Strategy vs. Tactics.

Often you will look at your forcing moves and decide they lead nowhere. That’s fine; now you instead play a strategic move rather than a tactical one—a move that improves the quality of your position without trying directly to win your opponent’s pieces or mate his king. But strategy and tactics are linked, since one goal of strategic, “positional” play is to increase the power of your pieces and create fertile conditions for tactical strikes on later moves. Sometimes this is a matter of arranging your pieces so that they have more freedom of movement and denying the same freedoms to your opponent; sometimes it is a matter of coordinating your pieces so that they are aimed at the same sector of the board; sometimes it is a matter of arranging your pawns to help achieve those same purposes for your pieces. At the end of our study of each tactical family (and sometimes more often), we will pause to consider its strategic implications: what the tactical ideas teach about the right sorts of moves to play when there is no such tactic yet available.

All this talk of weaponry admittedly is abstract. It will become concrete in the studies that follow. We will look at over a thousand tactical sequences. The rough structure of most of these sequences, and of a large share of all the great tactical moves ever played in chess, is similar; it involves the elements just described. First there are some forcing moves—checks or captures or mating threats that limit your opponent’s replies. Then there is a denouement: a double threat, such as a fork or discovered attack or one of the other themes we will consider, that becomes possible after the forcing moves have changed the board. As a result you are able to take a loose or underprotected enemy piece. We can call this a combination. The variations on this pattern are limitless, and there is much to know about its details: how to spot forcing moves and figure out their consequences, and how to spot the patterns suggesting that a fork or pin is in order. You can spend a lifetime building your understanding of those things and gaining skill at carrying them out under time pressure. But as you get started it all may be more manageable if you consider these studies as variations on the single idea just described.

The rest of this introductory section will be discussing chess notation and jargon, then some more technical aspects of the site. This therefore is a good time for a reminder that if you want to skip any or all of that stuff, perhaps because you already are comfortable reading about chess positions and want to cut right to some lessons, you can go back to the table of contents and navigate from there by using the link near the upper right corner of this screen.