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  • GM Gabuzyan Hovhannes GM Gabuzyan Hovhannes

The Pin Tactic in Chess Explained by a Grandmaster [For Beginners]

Everything about the pin in chess tactic: from what it is, how it works to how to get out of it and more!

Tactics | 8 min read
The Pin Tactic in Chess Explained by a Grandmaster [For Beginners]

Can you find the checkmate in 3 seconds?

a position on Pin tactic in chess

While it looks really crazy to checkmate Black King surrounded by the defenders there is:

1.e4!! mate.

Checkmate by Pin

There are 4 Black pieces capable of capturing but none of them can.

They are all pinned!

Pinned from all sides

One of the most important tactics is the pin in chess! Mastering it is one of the first steps in chess tactics training.

Here, I’ll get a short overview of some of the most important concepts of this tactic as you’ll see:

  • What’s a chess pin?
  • Which pieces can pin?
  • The types
  • How to get out of a pin?

And at the end, I’ll give you some test puzzles to solve this tactic.

Before we continue, I’ll offer you a position to solve.

Puzzle on pinning

It’s Black to play. Their Queen is pinned, and it seems they’re losing. Or is it?
Can you find a way to save the game for Black?

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Bravo if you managed to solve it, and it’s absolutely fine if you didn’t yet. This is a little advanced example from the cross-pin topic.

The answer is covered in the article's final section, where you’ll also find a free resource on this topic from a detailed chess tactics course.

Let’s start from the basics!

What’s a pin in chess?

A pin in chess is a tactic that occurs when a piece is attacked, and if it moves, it exposes a more valuable piece behind it.

Here’s a simple example.

A Simple example on pin in chess

This is a pin – White’s Bishop on c3 attacks the Black Rook on d4, which cannot move because the Black King on g7 would be exposed.

The piece which is attacked and cannot move when under a pin is called the pinned piece – in this case, the Black Rook on d4.

The above example is an absolute pin. You might wonder what’s that.

A little later we'll discuss the several different types of chess pins, and you’ll find out. But before going there, let’s cover another basic but important question.

Which pieces can pin?

All the long-ranging pieces can create a pin.

The Rook

Rook Pinning Knight

The Bishop

Bishop Pinning Knight

The Queen

Queen pinning Queen pinning

The King, Knight, and pawns cannot pin. As I mentioned previously, we will cover the classifications of this tactic.

Types of chess pins

There are 6 different types:

Absolute pin

In an absolute pin, the pinned piece cannot move. That would cause an illegal move. This happens when the King stands behind the pinned piece like you saw in this puzzle.

Absolute Pin

Black Rook is pinned, and can’t move because it would expose the King.

What if instead of the King, we put a Queen and the Rook could legally move? That brings us to the next type.

Relative pin

The pinned piece can make a legal move in a relative pin, but it would be unfavorable because it would still expose a more valuable piece behind it.

Take a look at the puzzle below: 

Relative Pin

White’s Bishop pins the Black Rook on d4. And even though the Black Rook can make a legal move, moving it will expose the more valuable Black Queen behind it.

As you can see, it’s quite similar to an absolute pin, with the only difference being that the vulnerable piece behind it isn’t the Queen.

Can a chess pin occur when there’s no valuable piece behind it? Yes, it can, as you’ll see next.

Situational pin

In this, a pinned piece might be blocking access to an important square. Take a look at this example:

Situational pin example

White plays 1.Rb1! Creating a situational pin.

Position after 1.Rb1

And now if Black moves away his Bishop from the b-file with 1…Bxd5, then White plays 2.Rb8 checkmate.

Position after Rb8 mate

The next type is very pleasing to the eye!

Cross pin

This type of pin occurs when a piece is pinned from two directions. It looks very majestic!

In the position below, it’s White to move.

position on cross pin

Is it completely equal?

Or there’s a way to turn things around?🙂

Surprise! White has 1.Qd4!

Cross Pin 2

Look at the Black Rook on d7 for a moment. Capturing the White Queen is impossible because the White Rook eyes the Black King on g7. On the other hand, if it captures the White Rook, the Black Queen on d8 falls.

It’s pinned on the d-file as well as the 7th rank!

Beautiful, isn’t it?😀

That’s a cross pin!

There’s another pin type that can paralyze the opponent’s pieces.

Killer pin

This is one of the deadliest types of a pin. It occurs when the defending side cannot get out of a pin. Surprisingly, it’s not covered a lot in chess literature, so many players don’t know about it.

Here’s an example.

Double pin

This is my favorite Pin type.

In the position below, it’s White to move. Their Rook is under attack.

What would you play?

Double pin example

If you decide to retreat, it’s not a disaster. White is still doing better as Black’s King is stuck in the middle.

The thing is Black’s 2 pawns are pinned by the Queen and Bishop. We have a fantastic resource 1.Rd5!!

Position after Rd5!!

In the position below, it’s White to move. Their Rook is under attack.

What would you play?

Black can’t capture the Rook and additionally, Bishop on d6 is pinned.

This was the last type.

Now, what if you’re the one who gets pinned?

How do you defend against it?

We’ll have a look at that in the next section.

How to get out of a chess pin? (10 most common ways)

I remember once Lily, the head of our happiness team, was playing an online match when she got stuck in a pin, I could sense her frustration.

All of Lily’s attention was on the pin. It was as if she couldn’t think of anything else.

The position looked a bit like this.

Lily's position on how to get out of a pin

Black has just pinned the Knight.

And now Lily, desperately trying to get out of the pin, played 1.Qe2. She wants to go Qd3 next, but here opponent played 1…Qf5! All of a sudden, White’s position gets uncomfortable.

Black’s threatening to play Rhe8 next.

Instead of 1.Qe2, Lily had a much better option. In fact, she had plenty of great options. I’ll come back to the position and show you all those options.

What I know, though, is that Lily’s not alone. Many players get irritated and annoyed when they get stuck in a chess pin.

Fortunately, there are many ways to escape from it, and here I’m going to show you 10 of the most common ones:

1. Get out of the firing line

This is one of the simplest ways. Here, you just move the vulnerable piece out of the firing line in a way that it still defends the pinned piece.

Get out of the firing line

For example, in the above position, Black’s Bishop pins the Knight on f3.

White can just play 1.Qd3 and step out of the firing line.

2. Check and run

In some situations, you’ll also have the option to give a check and then escape out of the firing line, as in the position below.

Giving a check to escape a pin

White plays 1.Qa4+ Kf8 2.Ne5, allowing them to get out of a pin.

Position after Ne5

White has not just got out of a pin but also has a winning advantage.

3. Overprotect the pinned piece

Here, you first protect the pinned piece and then move the piece standing behind in the firing line.

Like in the position below:

Example on overprotection

4. Take cover from the pin

This is a very simple and popular way. You don’t overprotect the pinned piece while also put a barrier between the enemy’s attacking piece and your vulnerable piece behind.

I’ll give you an example.

Taking cover from pin

The Black Bishop pins the Nf3, making it very uncomfortable for the White Queen. So what can White do?🙂 The simplest option is to take cover with 1.Be2!

Taking cover

White overprotects Nf3 and puts a barrier between the enemy Bishop and their Queen.

5. Kick away the pinning piece with pawns

Often in opening and middlegame positions, you can use pawns to kick away the pinning piece.

For example, look at the example below.

It can be very tempting to get out of a pin in chess this way.

But because pawns don’t move backward, they could create weaknesses in the position that would be very hard to repair.

So be careful, especially if you’re pushing pawns in front of your King!

6. Exchange the pinning piece

You can also get rid of the pinning piece by exchanging it.

Take a look at the position below.

Exchanging the pinning piece

It’s Black to play. White threatens g5 next move, winning the Knight. So Black must exchange the White Bishop with 1…Bd4!

Exchanging the pieces

Once the Bishops are off the board, the Black Knight is no longer pinned.

7. Counter pin

The name speaks for itself – you neutralize the pin by pinning the pinning piece! Here’s an example to make things clear:

counter pin

The Black Bf5 pins the White Rook and King. So what does White do? They counterpin with 1.Bg4!

After 1.Bg4

Now Black is forced to exchange the Bishops and White saves the day!

8. Defensive retreat

In some cases, you can just treat your pinned piece in a way that it defends the vulnerable piece behind.

Take a look at the position below.

9. Counterattack

What if you can move the pinned piece and create a threat of your own?

Yes, it would expose your vulnerable piece behind.

But if the threat you create is dangerous enough, your opponent would have to defend against it.

Here’s a practical position. It’s Black to play.

counter attack

It seems like the pinned Knight is lost. Or is it? 😊

Think before you see the solution below.

10. Countertactics

I’ll leave you with a slightly advanced strategy that you’ll often see stronger players use. For this, you need to have a good understanding of all the other tactical patterns in chess.

Let me show you a simple example.

In the position below, Black has just captured the pawn with 1…Qxh3.

Getting out of pin

And now the g2-pawn is pinned. It seems like White is busted, until the annihilation tactic saves the day!

These are just some ways to get out of a pin in chess.

As you learn other tactical patterns, you’ll figure out many other ways yourself.

For now, these 10 ways to escape from a pin above should be more than enough.

Back to the section's beginning position...

Remember I told you we’ll come back to the position at the beginning of the article? So here we go!

Now that you know the different ways to get out of a pin, can you see how the different options White has in the position below?

Lily's position

Apply the things you've just learned. You can see White's options in the game below.

Puzzles on pin in chess for test

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of this tactic, I’ll offer you a few test puzzles.

We will start from the position I showed you at the beginning.

Now we move on to the next position...

And now the final position.

Did you manage to solve the examples? How did it go?

To improve your tactical vision for this tactic, you can watch the fully unlocked Pin section of our Tactic Ninja course.

Final thoughts

We covered the fundamentals of one of the most common tactical patterns in chess.

Whenever you win a game with the nice Pin tactic, post it in the ChessMood forum. I would love to see it!
Good luck Champions!

Yours,
GM Gabuzyan

Related Reads

Grandmaster Guide to learn and improve chess tactics

The Myth About Chess Tactics and Solving Chess Puzzles

The Skewer Tactic in Chess

The Fork Tactic in Chess

Originally published Mar 15, 2023

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