Secrets of chess tactics: Reversing the move order

Ever had it where you get a really good position and your tactical radar starts going crazy? You know there’s a win here somewhere… but when you play the obvious moves your opponent somehow escapes.

Trust your intuition – there probably was a win… but it slipped away. This tip will reduce those frustrations and help you win more games.

It’s called “reversing the move-order”, a name which pretty much sums up the whole idea.

When you spot a combination but it doesn’t quite work as you want it to, try changing the move order. Here’s a simple example:

ReverseMoveOrderAll White’s pieces are aimed at the enemy King. There must be a winning combination.

Let’s start with the obvious 1.Rxh6+ Kg7 now what? 2.Rh7+ Kf6 and the King escapes.

Ok, 1.Rxh6+ Kg7 2.Rg5+ oops, …Kxh6.

But if we reverse the move order, 1.Rg5! wins …Nf5 2.Bxf5 exf5 3.Rxh6#.

This is a very useful idea to remember, you’ll find it helps in many different types of combinations. It’s also worth noting that removing escape squares (as with 1.Rg5!) is often better than playing immediate checks when on a King hunt.

Bobby Fischer: Icelandic Kibitzer!

In 2006, the Icelandic TV station Ríkisútvarpið RUV broadcast a rapid match between masters Arnar Gunnarson and Bragi Thorfinsson  in which the position below was reached.


Gunnarson, playing Black and short of time, picked up his King before noticing the move would get him mated. He replaced his King and tried to play a Queen move instead but his opponent and the arbiter enforced the touchmove rule, resulting in 37…Kg8?? 38.Qxg8#

This was a blitz playoff game and these events are common enough. What happened next, however, was certainly not common.

The TV station received a call from a viewer suggesting that in the pictured position, Black could have won the game with a brilliant combination. The name of the caller? Bobby Fischer!

Iceland was Fischer’s adopted home from 2005 until his death in 2008 and it is clear that Bobby retained at least some of his love for chess.

The combination?

37…Rxg2+! 38.Kh1 (38.Kxg2 Rg4+ 39.Kh2 Qg2#) 38…Rh4!! 39.Nxh4 (best) Rxf2+ 40.Nf3 Rxf1+ 41.Kh2 Rxf3.