What is the difference between a Tactic and a Combination? For reference, here is a game I played as white and I think I had a nice combination from move 16, but I am not sure if it is classified as a combination or tactics. This what my thought process from move 16 was. There are probably multiple mistakes made in the game, but I am not looking for a complete analysis.

16. Bc2 - staring down the diagonal
17. Ned4 - I am hoping he will take it so I can advance my pawn to e5.
18. exd4 - He takes the sacrifice which is what I was hoping for.
19. Qxh7# - Apparently, he didn't notice the open diagonal and probably was concentrating on me attacking his bishop.

[FEN ""]
1. e4 d6 2. Nf3 g6 3. d4 Bg7 4. Be3 Nc6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. O-O e5 7. d5 Nce7 8.
   Qd3 a6 9. Bc4 b5 10. Bb3 f5 11. Nc3 f4 12. Bd2 Bf6 13. a3 Nh6 14. Ne2 g5 15.
   c4 O-O 16. Bc2 Qe8 17. Ned4 exd4 18. e5 dxe5 19. Qxh7#
  • 5
    Hate to be a buzzkill, but I just wanted to point out that your sac is unsound. After 18. e5 he had the intermezzo 18 ...Bf5, stopping the h7 threat, attacking the queen and he could safely take on e5 next move a piece up.
    – flicflac
    Jan 3, 2013 at 5:09
  • I appreciate this, but I know there were mistakes, I was hoping my opponent was not going to notice what you did such as 18...Bf5 and he did not and in the end that is what matters.
    – xaisoft
    Jan 3, 2013 at 12:59
  • 5
    @xaisoft You will find it incredibly frustrating to progress as a chess player if you will be constantly relying on your opponent to make mistakes. Focus on the "correct" combination taking into account all possible defences of your opponent. Anything less is to play subpar chess.
    – ldog
    Jan 4, 2013 at 9:19
  • @Idog - I will keep that in mind going forward. Thanks.
    – xaisoft
    Jan 4, 2013 at 12:32

5 Answers 5


The United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms defines the tactical level as:

The level of war at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to accomplish military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces. Activities at this level focus on the ordered arrangement and maneuver of combat elements in relation to each other and to the enemy to achieve combat objectives.

Your ultimate combat objective is to checkmate, and for that you'll have to assign specific tasks to the tactical units you have deployed in order to achieve the desired objective.

For example:

17. Ned4 - Tactical sacrifice, in order to allow e4 pawn to advance.

18. e5 is merely the completion of the tactical maneuver.

From the moment you are considering the diagonal b1-h7 as one of your attacking strengths you are considering a "strategy" which is to checkmate on h7, or in other words you are considering the "combination" of the specific techniques (tactics) involved in accomplishing such objective.


Here is the way that I see the difference, and the way it has been explained to me:

A tactic is generally a short-term attacking sequence with little connection to the positional strategy. It is used to score points and gain an advantage.

A combination is typically a longer sequence and can involve a number of tactics. It also generally is connected to the positional strategy.


A combination is a more general term for a tactic. While both offer the player an advantage (when they're sound!), a tactic offers a very concrete advantage, such as material/mate. Whereas a combination is just a sequence of (sometimes) forced moves that doesn't necessary offer a very concrete advantage. It tends to be more positional in nature (i.e. a series of exchanges in the center may leave one player with a sizable space advantage, which can both support outposts for knight and also block in one's own bishops).

But really, it all comes down to semantics. To me, they are one and the same. But the connotation (to me) of tactics would be Tal and that of combinations would be Capablanca.

  • 1
    Is it correct to say tactics make up a combination?
    – xaisoft
    Jan 3, 2013 at 13:02
  • The way I see it, the execution of the tactic requires a combination of moves... I feel dizzy now :)
    – Helio
    Jan 3, 2013 at 21:02
  • 1
    They are both sequences of moves. If I were to strictly classify them, tactics would make a subset of combinations. Jan 4, 2013 at 19:12

I think this is subjective, but your combination is the entire sequence starting with Bc2. Your tactics are a knight sacrifice and a double attack (Qxh7 and exf6). Kudos for forming a plan and executing it. But out of curiosity, how would you handle 17. ... bxc4 ?

  • 17...bxc4 = Time for a new plan, I probably would have recaptured with my Queen. Thanks for pointing that out.
    – xaisoft
    Jan 3, 2013 at 13:01

Books on tactics generally cover a number of standard devices that are in the toolkit of every strong player - checkmate, discovered attack, discovered check, double attack, double check, forks, interference, overloading, pins, removing the defender, skewers, stalemate, x-rays and the like. The tactic itself may only be one move long, and both players may have foreseen the move in advance.

Combinations require somewhat deeper calculation, and there is an element of surprise usually brought about by a sacrifice followed by a series of forced moves after which the position changes in the attacker's favour. Combinations have an artistic element. One player seems to conjure up magic from what seemed like a straightforward position. Games with beautiful combinations often win brilliancy prizes.

  • This is the only reasonable answer to the question (sorry to say this). A combination is not just a `combination' of tactics. There is a surprise element to it. Typically combinations use (one or more) sacrifices as the surprise, but it is possible for a combination to not contain sacrifices (in it's place, there may be unusual positional resources for instance). Oct 8, 2020 at 7:22

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