Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pins aren't tactics

Meta-note: Now I think I may not have been all that off. See this post from Tempo where I commented.

Note: I now think I'm likely wrong about this. Addendum added at bottom of post.

This is probably obvious to everyone, but I just wanted to note that
pins aren't tactics. If a pin can't be exploited for material gain, how is it a tactic?

I look at a pin as the creation of a severe positional weakness on the pinned material, limiting its mobility to the line of the pin. It is this positional feature that makes pins a formal invitation to look for tactics. A kind of neon sign inviting you to attack the pinned piece, or grab for free some material that the pinned piece is defending. That must be why pins are included on everyone's list of tactical motifs.

I bring this up because in my previous game I missed an obvious grab of a Knight defended by a pinned pawn.

Now, skewers, those are real tactics.

Note added: I am starting to think I am wrong about this, or at the very least that things are a bit more subtle and complicated than I allowed in the original post. As discussed in the comments, if we define tactics broadly, pace Heisman, as the "science" of piece safety, don't pins sometimes fall into this category? Yes, most tactics involve immediately going up in material via some double attack or trap, but pins are often more subtle, they can be used to protect material, constraining the general flow of the game.

Such pins provide the tactical constraints that often dictate reasonable long term plans you can make. E.g., if I have his Knight pinned to his Queen, I may never capture the Queen, may never get the Knight for free. However, it may stop his Knight from grabbing my pawn on d4: it keeps his Knight immobile because of tactical considerations. So in this case the pin is a tactic because it directly bears on material safety. It protects my pawn that was attacked by his Knight because I have generated an even bigger threat that will be realized if he grabs the pawn. That's the answer to my original question, "If it can't be exploited for material gain, how is it a tactic?"

Katar, Glenn, and Loomis got me thinking I was probably wrong. More arguments in the comments section...

Note also I forgot when I wrote this to mention Wang's interesting post about where tactics ends and strategy begins.


Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Interesting thought. There is certainly some truth in it. Usually a pin is no duplo-move since it can be met by a mono-move. I will have to think about that.

11/14/2007 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

A pin is not a combination. A pin is a tactical theme. A move which pins a piece is a tactic. A move which attacks a piece is a tactic. A move which improves a piece's position is a tactic. A move ... is a tactic.

Strategy == what/ideas. Tactics == how/moves.

Combination: a rearrangement of the connection of pieces of both sides, which forces a co-ordinated connection of contacts, which is advantageous to one side. [Chess Tactics for Advanced Players by Yuri Averbakh].

11/14/2007 06:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaaaa. Aaaaa! Stop trying to make me think in new ways; my brain hurts...

If a pin can't be exploited for material gain, how is it a tactic?

Hmmm...masters mention using tactics to force positional advantage. So I'm not so sure about that. I'll keep pins classified as a tactic, mainly because I'm old and curmudgeonly and don't want to change.

11/14/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Loomis said...

Panic! Gray area!

I think it's comforting to describe things as "tactical" or "positional" and put everything in its rightful box, but that's hard to do. A lot of positional moves after all are just the increase of latent tactical energy -- pinning seems to be one example of that.

I think a pin can be very tactical. You can pin a piece to remove it from the defense, for example. (especially pawns on the e-file with the king in the center ;-) )

11/14/2007 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

I think the tactical aspect of a pin comes from whether or not you can exploit it or not. If the pinned piece is defending the potential mating square for instance then you're going to be able to exploit by threatening mate. If the only way to defend against the mate is by moving the pinned piece then you're going to either win what's behind the pin piece or get the mate because the king is behind the pinned piece.

The famous Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick game is a classic example of this. Morphy takes tremendous advantage of the relative and absolute pins that plague black through out the game.

When you think about it, even after black eliminates the pins to his queen and king the knight on d7 is still pinned. Instead of being pinned to a specific piece, it's pinned to the mating square of d8. With Qb8+ the "pinned" knight is forced to capture, allowing for the mate with Rd8! A completely different tactic of deflection is used at the end, but the knight was pinned to d8.

11/14/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Just to be clear, I define a tactic as a sequence of moves that gives you a material plus. The fruits of opponents' mistakes. The stuff that you find in tactical problem sets are all like this.

Here's one way to think about it: how many problems in CT-Art or CTB are there when you pin a piece and the problem is over? Typically the problems start with a position where a piece is pinned, and the whole point of the tactical problem is that you have to see that you can exploit it. That's the tactic. However, there are tons of problems that end with you forking or skewering a queen and King, etc.. That's what the tactic is, the move that wins you material.

On the other hand, some pins are truly tactical to the core. When the pinned piece has greater value than the pinning piece. E.g., absolute pin of rook with a Bishop. Unless the opponent can interpose a pawn or something, the rook is toast. But typically the pinned piece is of the same (or often less) value as the pinning piece.

Liquid Egg: I would say you use tactical threats to improve a position. E.g., move the knight so on next move it can fork X and Y, so they simply have to weaken their pawn structure to address it.

Polly: you said it better than me. It's all about whether you can exploit it.

Note I don't want to be dogmatic about this: everyone has their pet definitions. I think my definition of tactics is unforced. Most importantly, thinking of pins not as tactics but as invitations to various types of tactics (piling on, grabbing what pinned material defends), as seeds of tactical destruction, will likely help me in practical play.

Glenn: I see what you mean a little bit: when you are thinking concretely, about variations, that's tactics. When you are thinking more generally based on principles (e.g., rooks on open files) without clearly looking through to the concrete consequences, that's strategy. Is that how you use the terms?

At any rate, I am quite sure I am using the term 'tactic' differently so I guess you'd have to consider whether using my definition, a pin is a tactic. I'm saying it (usually) isn't.

Using your definition, even a pin is not always a tactic: someone could just be fuzzy thinking 'Pins are good, just pin his knight to his queen' without considering consequences or variations concretely. In that case it would be strategy (using your definition).

11/14/2007 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger R. Tull said...

I would have thought that the statement "Pins aren't tactics" would be uncontroversial. Of course pins aren't tactics. They are situations on the board which can be exploited by tactics. If pins are tactics, then so are loose pieces and weak king positions!

11/14/2007 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

R Tull: I was hesitant to post this as I thought the response would be "Duh, we all knew that already." But I decided to go ahead as pins are listed in everyone's basic tactic inventory.

11/14/2007 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

If a pin can't be exploited for material gain, how is it a tactic?

Just to be clear, I define a tactic as a sequence of moves that gives you a material plus.

Your unnatural (counterintuitive) definition reduces your revelation to a tautology.

One equals two.
By the way, i define two as one.

Advantages are convertible, whether material, time, activity, etc. just as energy and matter, or money for goods/services, are also interchangeable. Hence the term "compensation". It is overly simplistic and completely arbitrary to single out "material" advantages. A queen move that wins a pawn perforce is often losing in the opening. Is that a tactic? Many tactics intentionally LOSE material. (ie, positional sacrifices; forcing simplification from a piece-up complex middlegame to simple pawn-up endgame, etc) There are many problems with your definition.

11/14/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

another definitional problem involves the distinction b/w "combination" and "tactic". Glen hit on this above.

11/14/2007 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: How would you define tactics? Is a pin a tactic under that definition? Is a family fork a tactic?

I should add that my definition was incomplete as it didn't include mate, so I should say material gain is sufficient, but not necessary, for tactics.

My definition seems standard. The very trivialness of what I was saying, given this standard definition, was what made me hesitate to write this. Now, there may be problems with the standard definition (I'm not convinced yet), but that is another matter.

Just to give some examples that I'm not being idiosyncratic or weird....Heisman defines tactics as the science of piece safety. This is a little cheesy, but it emphasizes the material dimension of tactics. As does Farnsworth, who says "A tactical sequence generally is a short bunch of moves that wins material (pieces or pawns) or that forces checkmate. Such a sequence also is known as a combination."

So you may have a perfectly good alternative definition, but mine is certainly not an aberration. It would be interesting to explore how you and Glennn are using the term, using it in a way that most of us are not. You both are probably better at chess than most of us, able to see a more rich structure to tactics than mere material and mate.

Incidentally, focusing on material is not arbitrary. Sure, you can come up with examples where losing material is justified, but typically having more material is the deciding factor in club games.

I consider Heisman's Principle of tactical dominance a useful heuristic: "[W]hen considering candidate moves, first decide if there are any tactical considerations that cost either side a pawn or more. If there are no tactics that would conclusively indicate a particular move, then use strategic and positional considerations as a “tiebreak” to decide between the moves that involve no material gains or losses."

11/14/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I think there are two classes of chess players. Those for whom accidents decide the games, i.e., standard tactics. And those that are past that point. E.g., Glenn perhaps, Tempo, Katar.

Incidentally, Wikipedia prefers another standard definition, defining tactics as "a short sequence of moves which limits the opponent's options and which results in tangible gain."

Often the more academic treatises on tactics will define them in terms of short-term sequences versus strategy which involves long-term thinking. I have never liked this definition. Perhaps replacing short-sequences with 'temporary opportunities'? I don't know.

Of course, the definitions aren't really what is important as long as you aren't missing out on the important ideas. In that sense this whole post is an exercise in clearly defining two terms (pin and tactic) and then seeing how they match up. More philosophy than practical chess. But for me it seems more practical to define things the way I have.

11/14/2007 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger R. Tull said...

Blue Devil Knight: To be honest I had never thought of it before, but it seemed obvious after you pointed it out. I was just expressing surprise at some of the other responses. :)

11/14/2007 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...

This is why chess is so wonderful, the truth is indisputably on the board and doesn't depend on our external definitions.

If my opponent puts a knight on the 6th rank, I don't like it there. That is a strategic or positional dislike. If I attack it with a pawn so that it has to move, that is a tactical operation that achieves my strategic goal of disallowing a knight on the 6th rank.

Now let's imagine my opponent threatens to move a knight to the 6th rank where I cannot chase it away. This is a positional threat (assuming the knight doesn't yet achieve anything but it's own placement). If I see the upcoming knight move and pin the knight before it gets on its way, isn't this pin a tactical operation? (If I've read Glenn correctly, he'll agree with me. And if I've read BDK correctly he'll not agree with me.)

I'm not trying to make a fight here. I think everyone is realizing that definitions vary among different players. I think that's ok so long as nobody is insisting they're right.

11/14/2007 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

If I see the upcoming knight move and pin the knight before it gets on its way, isn't this pin a tactical operation?

This is a good example. If I were to be dogmatic about my definition, I would tend to look at it as a tool that limits the activity (mobility) of the Knight. But why does it limit the mobility? Because of the tactical constraint it provides. That is, it directly bears on the bread-and-butter of tactics, material safety. That's why we so often will pin a Knight to 'take pressure off' a central square, to make sure one of our own pawns isn't captured.

This is suggested that, perhaps, I was too narrow in my definition. If tactics, as Heisman says, is the 'science' of piece safety, isn't protecting your material via pins a tactic? So my focus on sequences of moves that gain material excludes all sorts of considerations of piece safety that block the opponent from taking material.

Wang brought a similar topic up recently here. There I suggested about his example that "not only must strategic thinking take place within tactical constraints, but tactical constraints are helpful for implementing strategic ideas." In particular it is the latter that is relevant here. By placing tactical constraints on the position, you are forcing the position to evolve in a certain direction (or rather, to not evolve in a certain direction), even if the said tactics are never realized.

I think I've started to flip flop. Perhaps the title of my post should be 'Pins are the tactics painted with a more subtle brush."

Note even the Wiki entry (for what it's worth) has a special spot for pins, saying "Pins also fall into this category [tactics] to some extent, although it is common for a defending player to relieve neither of the two threats posed by a pin, in which case the attacking player commonly maintains the pin for a longer period of time. A pin is therefore sometimes more strategic than tactical."

11/14/2007 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

i am flattered you place me in a higher class of players, even though this is clearly unwarranted. :) the great strength of my opinions must not be confused with the limited strength of my game!

i'd ratify Wiki's definition of tactics, with the clarification that "tangible" means "identifiable" rather than "material".

the question of whether pin=tactic depends on the definition of "tactics". so, IMO, the question has no indepen

11/15/2007 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

... independent value. (oops)

11/15/2007 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: yes, it is ultimately an argument about word meanings, but I like to have my ideas well organized and consistent.

11/15/2007 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger XY said...

In this old post I distinguish between tactical maneuvers (forks, skewers, etc) and tactical constellations (constallations that often are relevant to tactics - pins, weak first/eigth row, etc). The maneuvers often take advantage of the constellations.

Haven't thought about it in a while, but I think I still stand by that way of looking at it.

11/17/2007 05:31:00 PM  

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