24 April 2012

Tactical Motifs: A List

What are the tactical ideas that chess writers and teachers use to classify practice positions? Where can the aspiring chess player find a definitive list? In this post, I compile several lists for comparison purposes.

Jonathan Tisdall, Improve Your Chess Now (1997) offers two useful appendices: "Mating Patterns" and "Common Tactical Themes." His words describing "Double Attack/Check" echo a statement that  recall from Yuri Averbakh, Chess Tactics for Advanced Players (1992).
Double Attack is the essence of any successful operation. It would be more accurate to say Multiple Attack, since there is often a presence of, or a need for, more. I imagine the wording has arisen because a double is the limit on checking. Almost all the other themes have some element of multiple attack contained in them.
Tisdall, Improve Your Chess Now, 204.
In his largely successful effort to advance middlegame theory, Averbakh highlights the centrality of the double attack.
If we regard the term "double attack" in a broader sense than has been done up to now by theoreticians, namely not merely as a two-pronged attack, but as a combination of attacks and threats, we notice that the double attack in one form or another in the basis of most intricate tactical operations.
Averbakh, Chess Tactics for Advanced Players, 6.
Averbakh's brilliant discussion of how the elementary checkmate of a lone king through the coordinated actions of a queen and king illustrates the double attack in practice is sufficient reason for paying the price to acquire a copy of this classic text. Averbakh's clear discussion of contacts also informs, it seems to me, the thought-provoking efforts of Momir Radovic to challenge the way chess is ordinarily taught to beginners, and to offer a system grounded in sound pedagogy.

It is almost possible to extract a list from Averbakh's text through examination of subheadings. However, most of his terms are better described as meta-motifs, efforts to make a theoretical contribution in the understanding of types of contacts. It is not Averbakh's central purpose to develop a practical list of motifs. Here's a sample of his headings.

Fork
Discovered check
Double check
Two-fold attack on a defended piece
Two-fold attack on two targets
Two-fold attack in conjunction with a pin
Mutual two-fold attack
Double attack
Zugzwang
Exchange
Sacrifice
Decoy attack
Two-fold double attack

Tisdall offers an abbreviated theoretical discussion in the process of defining the terms in his list.

Double attack/check
Discovered attack/check
Pinning
Skewer
Deflection
Decoying
Interference
Destruction
Clearance
Blocking
Brinkmate
X-Ray
Overloading
Zwischenzug
Pawn promotion
Pursuit (Perpetual)
Stalemate
Demolition of Pawn structure
Trapped pieces

The index to Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence, Chess Training Pocket Book II (2008) offers another list. Some of the motifs are better described as positional, rather than tactical.

Battery
Blockade
Blocking
Decoy
Deflection
Desperado
Discovered attack
Discovered check
Double attack
Double check
In-between move
Interference
Line clearance
Loose piece
Overloading
Pawn promotion
Perpetual check
Pin
Removing the defender
Skewer
Stalemate
X-ray
Zugzwang

The training website Chess Tempo uses a tagging system whereby users identify the motifs in problems, or can vote motifs others have identified up or down. The CT list currently has 34 tactical motif tags.

Advanced Pawn
Attraction
Avoiding Perpetual
Avoiding Stalemate
Back Rank Mate
Blocking
Capturing Defender
Clearance
Coercion
Counting
Defensive Move
Desperado
Discovered Attack
Distraction
Double Check
Exposed King
Fork/Double Attack
Hanging Piece
Interference
Overloading
Mate Threat
Pin
Quiet Move
Sacrifice
Simplification
Skewer
Smother
Trapped Piece
Unpinning
Unsound Sacrifice
Weak Back Rank
X-Ray Attack
Zugzwang
Zwischenzug

I have previously compiled a practical list in the creation of workbooks for my chess summer camps. The list is far from complete, but highlights those that I easily find in historic games from which I extract training positions for youth players to solve.

Pin
Skewer
Fork
Discovery
Double check
Removal of the guard
Deflection
Decoy
Clearance
Interference
Trapped Piece
Zugzwang


Edit 24 June 2014:
This year's camp workbook added zwischenzug, as well as discovered check as a separate entry.

6 comments:

  1. I wonder why there was no mention of "Windmill"?

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  2. Windmill consists of a series of discoveries, but perhaps it is a necessary addition to any list that pretends to be complete.

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  3. Motif and Theme are used interchangeably but at least according to one author it is not the same thing : A Motif is a characteristic of the position,on which the player fastens in his search for a combination. For Example Cramped King , Pieces cut off, lack of coordination, undefended piece etc. The Theme is the answer to the question of what the combination consists of : Pin, Deflection, Decoying, Eliminating Defenders, Clearing Squares and Lines, Interference etc. From Yakov Neishtadt's Improve your chess tactics.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. Most writers seem to use the terms interchangeably, or rather, some use the term themes, others ideas, and others motifs. Each one using these different terms for the same patterns that I am attempting to list here. Neishtadt's differentiation appears useful, however. It is worth thinking about motifs and themes as two sorts of patterns.

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  4. I think the use of the word 'motif' to describe features of a position that might lead you to look for a tactic dates back to Emmanuel Lasker. Theorists like Romanovsky and Kotov maintained this use. The translations of Mikhail Tal use the word 'indicator.'

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  5. Seems like, more simply put, Motif is the Problem and Theme is the solution!!!

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