Most chess games are decided by tactical combinations. Knowing the fundamental chess tactics and how to use them in your games is a sure way to become better at the game.
Forks are one of the most basic chess tactics. It only takes a few minutes to understand what forks are and how to use them in your own games.
So let’s look at all the different types of forks first!
What is a fork in chess?
A fork is one of the basic chess tactics in which one of your pieces attacks two or more of your opponent’s pieces at the same time.
If you attack only a single piece, your opponent can defend that piece or move it away. The idea behind the fork is that by attacking two pieces simultaneously, your opponent can only save one of them.
The attacking piece is referred to as the “forking piece” while the pieces that are attacked are referred to as the “forked pieces”.
Below you can see an example of a fork. The white queen attacks black’s bishop and knight simultaneously.
Since you can only move one piece at a time, black can only save one of his pieces. So on your next move, you can capture the piece that didn’t move.
Also read my article on chess tactics for beginners if you want to know what pins, skewers, and discovered attacks are.
What pieces can fork in chess?
Any piece on the board can be used to fork your opponent’s pieces. However, forking your opponent is easiest with pieces that can move a lot of squares, such as the knight, bishop, rook, and queen.
Pawn forks and king forks are also possible. But they are less likely because these piece can’t move or attack a lot of squares simultaneously.
Let’s look at some examples of how to fork with the different pieces.
The pawn is the most difficult piece to fork with, since pawns can only attack two squares and move in one direction.
You are unlikely to catch a prepared opponent off guard with a pawn fork. So you’ll have to use it in combination with some other tactics.
However, since the pawn is also the least valuable piece on the board, any pawn fork you manage to pull off will lead to a big advantage. And you can even fork pieces that are defended.
Below you can see an example of a white pawn forking the black rook and knight.
Knights are great for creating forks because knights move in a unique L-shaped pattern.
This means that no matter what pieces you fork, they won’t be able to attack your back.
Moreover, you can often surprise your opponent with a knight fork by using the strange movement pattern of the knight and its ability to jump over pieces.
Below you can see an example of a white knight forking the black queen and king.
The bishop can move and capture diagonally, so it can only fork two pieces that are on the same diagonal.
Unfortunately, during most of the opening and middlegame the movement of your bishops is limited by pawns and other pieces. So it’s a little more difficult to set up a bishop fork than a knight fork.
Moreover, a bishop can’t fork a queen either because a queen can move diagonally and simply capture the forking bishop.
In the endgame, it becomes much easier to create a bishop fork, especially if your opponent’s king is exposed.
The diagram below show example of a white bishop forking the black king and rook.
Rooks have a lot of mobility and can access any square on the board by moving horizontally and vertically.
That makes it very simple to set up rook forks in the endgame, when the rooks are no longer blocked by other pieces.
Below you can see an example of a white rook forking the black king and bishop.
The queen is the most mobile piece on the board, so it’s easy to set up a queen fork.
On the flip side, you can never win your opponent’s queen with a queen fork of your own, since your opponent’s queen can simply capture your forking queen.
Similarly, don’t fork a bishop diagonally or a rook linearly, because you will lose your queen to a weaker piece!
Below you can see an example of a queen forking a bishop and knight.
King forks don’t occur very often because kings can only move one square at a time and normally should stay far away from the action.
However, in the endgame you can bring your king out and start attacking some pieces.
In the diagram below the white king is forking the black knight and bishop.
Keep in mind that the king can’t capture a piece if that would leave your king in check.
So in the diagram above the king is forking two pieces, but in the current position the white king can only capture the knight.
If black chooses to save the knight by moving it away, the white king would be able to capture the unprotected black bishop.
Special types of chess forks
Besides the 6 different forks we just went over, there are also a few more special forks that have their own names.
Although knowing the names of these forks isn’t going to make you a better player, it’s nice to know what they mean, just in case you come across them.
The triple fork is pretty self-explanatory. Whereas most forks only attack 2 pieces, in a triple fork you attack 3 pieces simultaneously.
Note that you can only pull off a triple fork with a queen, knight or king. Although making a triple fork with a king is so difficult that I have never actually seen one in a real game.
Below you can see an example of a white queen forking 3 black pieces.
One step up from the triple fork is the 4-way fork, in which one piece attack 4 enemy pieces at once.
You can set up a 4-way fork with either a knight or queen. But as you might expect, since triple forks are already uncommon, 4-way forks are very rare.
The diagram below shows a 4-way fork with a knight.
A royal fork is a fork that threatens both the opponent’s king and queen simultaneously. A royal fork leads to winning the opponent’s queen. A royal fork by a knight is the strongest, since the queen can’t capture a knight attacking it.
When a royal fork is performed by a bishop or rook, your opponent’s queen can still capture your forking piece.
Below you can see an example of a royal fork with a knight.
Family fork & Grand fork
A family fork, also know as the grand fork, is a fork that threatens the opponent’s king, queen, and one/two of the rooks simultaneously.
A royal fork leads to winning the opponent’s queen. A family fork is normally performed by a knight.
Below you can see an example of a family fork.
What piece is best for doing forks?
You might expect the queen to be the best piece for making forks. Queens are the most mobile, the strongest, and most valuable piece on the board.
Indeed, the queen is great for setting up forks in the endgame when there are lots of unprotected pieces scattered across the board.
However, in the opening and middlegame most of your opponent’s pieces are still defended. And you don’t want to trade your queen for a weaker piece.
That’s why most experienced players believe the knight to be the best piece for making forks.
Knights are only worth 3 points. So besides forking unprotected pieces, you can even fork rooks or queens that are defended.
Moreover, the unique L-shaped movement pattern of knights can really catch your opponent off guard.
Combining that with the knight’s ability to jump over other pieces, you can really set up some devastating forks with your knights.
How to make a fork in chess?
You have to be very familiar with how all the chess pieces move to be able to fork your opponent’s pieces.
In each chess position you should be aware of where all your pieces can move to and which other pieces they can attack from that new square.
This might sound like a lot of work to beginners. And it does require a fair amount of calculation, imagination, and experience.
Fortunately, this process will become faster and faster as you play more games.
Let’s try to find the fork in the position shown below.
White has 11 pieces that can be moved. Analyze where all the white pieces can move to and what enemy pieces they will attack from the new square.
Hopefully you were able to realize that moving the knight to e6 leads to a fork with the black queen c7 and rook on f8.
Unfortunately, making a fork isn’t that easy in most positions. And you’ll often have to do some work to set up the fork.
In the position below, white can attack the black rook by moving the white knight to e5 or e1. But that would only attack a single piece and black can simply move the rook away.
If only there was a second piece that the white knight could attack simultaneously…
Instead of attacking the black rook right away, white move his own rook to c8 and checks the black king.
The only square the black king can move to is f7.
(Blocking the check by moving the black rook to d8 would directly lose the rook.)
Now that the black king has moved closer to the black rook, white can finally play his knight to e5 and fork the two pieces.
Don’t worry if this combination seemed a little too difficult!
Learning how to spot tactics in your own games takes a lot of practice and experience.
You can find a few puzzles at the end of this article to try out yourself.
How to avoid a fork?
Knowing how to fork your opponent’s pieces is only one side of the story. You also need to know how to avoid your own pieces from being forked by your opponent.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to avoid a fork.
Avoid your opponent’s forks is the same process as forking your opponent. Meaning that in every position you should also check where your opponent’s pieces can move to and what pieces they will attack from those new squares.
If you notice that your opponent can fork two of your pieces on the next move you can try to prevent it by:
- Defending the square your opponent’s piece wants to move it to fork
- Moving one of your pieces away from the fork
- Capturing the opponent’s piece that will perform the fork
How to defend against a fork?
With all this in mind, you can still sometimes be surprised by a fork. Fortunately, not every fork guarantees winning material. Sometimes you can defend against a fork without losing anything!
There are roughly three ways to defend against a fork:
- Moving a forked piece to protect the other forked piece
- Capturing the forking piece
- Moving one of your pieces out of the fork with a check
Let’s look at them one by one in a little more detail.
In the position below, the white queen is forking the black rook and knight. However, the black rook can move to b7 or g6 to defend the black knight.
Of course this only works if the forking piece is more valuable than the forked pieces.
For example, if a pawn would fork a rook and knight, you would capture the knight with your pawn regardless if it’s protected by the rook or not.
In the second example below, you can see that the white queen is forking the king and bishop.
However, instead of moving the king out of check, black can simply capture the queen with the bishop.
This defense might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often people forget that they can capture the forking/checking piece. Especially in time trouble!
Finally, you can defend against a fork if you can move one of your forked pieces to safety with a check.
In the position below, the white queen is forking the black bishop and knight.
However, black can move the bishop to d5 with a check. This means that white has to spend a turn to move the king to safety and has no time to capture the black knight.
On the next turn black can move the knight to a safe square as well.
Unfortunately, you can’t always save your pieces if they are forked. That’s why it’s so important to avoid forks in the first place.
It’s important to keep these three ways to defend against a fork in mind. It might safe you from a lost game!
Chess fork puzzles
Just like any type of chess tactic, the only way to really learn how to use forks effectively is to practice lost of puzzles and play even more games.
You can find three fork puzzles below that you can try for yourself.
I’ll give the answers at the end of the article. So don’t scroll down too much without trying.
Fork puzzle 1
In the position below it’s white’s turn and wins by forking two pieces in 1 move.
Fork puzzle 2
In the position below it’s black’s turn and wins by forking two pieces in 1 move.
Fork puzzle 3
In the position below it’s white’s turn and wins by forking two pieces in 2 moves.
This puzzle is a lot more difficult than the previous two, so don’t worry if you can’t find the fork.
In the first puzzle, the white knight can move to d6 to fork the black king and queen. After the black king moves, the knight can capture the queen.
In the second puzzle, black can move the bishop to d3 to fork the white queen and knight. After the queen moves, the bishop can capture the knight on e4.
In the third puzzle, white can move the knight to h6 to give check. Black can’t capture the knight because the pawn on g7 is pinned by the white queen on g5.
After the black king move to h8 (only move), the white knight moves from h6 to f7. Besides capturing the f7 pawn, this also forks the king on h8 and queen on d8.
As I mentioned before, this puzzle was considerably more difficult than the other two because took two moves and used a pin to set up the fork.
If you want to practice more, you can try out these chess puzzles for beginners.
I hope this article gave you a good overview of what chess forks are.
To make sure you don’t forget the most important points, I have summarized the key takeaways below:
- A fork attacks two of your opponent’s pieces simultaneously
- Forks often lead to materials gain
- Every piece can fork, but knight forks, rook forks, and queen forks are the most common
- When looking for forks, consider all the squares your pieces can move to
- When avoiding forks, consider all the squares your opponent’s pieces can move to
- To defend against a fork you can:
- Protect one of the forked pieces with the other forked piece
- Capture the forking piece
- Move a forked piece to safety with check
- Finding forks in your own games takes a lot of practice