chess for Club Players .