Pins in Chess – Winning Material

In this post, I will cover what pins are, and how they arise in games, and I will also show you how to distinguish between different types of pins in chess, from deadly ones, which can tear apart the unsuspecting players position, and those that are not too concerning.

What is a pin?

It is a tactical mechanism which prevents a piece from moving, because either the movement of that piece will put you in check or it will lose material.

How can a pin win material?

If a piece of lesser value is able to capture a pinned piece, then you can win material. Normally when one of your pieces is attacked, and it is of greater value than the attacking piece, you can move it away, but this is not possible, because the piece is pinned down. e.g 1: Queen pinned to king:

In the position above, black would like to move the queen on g5 out of the line of fire of white`s rook, however this is not possible, because it is pinned.

e.g. 2: Exploiting the pin with a pawn

In this position above, white wants to move the bishop away, so that the black pawn doesn`t take it. This is however impossible, because you can`t move into check – your king would be taken – this never happens in chess.

e.g. 3: Bishop Pins

Here, black pins the white knight on f3 down, because if it moves anywhere, then the black bishop will take the white queen – such a material advantage would win the game.

How to prevent pins from happening

The tactics based on pins are so common that there are few games that don`t have some point during the game when they occurred, or could have, but were stopped. Before I give you some of my own personal experiences of pins, I want to quickly show you how to prevent pins from happening.

The position above could arise after the following moves: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Nf3 The French defence – exchange variation. The move 5…, Nf6 seems like a good developing move, but it walks into a pin with 6. Bg5. To prevent this, we can play 5…, h6 first, to control the g5 square, and stop the white bishop from coming there.

Practical Pins – From my own games

Nottingham Congress

I hope you can learn something from these examples, if nothing else, this part should help to familiarise you with the common features within a position for pins to occur. The first 3 examples are all from games I played at the 2018 Nottingham congress.

I was black, and my last move was 37…, Rc4 This leaves white in a hopeless position, because black is going to win some serious material. Play continued: 38. a5 Kc8 Getting my king off the open file, from where the white rook could check me. 39. g5 Ne4! There is overwhelming pressure on c4, so something has to give way. 40. Nxe4 Rxc1 a couple of moves later my opponent resigned.

In the position above, the white knight on h3 is pinned, this is not the crucial factor, but restricting the possibilities of your opponent is always good to do. I played here 15…, Nxf2 which won me a pawn after 16. Qxf2 Bxh3 17. Bxh3 Qxh3+ This was enough for the win, as I soon pacmanned the loose e-pawn. However, there was a stronger tactic that I missed. 15…, Rxf3! wins a clean piece, because after 16. Bxf3? Qxh3+ 17. Kg1 Qh2#

In the position above, the pin which causes black potential trouble is the one caused by my queen on a6, completely demobilising the black a7 pawn. If black had greedily gobbled up the h2 pawn: 30…, Rxh2? I can gain an advantage with the tactic 31. Rxb6 Winning an important pawn, which defends the black king. Black cannot capture 31…, Bxb6?? because I would recapture 32. Nxb6+ forking the king and queen, and winning. The game actually continued: 30…, Qd8 31. Na3 Qb8 32. Nb5! forcing black to retreat with …, R2f7 because of my threat of winning the bishop or in the event of R8f7 playing Nxd6 and after …, Bxd6,  Rc8 pinning and winning the queen.

Frodsham Congress

From the games that I played at the 2018 Frodsham congress, here are some positions where pins played an important role in the outcome of the game.

After 10…, h6 black attacks my g5 knight, but do I retreat the knight? No I don`t, because I dont have to. Here is how the game continued: 11. O-O-O Nf6 12. dxe5 dxe5 An asset is the open d-file. 13. c5!? Qe7 14. Bc4 Nd5 That knight has been on that g5 square for 4 whole moves, if the pawn ever takes the knight, then I will be happy to gobble up the h8 rook in return. 15. Nge4 Only now do I move the knight…It turns out that taking on d5 was probably slightly stronger.

16…, Re8 has just been played. Black is hoping to win back the piece he lost on e5 by the pin against my king and/or queen on the open e-file. I played 17. Ndf3 to support my e5 knight. They replied …, Be6 temporarily blocking up the dangerous e-file. I was only happy about this. I castled getting my king off of the dangerous file: 18. 0-0 Bd5 19. Qd2 Rxe5 20. Nxe5 Qxe5 so I give up the 2 knights for a rook, which results in me being the exchange up at the end of it. After some positional moves and manoeuvres, I won that game.



Central Control 2 – When the Centre collapses

When you have a large centre – by which I mean multiple pawns on the 4th rank – e.g. c4, d4, e4 or d4. e4. f4 (to name just 2 examples) then you have to make sure that your opponent can’t undermine this at a later stage. Many modern openings, which initially concede the centre will have counterattacking opportunities, where your large centre can actually become broken down. This is exactly what happened in this game I played when I was younger.

If you have a chess board, please get it out now as I begin with notation:

  1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 d6 3. c3 g6 4. Nd2 Bg7 5. e4 0-0 

Already, I have established a strong centre, but in a couple of moves time, black breaks down this big centre, claiming it to be unstable. 6. Bd3 This move was not best (6. Ngf3 is more accurate, giving more control over the e5 square) …, c6 Preparing to play d5 although an immediate 6…, d5 was stronger. 7. Qe2 Nbd7 8. Be3 e5! (figure 2) Now the critical break comes, and white is forced to make a decision on how to continue…

Already there is a lot of tension in the centre. 9. f4 c5 Here I make a positional mistake.

10. d5?! Now the pawn on e4 is a permanent weakness, because it can no longer be defended by another pawn. Better was 10. fxe5, releasing the tension, and opening up the f-file for my rook after a later 0-0 (play could have continued 10…, cxd4 11. exf6 dxe3 12. fxg7 exd2+ 13. Qxd2 Kxg7 ).

10…, a6 (More critical was 10…, exf4 11. Bxf4 Nxd5! A clever tactic 12. exd5 Re8 13. Be3 Nf6 14. 0-0-0 Ng4! though neither I nor my opponent saw this).

11. Ngf3 Ng4 

The main point of this knight manoeuvre is to exchange the knight for my dark squared bishop, which is a sensible exchange to make (Note: at top level bishops are usually worth a tad more than knights). To avoid this exchange  could play Bg1, but that is a really backward move, and you are very often punished for playing negatively in chess. Instead, I increase the tension in the centre. 12. f5 Nxe3 13. Qxe3 b5 

According to the engine, this position is actually equal. The trouble was that I failed to find the best move here. 14. b3?! The trouble with this move, is that it allows the black knight into my position. (14. g4 would have stabilsed my f5 pawn, and I have to say, I actually quite like my position there. My king is destined to stay in the middle, but that is not actually an issue, because he is somewhat safe there, and I have a ready made kingside attack with h4-h5 (play could have continued: 14…, c4 15. Bc2 Qb6 16. Qxb6 Nxb6 17. Kf2 Bb7 18. Rhg1 Nd7). 14…, Nf6 

In this position, the knight is threatening to come into my position by 2 different routes, and if I stop one of them, then the knight will go into the other square. These squares are g4 and g3. 15. h3 Nh5 16. Bc2 Ng3 17. Rg1 gxf5 

All of a sudden, my position looks awful. I can`t recapture on f5, because I would lose a pawn anyway after 18…, Bxf5 19. Bxf5 Nxf5 with a loss of a tempo, because I have to move my queen. 18. 0-0-0 f4 my centre has fallen apart, and I haven`t sufficient counterplay. 19. Qf2 Qa5 20. Kb2 f5!  This last move really blasts my centre open even more, and gets rid of black`s doubled pawn.

21. Ng5 going for some counterplay – it is better to go down fighting, than admit defeat straight away …, h6 22. Ne6 Bxe6 23. dxe6 Rae8 

In this complex position, we both overlooked something… 24. exf5? Nxf5?? black could have won on the spot with the inventive 24…,Qxc3 when Kxc3 loses to e4+ white can put the queen in the way with Qd4, but next move Bxd4 will be checkmate. 25. Bxf5 Rxf5?? According to the computer,black`s advantage dissappears instantly into thin air! This is because white can get active with the queen – I missed this. 26. Ne4 Rxe6?? 27. Nxd6?? I missed the way to draw… (27. Qd2 Rg6 28. g4 fxg3 29. Rxg3 Rxg3 30. Nxg3 Rf6 31. Nh5 Rg6 32. Qd5+ Kh7 33. Nxg7 Kxg7)

The game finished 27…, e4 28. Qe1 b4 29. Rd4 bxc3+ 30. Kb1 cxd4 31. Nxf5 Qxf5  Here I resigned.

Conclusions from the Game

In this game, it was all about the struggle for the centre, and there was a great deal of tension in the centre, which caused me to make a mistake with 10. d5 creating a permanent weakness on e4, which my opponent exploited with his knight manoeuvre.

This game really highlights how you have to be careful about pushing pawns, because pawns can`t go backwards. I think it might have been Philidor who suggested that pawns are strongest when held back, because they have more options, and every pawn move creates a weakness, because there is ground that is no longer defended by them, when you push them forwards.

How to avoid Making Pawn Weaknesses

Try to avoid creating permanent pawn weaknesses in your own games. Here are some questions you could ask yourself before you play a pawn move in the early middlegame:

  • Am I going to be left with any backwards pawns? (A pawn that can’t be defended by another pawn, because its neighbours are too far advanced – see the diagram after 13 moves – my e-pawn is backwards)
  • Am I going to be left with any isolated pawns? (A pawn that has no allied pawn on its adjacent files – for example see the final diagram – the black a-pawn is isolated. However this is somewhat irrelevant in that position, because black has an overwhelming advantage.)
  • Is it going to benefit me to keep the centre closed or to open it up? This should help you decide whether to capture or to push forwards a pawn.
  • Will there be any ‘holes’ in my position where an enemy piece can jump into? If so, which enemy pieces might head towards that square, and is that important?