Sports & Games

Chess 101: What Is A Discovered Attack? Learn Why Discovered Attacks Are So Effective With 3 Examples

Written by MasterClass

Jul 31, 2019 • 3 min read

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Discovered attacks can be some of the most devastating moves in chess tactics. When planned and executed thoughtfully, they can force your opponent into making uncomfortable decisions or giving up valuable material.

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What Is a Discovered Attack?

The idea behind discovered attacks is pretty straightforward: it occurs when moving one piece creates an attack for another piece. Discovered attacks are some of the most powerful moves in chess. They’re frequently used to create check situations, so much so that the “discovered check” can be its own topic of study.

Of course, the piece that’s being moved can also attack, in which case the discovered attack becomes an especially potent form of double attack.

Why Are Discovered Attacks Effective?

As with other forms of double attacks, part of what makes discovered attacks so powerful is that the defender is often unable to meet both threats at once. Most of the time, that means the attacker will gain some material for their efforts.

Typically, an effective discovered attack relies on:

  1. A vulnerable king. The key here is that putting the king in check forces your opponent to deal with the threat you’ve created.
  2. An undefended piece. This is the target of your discovered attack. While your opponent is busy protecting their king, you can capture the undefended piece with impunity.

Of course, there are other kinds of discovered attacks, including the deadly discovered check. Sometimes a discovered attack can be effective even if it doesn’t result in any captured material. Even if you don’t capture any pieces, you can guarantee that you gain a tempo in forcing your opponent to spend a turn moving her material out of your way.

But there’s another factor that makes discovered attacks so potentially powerful, and that’s the fact that they can be very hard to see coming. Unlike skewers and pins, which rely on certain pieces, any piece can be used to launch a discovered attack.

According to former World Champion Garry Kasparov, a discovered attack is always a surprise. “It empowers many pieces at the same time. That’s [the] real power behind this concept, because you have [multiple] pieces immediately being activated and [creating] multiple threats.”

3 Examples of Discovered Attacks

Now, consider a couple of examples of discovered attacks. Remember, a discovered attack may create a threat both from the piece moved and the piece that’s uncovered. Where can white create multiple threats at once?

Black and white chess set up 1

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The best move here is Bb5+, which checks black’s king but also reveals a discovered attack on her queen from white’s queen. No matter how the king gets out of check, black will lose their queen for it.

Now consider another example. Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing valuable material to set up a deadly discovered attack. Black’s goal here is to force white into a discovered check while also capturing the white queen.

Black and white chess set up 2

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The right move here is Qxf3, taking the knight and checking white’s king. This forces white to respond by capturing black’s queen with their king. Now, however, black can move their bishop to d4, revealing a discovered check with the rook on f8. Even more importantly, the bishop is now attacking white’s queen, which it is guaranteed to lose.

Even the best chess players in the world aren’t immune from a well-executed discovered attack. Consider this final example, which comes from one of Garry Kasparov’s own games (Kasparov-Shirov-Frankfurt, 2000). How can white take the black queen with a discovered attack?

Black and white chess set up 3

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In this case, you’ll need to set up the discovered attack first. The best move is Qe7+. To protect the king, white is forced to move their rook to f7. (Moving the bishop to f7 is another possibility.) But now, notice two things: 1. No one is defending the black queen. 2. See how moving the white queen to e7 placed the rook on d6 between the two queens? Now white can play Rg6+, putting the king in check and revealing a discovered attack on the black queen. Black is forced to play Kxg6, taking the rook, but giving up their queen to Qxc5.

Though this last scenario is drawn from a match between two grandmasters, it’s a classic discovered attack involving a vulnerable king and an undefended piece.

Learn more about chess strategy in Garry Kasparov’s MasterClass.