Understanding Critical Squares


Critical squares are involved in all parts of chess, but they are especially important factors in tactics and combinations. By the end of this article you’ll be able to spot more tactics on the board, keep your opponent on the defensive, and also know how to prevent tactics and attacks from happening to yourself.

In order to talk about critical squares, we have to know what they are first of all. The definition
of critical squares are: “Any squares on the board that are attacked and defended the same number of times”. This is usually most noticeable when there is a piece occupying that critical square. They are called critical squares because they are very important. We can think of them like a balancing scale between the number of attackers and the number of defenders on a square

Balancing scaleIf the numbers match up (such as two pieces attacking one square and two pieces defending the square) then it is equal and therefore a critical square. If you have more attackers than defenders on a square, then we can take advantage of the difference. But if there are more defenders that attackers on a square, then we cannot use that square effectively.

These critical squares are very important because they are one of the main ways tactics happen. If we notice a critical square on our opponent’s side of the board, there are two ways we can deal with it:

1. Add one or more attackers
2. Deflect/remove one or more defenders

Our whole goal is to have an advantage in the number of pieces attacking that critical square! If we can make that happen, then we can make tactics work for us. Now let’s put this into practice:

Critical squares position

The critical squares on Black’s side of the board are the d8 Rook (attacked once by the Qg5 and defended once by the Qd7) and e5 pawn (attacked once by the Qg5 and defended once by the d6 pawn). Let’s look at the rook on d8. So for the first method of dealing with critical squares: Can we add another attacker to the critical sqaure? No, not here. 1.Rc8 would attack the rook too, but Black would just capture our rook for free. So we see that the first method doesn’t work here. How about the second way: Can we get rid of the Qd7 the is defending the rook? Well, we see here that if we play 1. Bh3, we are attacking the defender of the critical square (Qd7 defending Rd8). The Queen cannot move anywhere else to continue guarding the rook, so after 1…Qxh3 we do 2. Qxd8 and we have won material.

This is all possible because of noticing critical squares in our opponent’s position. One big tip off that there may be tactics in a position is if there are multiple critical squares on one side of the board. If we see that our opponent has a lot of critical squares, we should be alert to any tactical ideas. This can also be a defensive idea as well! If we have a lot of critical squares on our side of the board, we should try to keep everything defended well so that our opponent cannot do any tactics using our critical squares.

So whenever you see critical squares in your opponent’s position, keep on the lookout for tactics! There may be ways for you to take advantage of these squares and win material. Also, to limit tactics from happening to yourself, keep your pieces safe! Read about forcing moves to help you even more with your tactics.


I learned a lot about tactics by watching this video!

Click here to access the “Tactical Chess Guide” DVD

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