Tactics – The Skewer

Tactics - The Skewer

In this second in the series of tactical devices you can use to gain an advantage, we look at the skewer!
Tactics are short term plans which often force the win of material or the creation of another weakness.

Skewers sound deadly and in chess they are!

A delicious Skewer

A delicious example of a skewer from real life

If you're ever in the mood to barbeque small portions of chicken (other delicious meat/vegetables are available), rather than cooking them all separately, you'll use a skewer to push through the food so they are held in a straight line.

In chess, the skewer does something very similar! Unlike its cousin, the pin, the skewer not only hits the first piece but often forces the win of the second behind it!

Three things you will learn today

  1. The skewer is a tactic where the attacker attacks a very precious piece which must move to leave an undefended piece to your mercy!
  2. Skewers work best against kings but can also apply to other pieces.
  3. Like pins, it's always best to create your own skewers!

Part 1 of 3 - Understanding a Skewer

Your Turn! White to play

This is the skewer in action! The check on h7 doesn't win the game by checkmate but since the king must move, it wins the rook!

Skewers are hard to see for the defender. Before playing 1...Rxa7 black could suffer a check with no problem and that a pawn looked pretty tasty. Sadly once the move 1...Rxa7?? is played, the 7th rank becomes a proverbial cooking board for white who puts his skewer through the king and to the rook, winning the rook (and very likely the game)!

Types of Skewer

Only certain pieces are able to skewer pieces - just like with pins, these are the long range pieces -

  • The Queen (can do diagonal pins or straight skewers):
  • The Rook (can do straight skewers)
  • The Bishop (can do diagonal skewers)

Summary of part 1

  • A skewer holds a precious piece in the firing line, often obliging it to move. If that piece moves, another piece in the firing line can often go for free!
  • Skewers can be executed by bishops, rooks and queens but not by knights, pawns or kings.
  • Skewers tend only work where the piece being pinned cannot attack along the same channel (e.g. skewering a rook against a rook often won't work!)

Part 2 of 3 - Types of Skewer in action

The skewer against the undefended king is the most effective

The skewer against the queen is also sometimes a strong weapon

Summary of part 2

  • Skewers are most effective against an undefended king - no pieces can step in the way and the king has to move!
  • Skewers against the queen are also bothersome, as she is so valuable!
  • Against weaker pieces, skewers are often less effective - a pin is a better approach here.

Part 3 of 3 - Seeing skewers in practice

Unlike pins, skewers are more common mistakes! Often it's hard to see the pieces aligned especially against a check (in time trouble, maybe).

However, just like pins, you can create your own and when your opponent has to deal with potential skewers, pins and other devious tactics, they can easily go wrong! The promoting pawn on the 7th is a classic example:

Try your hand at a few examples below:

Summary and Recommended Next Reading

  • Skewers attack a distant piece "through" a precious one - e.g. a check forces the king to move and leave a piece undefended!
  • This tactic is most effective against an undefended king - no pieces can step in the way and the king has to move! Skewers against a queen are also very nasty!!
  • Knowing how to spot a skewer and how to create them can win you a lot of games!