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Hanging Pieces

by Roger McIntyre

A hanging piece is a piece that can be captured that results in a win of material without any unpleasant repercussions. Sometimes the hung piece is simply free for the taking. In the diagram on the right if it is White's move then the Black Queen is hanging since it can be captured by the White Queen and Black cannot recapture afterwards. But if it is Black's move the White Queen is not hanging since the White King is protecting it. If the Black Queen captures the White Queen, the White King will take back resulting in an equal loss of material by both sides.

Sometimes the hung piece is not totally free but still results in the loss of material. The diagram on the left shows such a case. In an attempt to get his Rook into the game early Black has performed a strategy that many beginning players have adopted. Either he didn't notice that the White Bishop on c1 is attacking it or he didn't know that a Rook is worth more than a Bishop. White should not let the opportunity slip away and immediately capture the Rook on his next move with Bxh6. Black will then be able to capture White's Bishop with either his Pawn or Knight but he still will be at a material disadvantage.

Beware! Not all unprotected pieces are actually hanging, or free for the taking. In the diagram on the right Black just took White's Knight Pawn with his Queen. Black's Queen is now sitting there unprotected while being attacked by White's Queen. Did Black just blunder away his Queen? In this case no. White could take the Queen but then he would have to face unpleasant repercussions. On 1. Qxb2?? White gets checkmated with 1... Re1+! 2. Rxe1 Rxe1++. White's Queen is needed to protect against the mate threat on e1 and cannot abandon the defense of this square.

Experienced chess players rarely hang pieces and if they do while playing against another experienced player, it almost always results in them losing the game. The games of novice chess players are full of hung pieces. It is very important not to give away free pieces to your opponent. If a novice player would learn not to hang his own pieces while capturing all his opponent's hung pieces he would be well on his way to improving his game.


Last modified: 01 August 2004
David Hayes