Chess Problems: Pinning Themes

8/2/2012 – In this article our problem expert David Friedgood looks at the major thematic ideas that involve pins. In problem chess pins generally refer to a piece being pinned against the king of the same colour; lesser pins seldom occur. In the first instalments we will concern ourselves with black pieces being pinned – later on we will explore white pins. Examples plus two problems for you to solve.

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Chess Problems: Pinning Themes

By David Friedgood

The first problem shows two ways in which Black may allow pieces to become pinned – this motif is called the self-pin. The problem is complex, yet clear: in the set play (where the diagram position is considered under the condition that it is Black to move), the half-pin is demonstrated. After the key, the nature of the position is changed considerably and the same former half-pin defences are turned into a special variety called Nietvelt defences.

[Event "4th Prize, Moscow - Rostov"] [Site "?"] [Date "1930.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Mikhail Barulin"] [Black "Mate in 2"] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Friedgood,David"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p5p/1P5B/2K1p3/QP2N3/Pr1P4/1Rb3N1/n2k1B1n w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "1930.??.??"] 1. -- {This is what is known as a block position: if it were Black to move, then every move would permit White to mate. All that is needed is for White to play a pure waiting move that does not disturb the set mates, but there isn't one! For example, all moves by the white king can be met by a ruinous check and moving the h6 bishop releases the h7 pawn. Going back to the diagram position, if we look at the set play (the mates that would occur if Black had the move),} (1. Qd7 $1 {is the answer to the problem: now Black has a threat to deal with.} -- (1... Rxd3 {This is a self-pin of a special kind, known as a Nietvelt defence. The black rook, in capturing the d3 pawn allows itself to be pinned by the queen, as the latter would have to unpin it to execute the threat 2.Qg4, and this would in turn permit the rook to interpose on f3. But of course White finds a way of taking advantage of the pin to give mate by} 2. Nc3#) ({Similarly,} 1... Bxd3 {is another Nietvelt defence, this time the self-pin of the bishop (together with the line-opening of the b2 rook to control e2) allows White to mate with} 2. Be2#) {Threat:} 2. Qg4#) 1... Rxd3 { is another form of self-pin: the rook moves off the queen's diagonal to d1, leaving the bishop pinned and no longer controlling b1.} ({Similarly, when the bishop moves off the queen's line by} 1... Bxd3 {the rook becomes pinned and mate can follow by} 2. Nc3# {This construct, where a piece moves off a line revealing a pin on a piece of the same colour, is called a half-pin.}) 2. Rb1# {The pioneering composer has cleverly combined two of the main kinds of self-pin by Black into a single problem.} *

The second problem neatly shows one of the most popular traditional two-mover themes, the Schiffman Defence.

[Event "British Chess Federation"] [Site "?"] [Date "1932.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "A P Gulayev (Grin)"] [Black "Mate in 2"] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Friedgood,David"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4B2Q/2K5/6PN/R3p2k/2N4p/8/6r1/1b6 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "1932.??.??"] {In this position, the solver would note that the black king has a flight square on g5. In spite of the fact that it opens the white king to a check, the key is} 1. Nxe5 $1 {This move guards both g4 and g6 in order to threaten mate by (see below)} -- {Threat:} ({Black's thematic defences are very similar to the Nietvelt. Captures on g6 cause black pieces to become pinned by the e8 bishop such that, if White were to execute the threat, they would be unpinned and would be able to interpose to cut off the check. Thus} 1... Rxg6 {prevents the threat from being mate, but because of the self-pin, the rook can no longer move to g5 and now} 2. Nd3# $1 {cuts off the bishop from f5 to effect mate.}) ({Similarly,} 1... Bxg6 {prepares to interpose on h7, but now it has lost the ability to move to f5, so White this time cuts off the rook in forcing mate by} 2. Neg4# {These two black defences are known as Schiffman defences. They are very similar to Nietvelt defences, in that they allow a black unit to become pinned, in the expectation that execution of the threat will unpin them and enable them to prevent mate. But the feature differentiating the Schiffman from the Nietvelt is that the white pinning piece (in this case the e8 bishop) does not execute the threat, which is instead executed by another piece (in this case the h6 knight). Over many decades of Schiffman two-movers this feature has proved to offer a greater variety of possibilities to the composer}) ({The non-thematic defences are:} 1... Rc2+ {The drawbacks of this check are that the rook can no longer interpose on g5 and at the same time it interferes with the bishop:} 2. Nc4# { (a switchback)}) (1... Kg5 2. Nd3#) 2. Nhf7# {A pleasingly lightweight problem, showing Schiffman defences with crystal clarity.} *

The last two diagrams are for the reader to solve. In each case, you have to find the unique key move for White, after which Black is unable to avoid mate on the second move regardless of what the defender plays. Explore the variations created by the Black defences and see if you can distinguish the themes discussed in the first two problems. Note that the first of these problems for solving has a bonus in the set play – the composer has achieved a particularly clever combination of themes.

Mate in two moves

Mate in two moves

Solutions will appear in approximately one week.

Any queries or constructive comments can be addressed to the author at

Copyright in this article David Friedgood 2012/ChessBase

The British Chess Problem Society (BCPS), founded in 1918, is the world's oldest chess problem society. It exists to promote the knowledge and enjoyment of chess compositions, and membership is open to chess enthusiasts in all countries.

The Society produces two bi-monthly magazines, The Problemist and The Problemist Supplement (the latter catering for beginners), which are issued to all members. Composers from all over the world send their problems and studies to compete in the tourneys run by the society.

The BCPS also organises the annual British Chess Solving Championship, and selects the Great Britain squad for the World Chess Solving Championship. The Society holds an annual residential weekend, with a full programme of solving and composing tourneys and lectures; this event attracts an international participation. Members are also entitled to use the resources of the BCPS library, and the Society book service, which can provide new and second-hand publications.

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