This has been a problem that has been vexing me for a while, and it manifested again in my most recent game in which I played Black:

[FEN ""]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 Be7 7. cxd5 cxd5 8. e3 Qb6 9. Qc2 O-O 10. Bd3 Nc6 11. O-O Bd7 12. a3 Na5 13. b4 Nc4 14. Bxc4 dxc4 15. Ne5 Rfd8 16. Rfc1 Rac8 17. f4 Kf8 18. f5 exf5 19. Nxd7+ Rxd7 20. Qxf5 a6 21. Bxf6 Bxf6 22. Qxd7 Qc6 23. Qxc8+ Qxc8 24. Nd5 Qe6 25. Nxf6 Qxe3+ 26. Kh1 gxf6 27. Rxc4 b5 28. Rc8+ Ke7 29. d5 Qd4 30. Re1+ Kd7 31. Rcc1 Qxd5 32. Red1 Qxd1+ 33. Rxd1+ Ke6 34. Rc1 Kd5 35. Rc5+ Kd6 36. g4 Kd7 1-0

On move 6 I was forced to choose between breaking the pin on my knight or weakening my kingside. I chose to ignore the pin, which then furnished my opponent's position with many tactical opportunities. So, are there any rules or principles regarding pins, such as you should always break a pin as long as you are not immediately losing material? In games like this, how do you make the right decision when the threat is not immediately tactical, but will manifest later? How do you measure breaking the pin against other possible goods like development, king safety, and positional advantages?

  • 2
    After 6...Be7 your knight is not pinned.
    – bof
    Nov 21, 2021 at 1:34
  • If you notice in the game, my knight is pinned to my black-square bishop. Not all pins have to be absolute. This problem comes to a head in move 19.
    – Valuska
    Nov 21, 2021 at 2:04
  • 2
    Your problem isn't the pin - it's that you failed to overprotect your pieces. It's generally good to defend your pieces even when they're not immediately threatened and defend them more than they need to be, because defenders can be lured away or attacks can be created when you're even more distracted elsewhere. Nov 21, 2021 at 3:38
  • 4
    The answer, as always is "Depends" :-) Especially on whether the opponent can gang up on the pinned piece and whether it is easy to unpin the piece at all. My only advice would be "Be on the alert constantly", like for all tactical motifs. Nov 21, 2021 at 7:34
  • 1
    The question is worth asking, but I'd suggest to give a different example. In the current one, the pin isn't an issue at all (the winning tactic on move 21 would have worked all the same if your bishop was, say, on b8).
    – Annatar
    Nov 22, 2021 at 6:39

1 Answer 1


As Hauke Reddmann wrote in the comments, the answer is "it depends". It's not a problem until you need the pinned piece to move.

In this game, your knight wasn't pinned after 6...Be7, but you proceeded to "self pin" after 8...Qb6 and 9...O-O. Even this wasn't a problem because you didn't need the knight to move. It did mean you can't play ...Nxd5, but White wasn't threatening to take on d5, so the knight wasn't immediately necessary. It did briefly become necessary when you played 17...Kf8 (White didn't play 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Qh7 which would've made your king very uncomfortable), and in fact never was a problem at all, until you missed the tactic that won the game on move 21.

Could you have broken the pin with ...g5? Yes, but it's risky because after Bg3 your opponent has obvious plans to attack on the kingside. f4 or h4 would come with extra threat, and you'd have to fend it off when most of your pieces (and the pawn structure) want to play on the queenside.

...g5 makes more sense when you want to play on the kingside. Here's an example sequence from Ivanchuk-Yusupov. It doesn't involve a pin, but it illustrates when the move is OK.

[FEN "r3rnk1/pp2qpbp/2pp1np1/5bN1/1PPP1P2/BQN1p1P1/P3P1BP/R2R2K1 b - - 2 15"]

In this position, Black is definitely going to mount a kingside attack while White plays on the queenside, and the way you do it is by pushing the h- and g-pawns. Hence Yusupov played 16...h6 followed by 17...g5. Note White cannot play on the kingside because they lack space on the wing. This is in contrast to your game, where White can move pieces to the kingside much easier.

  • I would like to add that Seirawan in his book Winning Chess Tactics identified that pins are good for taking a piece out of defensive or offensive maneuvers, or fixing a piece on a vulnerable square. I have been really focusing on pins since this post, but I think this succinct characterization by Seirawan has been the most helpful for me.
    – Valuska
    Dec 10, 2021 at 21:53

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