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Twofold Attack: Which Capture First?

Our recent post on Winning Material focused on one type of decision students learn to make in our beginner chess lessons: Which piece to capture. Today I want to draw your attention to another decision kids face when they want to win material: Which piece should they capture with?

A reminder: The three building block ways to win material are taking for free, making a good trade, and making a twofold attack. We are currently interested in the twofold attack. This takes place when you attack the opponent’s piece twice, and they only protect it once. There are some positions where the attacker can choose what piece he will capture with first - those are more straightforward. In the more challenging cases, only one order of capturing is correct!

Of course, our students quickly learn that it is often necessary to make the first capture with the less valuable piece. But as they go farther, they encounter positions where they can’t use a shortcut to make up their mind. Instead, we teach them to think carefully about each possible capture, and consider the opponent’s possible reply. This helps them think ahead and develop vision of the board. Let’s take a look! Before reading the solution, think about what White should do in the diagram.


This is the first position of the Step 1+ Winning Material lesson, so I go slowly in the beginning. I ask kids how many ways White can capture on e5. Which is the best way? If you picked capturing with the knight, 1.Nxe5, well done! Then if they take you back, 1...Bxe5, you can make another capture: 2.Nxe5, winning material. Do you see the problem with using the bishop to make the first capture, 1.Bxe5? Black wouldn’t take back! Instead, he would capture your knight on f3 with check: 1...Bxf3+ in chess notation. (The plus sign is the symbol for “check”). By the way, this is another tactic called eliminating the defender. Students learn all about it in Step 2. After White recaptures the bishop with the king, 2.Kxf3, Black plays 2...Bxe5, regaining the piece and staying up a bishop. By carefully thinking through positions like these, our students significantly improve their playing skill. Equally importantly, they develop skills we all want for the young people in our lives: Patience, foresight, and impulse control.