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Middle game - Double attacks
Tactics appear when one move does two things.

After you've read the About Chess introduction to Tactical Play (see link at the end), you know something about forks, pins, discovered attacks, and xrays. All of these basic tactical devices, where one move does two things at the same time, are examples of the double attack.

In this article we're going to look a little deeper into double attacks. Our guide will be Chess Tactics for Advanced Players by Yuri Averbakh, one of the recommended books on our Bibliography.

Averbakh was a Soviet-era GM who participated in numerous USSR championships starting with the 16th in 1948. He won the title in 1954 and tied for first in 1956. He is better known for his works on endgames than on middle games, but only because he has written far more about the endgame. Along with his other accomplishments, he is a chess historian of no small reputation.

If you don't consider yourself an advanced player, don't be intimidated by the title of the book. There is plenty of material for the intermediate player and a healthy dose for the beginner. After you've worked your way through the many examples and exercises, your playing strength will be at least a class stronger than before.

The book has two parts : the double attack and the combination. Averbakh introduces a special terminology to classify tactical positions and shows how a combination builds on the same elements found in the double attack. As Averbakh says,

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 is the basis of most intricate tactical operations.

That theoretical discussion may be aimed at advanced players, but the illustrative examples are for everyone. We drew from those hundreds of well-chosen examples to illustrate this article.

Basic elements

Let's do a quick review of the double attack in its simplest forms. The following position looks like a draw, but White has a forced win based on a fork.

White to move

After 1.g8=Q+ Kxg8 2.Bd5+, White wins the Black Rook. The extra Bishop and b-Pawn will be enough to win the game easily.

The following position is less obvious. Black is a piece down and is threatened with mate in two moves.

Black to move

The Queen sacrifice 1...Qd3+ sets up a discovered check with 2.Kxd3 Bxc6+. After recapturing the Queen, Black will have a good position.

Note that both of these positions share a common feature : an introductory move prepared the double attack. In the first position the move was 1.g8=Q+; in the second it was 1...Qd3+.

Multiple basic elements

Separate basic tactical elements often occur simultaneously. Consider the following position.

White to move

After 15.Rc7?, Black delivers checkmate with 15...Re1+ 16.Kh2 Rh1+. If 17.Nxh1, then 17....Qxg2 mates immediately, while if 17.Kxh1, then 17...Qh3+ is possible; the g-Pawn is pinned by the Bishop and mate follows next move.

It may not be obvious, but the diagrammed position is a combination of separate basic elements. The Knight, pinned by the Queen, does not shelter another piece, as is usually the case with pins; it shelters the weak g2-square, which is under double attack from the Black Queen and Bishop.

The following position is from a game between two World Champions.

Black to move

Black overlooked that after 1...Ba5?, the forced sequence 2.b4 Bxb4 3.Nc2 wins a piece. This time the double attack is an attack on two pieces by two pieces.

Note that in both examples the introductory moves (15...Re1+ 16.Kh2 Rh1+ and 2.b4) were made possible by blunders. In the second example, the blunder was made by then-World Champion Euwe, otherwise known for his great tactical skill.

Not just the middle game

Although the double attack is usually discussed in the context of the middle game, it can be present in any phase of the game. It is usually responsible for traps in the opening.

Here's an example of a trap in Philidor's Defense. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7 4.Bc4 Be7? 5.dxe5 dxe5?? 6.Qd5, the following position arises.

Black to move

Black is unable to protect the weak square f7, which is attacked by a battery of Queen and Bishop. The only possible defense, 6...Nh6, fails to 7.Bxh6, renewing the attack on f7.

The following endgame position is won by a sequence of double attacks.

White to move

The move 1.Rc8 threatens to promote the Pawn. It also threatens, after 1...Rxa7, to win the Black Rook with 2.Kb6+, a discovered check.

Double attack on a pin

Averbakh gives many examples of a double attack together with a pin. He says,

Situations in which a piece is subjected to a [double] attack and in which it is pinned into the bargain are particularly dangerous for the player who is on the defensive.

Here are two of his examples.

Black to move

After 1...Ra2+ 2.Re2 (2.Kg1 Ra1 wins with a different pin) 2...Qe3, the White Rook is pinned

  • by the Black Rook against the White King and
  • by the Black Queen against the White Queen.

Major material losses are inevitable. This theme, which occurs frequently, is always a pleasing way to win a game.

The next position, where the White Pawns advance to threaten the pinned Knight, also shows a theme seen frequently.

White to move

After 1.g4 g5 2.h4 gxh4 (2...Kg6 3.h5+ Kg7 4.fxg5 hxg5 5.h6+ mates) 3.g5, the Knight is doomed.

Other double attacks

There are so many types of double attack that a comprehensive classification may not be possible. In the following diagram, the bad position of Black's pieces allows a quick finish.

White to move

1.Kb3 attacks the Rook and threatens mate with 2.Rc1+. This shows the simplest form of an attack on a piece combined with a mating threat.

The following position shows a typical middle game position.

White to move

1.Qb3 attacks the d-Pawn a second time while pinning it against the Black King. If Black parries the first threat with 1...Rad8, then 2.Nxf5 Rxf5 3.Rxe4 recovers the Pawn.


The preceding examples show only a few of the many types of double attack. You can find more on these pages of Basic tactics : Intermediate puzzles:

These have been drawn from the easiest of Averbakh's many exercises. Finally, we have an additional page with the PGN scores (no annotations!) of eight complete games 'in which the double attack either decided the game or was its leitmotif'.

Averbakh's sample games
PGN game scores

To close this introduction with another Averbakh quote, 'It is no exaggeration to say that a double attack or at least the threat of one occurs in almost every game.' No exaggeration, indeed!

 Related Resources
• Tactical Play
• Positional play
• Part 1 - Patterns
• Part 2 - Combinations
• Part 3 - Plans
• Part 4 - Double Attacks
• Part 5 - Open Lines
• Part 6 - King Safety
• Part 7 - Pawn Structure
• Part 8 - Piece Placement and Chess Strategy
• Part 9 - Kasparov - X3D Fritz, New York, 2003