The Pin is a must-know tactic, and it’s particularly feared by amateurs who find themselves pinned in a myriad of different ways. As with all tactical devices, pins range from very basic to beautifully complex.
Our first example goes way, way back. The dinosaurs had been dead for 5,400 years and, since humans no longer had to worry about training T-Rex to wear a saddle, they played chess, drank wine, and waged wars.
Gioacchino Greco - NN [C33],Europe 1620
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 d6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.d4 Qf6 7.e5 Qh6 8.g3 Qh3+ 9.Kf2 fxg3+ 10.hxg3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 (Black has kindly walked into a double attack – both Qxf7+ and Qxb7 are threatened.) 11…Qd7 12.Qxb7 Qc6 (Black thinks, “Hey, I’m defending a8, attacking white’s Queen, and also eyeing white’s h1-Rook. Life is good!”) 13.Bb5, 1-0. Pinning and winning black’s Queen. Though this pin convinced Black to give up, White actually could have improved with 13.Qc8+ Ke7 14.Bg5+ f6 15.exf6+ Nxf6 16.Re1+ Qe4 17.Rxe4 mate.
This kind of pin seems to be obvious, and one might wonder how anyone could fall for it. However, it continues to rake in the points at all levels. Our next example shows the old Three Stooges “fake and slap” technique, where you pretend to threaten something in one direction and land a thudding “slap” in another.
10.Qg5 White makes a threat, and screams, “I’m going to play Qxg7 which would also create a double threat of Qxh8+ and Qxf6! Fear me!” 10...Bd4?? Black thinks, “What does he think I am, an idiot? With this move I’m defending the Knight and also attacking his a1-Rook. I’m clearly a genius!” Black should have played 10...0-0 though after 11.Bb2 Black would be in serious trouble. 11.Bb5! DOH! That was White’s real threat! 1-0.
Some pins may not be decisive, but they are so annoying that they lead the opponent down a fatal path. Our next game was played by the legendary Indian player, Mir Sultan Khan, whose master (Colonel Umar Hayat Khan) took him to England in 1929 for five years. During those five years, Sultan Khan (who couldn’t read or write, and had never looked at a chess book) won the British Championship three times, beat players like Capablanca and Marshall in tournaments, and was ranked among the top ten in the world! Then, after the five years was up, Colonel Umar Hayat Khan took him back to India. In 1935 he played a ten game match against a player named V.K. Khadilkar (Sultan Khan won 9 and drew one), and then he never played again!
Though pins can be very annoying, they aren’t necessarily deadly if the defender doesn’t panic and makes a point of nullifying it in some way. In the present game Black is facing a very bothersome Bishop pin along the a1-h8 diagonal (and there’s also a potential pin along the h3-c8 diagonal). If Black had remained calm he might have drawn the pin’s teeth by 39…Ne5 (39…Kf8!?) 40.Bxc8 Rxc8 41.Bxe5 Bxe5 when white’s pins are gone and suddenly Black is the one doing the pinning – the c6-Knight is pinning by black’s Rook. Nevertheless, White retains some advantage by 42.Nb6 Re8 (or 42…Rc7 43.b4 when white’s queenside pawn majority is dangerous) and now moves like 43.a4, 43.Re1, or 43.Rd2 leave White with all the chances.
Instead, Black panicked and went down hard and fast: 39…Kg6?? Getting out of the pin but losing the game! 40.Bxf6 Kxf6 (40…Nxf6 41.Bxc8 Rxc8 42.Ne7+ Bxe7 43.Rxc8, 1-0) 41.Na7 (Decisive since c8 is attacked by the Rook and Knight, while the pinning h3-Bishop ensures that any move of the d7-Knight will lead to serious material loss) 41…Nc5 42.Nxc8 Rxc8 43.Bxc8 Nxa4 44.Rc6 Ke7 45.b3, 1-0.
Of course, this kind of Bishop-pin along the a1-h8 diagonal can indeed be crushing:
White is two pawns down but black’s the one that’s in serious trouble. All of black’s pieces are passively placed, and that horrific pin along the a1-h8 diagonal is taking a bite out of black’s soul. On top of all that, other tactical motifs are also covering the board: black’s Bishop is undefended on a4 (if White could chop the Knight on f6 with check, that Bishop would hang to white’s Queen), black’s Queen is undefended on c7 (if the Knight could move with check, the Queen would be lost), the b8-Rook is only defended by the Queen, and f7 is also potentially vulnerable to attack.
With so much downside, it’s no surprise that even the mighty Korchnoi wasn’t able to hold things together.
White has lots of very strong moves to choose from: 30.Ra1!? which will deprive Black of a defensive …Be8 after he guards his stuff with 30…b5, 30.Qg5 intending Re1-e3-f3, 30.c4 blowing the position open, and even the bizarre “unpin” 30.Be3!? which gives its Queen tactical support while also hitting the a4-Bishop. After 30.Be3 b5 31.Nxf7! Qxf4 32.Bxf4 the b8-Rook is suddenly hanging. Of course, a move like 30.Be3 isn’t something most humans would play – giving up that a1-h8 diagonal pin is pretty much a computer based construct.
In the game Flesch (he was one of the greatest blindfold players of all time – sadly, he and his wife were killed by a car while crossing a street in England), who clearly wanted a pound of Korchnoi’s flesh, played a very human move:
30.Re3 (This is a move anyone can understand! He intends to intensify the pressure against both f6 and f7 with Rf3.) 30…Rb7 (Giving f7 some support) 31.Rf3 Kf8 (Hunkering down with 31…Be8 was probably better [though still horrible for Black], but one can understand black’s desire to get his King off that terrifying diagonal!) 32.Ra1 b5 33.Qg5 Ke8 34.c4 (Seems to me that the obvious 34.Rxf6 Nxf6 35.Qxf6 Qe7 36.Qf4 was stronger, but ripping open the center also makes good sense.) 34…Qd8 35.Nc6 Qc7
36.Nb4 (There’s an old saying that you can only play one good move at a time, and this is a case in point. Both 36.Rxf6 and 36.cxd5 were also crushing. One sample: 36.cxd5 Nxd5 37.Rxf7!! Rxf7 [37…Qxf7 38.Qd8 mate] 38.Bxd5 Rf5 39.Qe3 Qd6 40.Bxe6 Ne7 41.Rc1 and black’s getting overwhelmed.) 36…Ng4 37.cxd5 Qe7 38.Qd2 e5 39.Nc6 Qd6 40.Nxe5 Ne7 41.Nxg4 hxg4 42.Re3 (42.Rf6!) 42…Kd7 43.Be5 Qb6 44.d6 Nc6 45.Bf4 Rh5 46.d4 Rf5 47.Bxc6+ Qxc6 48.Rc1 Qb6 49.Re7+ Kd8 50.Qc3, 1-0.
Finally I must remind the reader that Bishops aren’t the only things that can pin:
The following puzzles should push the pin-concept home (as usual, after trying to solve a puzzle, please check out the variations and prose hidden in each one by clicking SOLUTION and then MOVE LIST):