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Familiarise yourself with these terms, remember them over the board, and watch your game improve!

Tactical terms

Decoy A decoy is a distraction. A decoy forces the opponent to think about something else while he is focusing his pieces on a different target.

Deflection distracts an opponent’s piece from doing its most important job, such as defending an important square, pinning a piece, or blocking an open file or diagonal. The deflected piece is probably overloaded, because the squares it is defending are not overprotected.

Desperado A desperado tactic can sometimes be considered a sacrifice. The move captures an enemy piece when one or more of your own pieces is already hanging (undefended). When material is going to be lost regardless, these situations present a rare opportunity to be “reckless” and take out an enemy piece along the way. This tactic often happens when both white and black have pieces under attack.

Discovered Attack An attack revealed by moving a piece out of the line of fire. A discovered check reveals an attack on the opponent’s King.

Fork A simultaneous attack on two pieces. Usually delivered by pawns or minor pieces on more valuable pieces.

Hanging pieces Those left with no protection at all.

Octopus A knight on an outpost which attacks eight squares in the opponent’s territory.

Open files Files on which there are no pawns. The ideal home of single rook or preferably doubled rooks.

Overloaded pieces When one piece is protecting too many other pieces or squares.

Overprotection When a vital square or attacking piece is defended by more pieces than are attacking it.

Pin Nailing an opponent’s piece to a square by threatening to capture a more valuable piece if it moves.

Skewer An attack by a Bishop, Rook or Queen on two pieces from which only one can escape. (eg when a King is on the same rank, file or diagonal as a distant undefended piece.)

Windmill Example: a White Rook on g7 captures all the Black pawns and other pieces on the seventh rank by revealing a check by a Bishop to the King on h8, and returning to g7 with check to force the King on g8 to h8 once again, allowing a cycle of many pieces being captured. (There’s a Black Rook on f8, so the King cannot move there; and g7 is undefended.)

Winning the exchange Capturing a major piece at the cost of a minor piece.

X-ray A pin-like position where the ‘pinned’ piece is one of your own pieces which you can move at any time to reveal a nasty attack on a valuable piece.

Zwischenzug A German word meaning ‘in-between move’. Often a forcing move such as a check which can be made before a piece is recaptured.


Strategic terms

Gambit When a pawn is offered for capture in exchange for rapid development and decoying enemy pawns from the centre. The Queen’s Gambit (c4) and King’s Gambit (f4) are the most usual forms.

Opposition When there are one, three or five squares between the two kings. Whoever creates this situation has ‘the opposition’. In endgames, whoever has to move his king away from this situation weakens his position.

Outpost A square which cannot be attacked by pawns on the adjacent files because they have been captured or advanced beyond the relevant squares.

Prophylaxis Developing your pieces while at the same time restricting your opponent’s development.

Zugzwang A German word meaning ‘compulsion to move’ when any move at all weakens the position or leads to immediate captures. May require resignation.

All these terms are explained and illustrated in ‘My System’ by Aron Nimzowitsch, who developed the concepts of prophylaxis, ‘restrain, blockade, destroy’, ‘mysterious rook moves’ and more.

Additional concepts

Brilliancies: your wins.
Learning opportunities: your losses.
Philosophy: accepting that even world champions lose games.
Wisdom: realising that the winning combination you think a Super GM missed is in fact a learning opportunity, not a brilliancy.

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