# Most common tactic motifs in the opening phase of chess

On analyzing my games, I found that I usually miss tactics in the opening than during middlegame and endgame. To supplement my study by solving tactical problems based on motifs, it would be helpful if I understand the key motifs I must stress on. Hence the question below.

Based on different tactical motifs like fork, pin, deflection, double-attack, etc. what is the most common tactical motif during the opening phase statistically?

• I would argue this is an all but impossible question to answer. It's not just that you will find examples of virtually any tactical motif you chose in openings. The other problem is that a threat of a tactic often limits a players responses - so though the tactical motif has not appeared on the board it has still very much influenced the game. I have no idea how you plan to count the occurrences of this second point. I also have no idea how you plan to quantify the first point (what do you mean by "common" for starters), but that's another problem. – Ian Bush Apr 9 at 10:49
• From a personal view (I regularly get my king handed to me in the opening) then main reasons are dxc5 and bogarting the pawn with d4/White (is "lack of development" a legit motif?), and Nxb5/Nd5/Nf5/Nxe6 (line opening sacrifice) with e4 c5/Black. – Hauke Reddmann Apr 9 at 11:56
• Relevant? Sathyam @IanBush Lichess puzzles - opening / Edit: Oh there's an answer with this link. But idk i figure to extract statistics from openings. but then i'm not sure there's a way to do keyword search in lichess puzzles like ('opening' and 'fork') or ('opening' and 'skewer') or whatever – BCLC Apr 10 at 2:36

The Lichess categorization of tactical motifs is not bad, but these are not common tactical motifs of the opening phase, in my opinion. They describe motifs which happen in the final phase of the game.

I created a GitHub repository where I have put some CQL scripts which I used to search for the motifs I consider typical in the opening phase. The first twenty moves were considered. I searched in a GM database containing 370,000 games. The database is contained in the repo.

The results are listed in a table, and the matching games can be found in the folder named output.

You can download or fork this repo and play around with those scripts. You can also run them on your own PGN databases.

Happy chess research :-)

• +1 This is a very useful open-source solution with a lot of potential for further research on the statistics of tactical themes. Accepted answer because of its generality. – Sathyam Apr 15 at 15:31

# Opening puzzles

On Lichess it's possible to train opening related puzzles:

https://lichess.org/training/opening

Puzzles for other phases of the game are available as well:

https://lichess.org/training/themes

Keep in mind, that the puzzle selection will be only as good as the votes given by Lichess users. Also, as far as I know, it's not possible to select specific openings.

# Statistics

Because of a question by @BCLC in the comments I found this link, where you can download all Lichess puzzles. I made a little table based on all puzzles tagged with "opening". Actual motifs are marked in bold other tags in italic.

Remember, that the statistics will be only as good as the data. Apparently there is one puzzle tagged with "opening" and "rookEndgame".

Tag Count Perc.
short 71723 74.27%
crushing 25978 26.90%
fork 20514 21.24%
long 11694 12.11%
oneMove 11204 11.60%
mate 9170 9.50%
hangingPiece 8307 8.60%
discoveredAttack 8110 8.40%
kingsideAttack 7507 7.77%
pin 6299 6.52%
mateIn2 4618 4.78%
trappedPiece 4150 4.30%
mateIn1 3597 3.72%
attackingF2F7 3451 3.57%
sacrifice 3412 3.53%
equality 3099 3.21%
intermezzo 2842 2.94%
defensiveMove 2683 2.78%
attraction 2003 2.07%
veryLong 1954 2.02%
deflection 1952 2.02%
capturingDefender 1605 1.66%
master 1042 1.08%
clearance 892 0.92%
mateIn3 784 0.81%
skewer 741 0.77%
exposedKing 740 0.77%
quietMove 582 0.60%
doubleCheck 550 0.57%
interference 455 0.47%
queensideAttack 416 0.43%
smotheredMate 393 0.41%
backRankMate 212 0.22%
enPassant 177 0.18%
mateIn4 120 0.12%
castling 110 0.11%
masterVsMaster 91 0.09%
promotion 89 0.09%
bodenMate 57 0.06%
mateIn5 51 0.05%
xRayAttack 47 0.05%
superGM 35 0.04%
doubleBishopMate 28 0.03%
dovetailMate 20 0.02%
underPromotion 4 0.00%
anastasiaMate 3 0.00%
hookMate 1 0.00%
arabianMate 1 0.00%
rookEndgame 1 0.00%

# Code

Here is the Kotlin snippet I used to generate the table:

``````val data = File("lichess_db_puzzle.csv").readText().trim().split('\n')
.map { it.split(',')[7].split(' ') }.filter { it.contains("opening") }.flatten()
.groupingBy { it }.eachCount().toList().sortedByDescending { it.second }
for (i in 1..data.lastIndex) {
val t = if (data[i].first in listOf("advancedPawn", "anastasiaMate", "arabianMate", "attackingF2F7", "attraction", "backRankMate", "bodenMate", "capturingDefender", "clearance", "defensiveMove", "deflection", "discoveredAttack", "doubleBishopMate", "doubleCheck", "dovetailMate", "exposedKing", "fork", "hangingPiece", "hookMate", "interference", "intermezzo", "kingsideAttack", "mate", "mateIn1", "mateIn2", "mateIn3", "mateIn4", "mateIn5", "pin", "promotion", "queensideAttack", "quietMove", "sacrifice", "skewer", "smotheredMate", "trappedPiece", "underPromotion", "xRayAttack", "zugzwang")) "**" else "*"
println("| %-24s | %10s | %11s |".format("\${t}\${data[i].first}\${t}", "\${t}\${data[i].second}\${t}", "\${t}\${"%.2f".format(100.0 * data[i].second / data[0].second)}%\${t}"))
}
``````

During all standard / book openings tactical motifs which win material don't feature. They wouldn't be book openings if they did. That rules out forks, deflections, double attacks, etc. and leaves only pins.

As it happens pins are very common and feature sooner or later in a lot of openings but they only win material if the player with the pinned piece lets something else go wrong. Usually the pinned piece is a knight pinned by a bishop against king or queen and usually the player with the pinned piece has the opportunity to break the pin with a bishop move or force the pinning bishop away with a couple of pawn moves.

I think you are wasting your time looking at tactical motifs in standard openings, i.e. in openings which are played properly. What you really need to do as a priority is look at what tactical motifs you miss in your own games. As a second priority you need to improve your knowledge of the openings you personally play. The openings I play or which are played most often generally are no use to you if you don't play them.

You need to be familiar not just with pages of moves and analysis. Much more useful is to be familiar with the ideas behind the openings you play. You need to be familiar and comfortable with the kinds of positions which arise from those openings and know how to handle them.

That way you are much less likely to make tactical mistakes playing moves that go against the ideas of your favoured openings. That way, too, you are more likely to spot when your opponent makes a move which doesn't "fit in" with the ideas of the opening and which may be some kind of "hope chess" trap. Then you are more likely to avoid falling into it and maybe even taking advantage of your opponent's deviation.

• Contrary to your first paragraph, pawn fork motifs do occur in book openings, such as the Vienna Game 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nxe4! among others. Forks, deflections, double attacks, etc. do not always win material, sometimes they preserve the balance. Moreover, there are standard openings in which material is traded for position. At least that's how it looks to me, but I'm just a patzer. – bof Apr 5 at 23:08
• There are queen forks in book openings too, e.g., 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Qa4+ – bof Apr 6 at 4:59
• Combinations that win material are not common, but combinations that regain lost material definitely are. Take a look at the mainline of the Danish gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2 d5 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2. How many different tactical motifs can we see there? Also, a tactical theme may not appear on the mainline but it can still be a justification for why the mainline works. Take for instance 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3. This move is only possible because of the discovered attack if White takes on d4. – David Apr 6 at 11:54
• This is an odd answer. Most games between amateurs will diverge from the book at a relatively early stage, so tactics definitely appear in them. – kamekura Apr 14 at 5:03

This will not be really an answer to the question that wanted only statistics. This is answer to why you have those errors and how to improve that. Obviously reason is lack of pattern knowledge for tactics typical for openings. Improving it is easy - read books on miniatures - I'll not mention any specific as there are lot of those in different languages. Additionally - you can use some chess database and tools to search for games under 20-25 moves and this way you will get lot of miniatures. Studying miniatures will greatly improve your skills of opening phase of game and show you all the typical errors and good books will explain what would be a good move played instead of error that lead the game to become miniature.