Learn chess with Pete

Beginners Level

Lesson 5 – Tactics - Pins and Skewers

What are pins and skewers? They are actually very similar to each other. A pin is when you attack an enemy piece that is in line with a more important piece. A skewer when the more important piece is in front of the lesser piece. Here are two positions to show what I mean:

A Pin

A Skewer

So what? I hear you say. What difference does it make?

The difference lies in how you react to the threat. Bear in mind the relative values of the pieces. A Bishop and Knight are worth about the same as each other, whereas a Rook is worth a bit more, so in most cases you would not want to lose a Rook for a Bishop.Therefore, in the first position (the pin), Black would not want to move the Knight, because then the Rook is lost, and White would benefit even though the Rook is protected. In the second position (the skewer), the nearer piece – the Rook – should be moved, even though it is protected, as otherwise White will win the Rook for a Bishop.

Forks can be given by any piece, as seen in the previous lesson, but pins and skewers can only be given by long-range pieces – Bishops, Rooks and Queens. Pawns, Knights and Kings can’t do pins and skewers.

By the way, winning a Rook for a Bishop or Knight is called ‘Winning the Exchange’, for some reason. You will see this phrase in chess books if you ever bother reading one. Sometimes, good players will deliberately ‘Sacrifice the Exchange’, which means sacrificing a Rook for a minor piece (Bishop or Knight). Tigran Petrosian, the World Champion from 1963-1969 was especially famous for this.

Here’s the start of a game which shows a pin arising at a very early stage in a well-known opening.The opening is called the Ruy Lopez, after a 16th Century Spanish bishop, who wrote an early treatise on chess.

The next lesson will be about ‘the old one-two’ and other tactics such as gambits.