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How to Win with Subtle Tactics (Part One)

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Subtle tactics are those which aren’t as evident or apparent in the position. Oftentimes, when you have built a solid position and accumulated enough positional advantages, these subtle tactics and others would simply be easier to spot and execute.

There are also some traps that can be considered subtle tactics unless your opponent knows the idea behind them. In this article, we will try to see how we can use subtle tactics to our advantage.

Fishing pole trap

The idea of the fishing pole trap is that there would be a bait and a hook which will pave the path for other pieces to pounce and deliver the clincher. One of the most common examples of this is done in the Sicilian defense and the Ruy Lopez.

In this trap, you are trying to pry open your opponent’s kingside structure and infiltrate it by sacrificing one of your pieces and then coordinating, other pieces to strike the final blow or increase the pressure until the castle crumbles.


This concept simply involves interposing with your piece often as a sacrifice in order to open up the lines for attack. It is similar to the concept of removing the defender except you are not distracting the attention of the defender rather you are blocking its view and scope from the king.

I was able to execute this tactic in one of the recent games I had. In the game, you would see how my queen and bishop are both hitting the g2 square in order to deliver the checkmate to the king. However, the only problem that I had was that the queen was there to defend the square.

So, I thought there is this great tactic that I can use to get around that and possibly checkmate my opponent or gain a big advantage. And thus I prepared for the move Re2 which would block the queen’s path to the king at the same time threatening the queen. I thought about the various responses that my opponent could do and in all cases, I thought I was doing well and had the clear advantage.

That’s just one example of the interference tactic. There are others which you can probably check online databases to see games that involve this tactic and how it came about, that is, how they were able to set up the tactic or how they were able to use the position and see that the tactic was possible.


This tactic involves sacrificing a piece to lure another piece away from a square so that it would open lines for attack. Basically, you are trying to get rid of a piece that is in the way of your attack. To better understand the concept, let us look at a few games that successfully employ this tactic.

Reshevsky – Fischer, Palma de Mallorca, 1970

In this game, both Reshevsky and Fischer have found themselves in highly tactical positions and as you can see after move 29, you could say that they were both set to checkmate their opponent. However with the way the game has progressed thus far, Fischer has the upper hand, unleashing one tactic after another as he exploits White’s weak back rank.

After Reshevsky moved his king away from check, Fischer delivers a devastating blow with the move 30… Qf2 and there is no escaping from the mate.

Davies – Lalic, Southend, 2000

From the diagram, we can see what White wants to do: he wants to attack the f7 square with his queen and bishop but Black has a pesky knight blocking the bishop. So how can White get around this situation?

As we see in the next move, Re7 is a good move. It has a dual purpose: by attacking the f7 square with the rook, it forces Black to make a decision, and so Black had to exchange queens and be a pawn down in the endgame. Later on, White catches Black in another tactic that forces him to resign.


Similar to deflection, the diversion tactic lures a piece away however, this piece is an important defender or attacker of a certain square. So you are trying to divert their attention away from its post so that you may carry out your own attack.

A. Harley – S. Williams, 4NCL, 2001

The Ginger GM Simon Williams has reached a turning point in his game. All he needed was to infiltrate White’s king position with his queen but the pawn is currently protecting g3 so his next move clears that up.

With Re3, White has no other recourse. Whether he accepts or declines the sacrifice, his position will soon fall apart and he will lose.

Bologan – Nunn, Bundesliga, 1992

GM Nunn’s idea in this position is to queen his pawn and White could not take it because of mate. However, White could take the knight and he will be fine. So if the queen could escape with a check, then he will have a decisive material advantage. The only available square for a check is e3 which is currently guarded by White’s knight. With that in mind, it becomes clear what Nunn had to do.


Most of these tactics have a similar motif which is to distract a certain piece from doing its job and the decoy is no different. However, the objective of a decoy usually isn’t something apparent but this often signals a certain trap or another tactic is lurking. In most cases, it is trying to set up a more complex web of tactics that begins with having a decoy to lure a piece away or remove the defender of a square.

Shirov – Ivanchuk, Buenos Aires, 1994

In the final stretch of the match, Ivanchuk makes a very creative move to get around White’s defenses. He employed a decoy to lure Shirov’s queen from the protection of the c1 square. After a few moves, Shirov resigned.

Silent but deadly

As we have seen from these games, tactics don’t always go out with a bang, they are not always flashy. Sometimes, it is the subtle tactics and the silent sacrifices that pack more venom. In the next part of this article, we will look into some more of these subtle tactics.


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