The ultimate guide to checkmates in chess

Imagine this. You are playing a serious game at a tournament. You racked your brains for another couple of minutes and figured out that the e3 square is the best one for your Rook, and lo! One from the audience shouts out, “you missed a checkmate in two moves!”

What? It can’t be. Well yeah, it really is. You do an instant facepalm and remember when your coach would keep nagging, “Practise those f’king checkmates, dude! You gotta keep ‘em banging one after another until your opponent drops unconscious and dead on the ground.”

In fact, I was going through a game the other day where the position was as follows:

The next move? You could take a pause and give it a shot.

Here it is: Qd3!? (Yes, it is preparing for a checkmate but does it have a reply from white?)

However, if you knew the checkmate patterns, you would instantly know that we are looking at a Boden’s checkmate pattern here. The right continuation would be 1… Qc3+! 2. bxc3 Ba3#

Amazing, isn’t it? No worries, if you are a little weak and unpolished in your knowledge on what checkmate is and the different types of checkmates.

What is a checkmate in chess?
What are the rules of a checkmate?

To understand this, we have to understand what a check to a King is.

In chess, a King does not get captured. Instead, he is made to surrender.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”A check to a King indicates “I am attacking your King and it’s time to either defend, run away or surrender.”” quote=”A check to a King indicates “I am attacking your King and it’s time to either defend, run away or surrender.””]

So, what is a checkmate? Checkmate is when you check the opponent’s King and he has got no square left to run away to and he does not have enough resources to defend himself either―the only option left is to bow down to the attacker.

Let’s understand the concept of the Go game. If you played the Go game, you surely have heard the term “liberties”. While pieces don’t really run away in Go game, liberties mean if any other piece can come to your support or you could escape if you were able to. A very bad analogy, I know.

Let’s assume – liberties are either resources or squares you can defend yourself with or escape to in times of attack. The King is safe as long as it has a “liberty” at hand.

Escaping from a checkmate can be done in two ways, viz. moving the King to any of the available adjacent squares or by castling.

Here’s a common question that is asked: “Can you castle a king if he is in check?”

Unfortunately, no, you can’t.

You cannot even castle a king if the path of castling incurs going through check. For example, your King will not be able to castle in the following position.

In this particular position, the white will not be able to castle long but can castle short anytime it wants. (It’s another thing that it has got a lot of other things to consider before that. Phew!)

But I hope you got the idea, right?

How to checkmate – quick and easy?

This is one of the biggest mistakes committed by beginner chess players. The moment they push their first move, they obsess about checkmating their opponent. They know that it is the only way to win at chess.

So what else can you think about, right? WRONG.

Chess is about gaining advantage shifting from one position to another. Even when you are practically running a tactical combination―or in real-world speak, attacking your opponent and not just threatening him, it occurs from a superior position as Bobby Fischer would agree.

Instead of wondering how to checkmate quickly and easily, perhaps in the next 2 moves, 3 moves or 4 moves, I would suggest you take your time and first reach the checkmate position. Once you reach the position where the combination will likely end in checkmate, that’s when you actually do the “checkmate”.

In my own games, many a time beginner players use a lot of gambits or try to go for the Scholar’s mate right from the start, and they never realize when the position turns against them.

Don’t be that chess player, my friend.

Now that you know how to check the opponent’s King, it’s time to get promoted to be able to deliver an actual checkmate. Guess what, you have 28 ways of checkmating your opponent.

So, who’s ready for the King hunt?

List of checkmate positions in chess

If you ask my opinion, it’s best not to memorize the names of the checkmate patterns in chess. Instead, the better alternative is to memorize the moves, the position structure and the “idea” behind the tactical combination.

Anastasia’s checkmate

Anastasia’s mate happens when the opponent King is trapped at one corner of the board with the attack being delivered with three pieces―the Rook(s), the Queen and the Knight.

In the following diagram, you will see the moves play out like this.

1…. Qxh2+ 2. Kxh2 Rh6#

These are forced moves. The white King has got no escape squares left. While the Knight takes away two squares, its own piece (the white Rook) traps him too. *Sad face*

1r5k/6pp/2pr4/P1Q3bq/1P2B3/2P5/4nPPP/R3NRK1 w – – 0 1

Arabian checkmate

This checkmate involves a Knight and Rook as well. The opponent’s King is trapped at the corner of the board. The two adjacent squares are already taken away by the Knight. With the Rook giving a check―being protected by the Knight―and taking away the diagonal-adjacent square, it’s game over for the opponent’s King.

In the following diagram, only one move finishes the game.

1. Rb8#

Back Rank checkmate

Back rank checkmates, in chess, happens when a heavy piece – a Rook or a Queen – attacks the opponent’s King, on the 1st or 8th ranks, trapped behind its own pawns, and there is no piece to defend the King against the attack. As we know from the definition above, a checkmate happens when a King is attacked and has got no liberty left, that is, no defender and no escape squares.

In the following diagram, both the players are attacking and are looking for a swift checkmate on the next move. Unfortunately, White did not focus on the opponent’s attack much and lost the game.

27. Nxf8 (preparing for Qxh7#) ― a big blunder.

27…Qxc1+ (Black removes the only defender on the 1st rank)

28. Bxc1 (White winning the exchange but already losing the game)


Balestra checkmate

The Balestra checkmate is just like the Boden’s mate except for the fact that in Balestra mate, it is done with a Bishop and a Queen whereas, in Boden’s mate, it is done with two Bishops.

The trick is to cut off two diagonally adjacent squares from the opponent’s King, and one horizontally adjacent square, whether on the left or right, is covered by the attacking Queen. This only works if the opponent’s King is seated at one edge of the board.

In the following diagram, the White King is under check and cannot go on the horizontally and diagonally adjacent squares on his right, the h1 square because it was taken by the black Bishop and the h2 square is taken away by the Queen. The only square left is f1 square.

So, the White plays Kf1.

Then, the fatal blow lands.


Blackburn’s checkmate

Blackburn’s checkmate is more like the Double Bishop’s checkmate except for the fact that in Blackburn’s checkmate, there is an extra Knight. As usual, the opponent’s King is trapped on the edge of the board. One of its adjacent squares, especially that opens up to the longer side of the edge is already taken by one of its own pieces.

Essentially, the opponent’s King is trapped around the corner. However, not really on one of the a1, a8, h1, h8 squares. That’s why you need the Knight to support the Bishop that comes up to the 2nd or 7th rank to checkmate the opponent’s King.

So, one diagonal blocked by one Bishop, another Bishop going up to the 2nd or 7th rank, defended by the Knight. The other escape squares are taken away by the player’s own pieces. In some cases, the Knight might take away yet another escaping square from the King if it is not its own piece blocking its path.

In the following diagram, these moves seal the deal. Check it out.

1…gxh5 2.Nh6+ Nxh6 3.Bxh7#

Blind Swine checkmate

This name is attributed to the Polish grandmaster named “Dawid Janowski”. Janowski called the doubled rook on the opponent’s 2nd or 7th rank “Swine”. This type of position is also mentioned in Nimzowitch’s book called ” My System “. In his book, Nimzowitch called ” The 7th rank, absolute “.

The opponent’s King is trapped at the back rank by one of its pieces, more often the Rook. The two attacking Rooks pushes the King towards the corner square, by giving one check after another, reaching a point where the King is cornered and the two Rooks are placed adjacent to it, side by side.

Boden’s checkmate

We talked about Boden’s checkmate earlier. The idea behind the Boden’s checkmate is that two Bishops attack from two opposing diagonals and trap the opponent’s King at the intersection point. You guessed it―at one edge of the chess board.

The rest of the escaping squares, as usual, are taken away by its own pieces. What a drag!

The mate is named for Samuel Boden, who played a famous early example of it in Schulder–Boden, London 1853. However, it had been known previously from the game Horwitz–Popert, Hamburg 1844.

Check out the moves in the following diagram,

Damiano’s checkmate

This is a checkmate where the Queen gives the checkmate by placing itself on one of the diagonally adjacent squares, supported by a pawn that also takes away the other diagonally adjacent square for the opponent’s King. The vertically and horizontally adjacent squares are being taken away by the opponent’s pieces that restrict the opponent’s King slipping away on the opposite side.

In the following diagram, the Queen moves to h2 checking and mating the opponent’s King that has got no empty squares left.

Damiano’s Bishop checkmate

This checkmate follows the structure of Damiano’s checkmate, where the pawn is replaced with a Bishop. The Queen is supported by the Bishop and the Bishop might also restrict the movement of the opponent King to one of the diagonally adjacent squares.

In the following diagram, the white King is hedged against one corner and the black Queen delivers the kill. The Bishop, only a bystander!

1.Kf1 Qxf2#

David and Goliath checkmate

Ever faced the situation where you were a Queen up and your opponent mated you with only a Bishop, not even a Rook? This happens a lot at the beginner level of chess.

The positional understanding often lacks in club level players, and thus, it often baffles chess beginners that as per the current position, the value of a Queen can often turn out to be lower than that of a minor piece. Why? Because that minor piece can deliver checkmate on the next move, which the Queen cannot.

Check how the g-pawn move to g4 square and landed the checkmate while the opponent’s much stronger Queen was sitting idle and watching it. Much worse, it blocked one of the escaping squares of the mated King.

Double Bishop checkmate

It’s strange that I used to consider Boden’s mate as a Double Bishop mate when I was a beginner at chess. The reason? Both of them use TWO Bishops to defeat and checkmate the opponent.

The only difference between that in the Double Bishop checkmate, it happens over the long diagonals and the diagonals covered by the two Bishops are adjacent to one another.

You might get a better idea by looking at the diagram below.

The final move of Bxe6 delivered the checkmate.

Double Knight checkmate

Just like above, this checkmate is delivered by two Knights working in tandem with one another, with the mated King at one of the corner squares―a1, a8, h1, h8. The difference between this checkmate and the Double Bishop checkmate is that you need your King to support the two Knights in their attack. If there’s a pawn that endangers the positioning of any of the Knights, this checkmate won’t work.

You have to reach this position for it to work. That also means that in the endgame, you might have to end up with two extra Knights.

Dovetail checkmate

It’s the same as a Damiano’s checkmate except that in this, the opponent King can be anywhere on the chess board.

The checkmate is delivered by the Queen, supported by another piece. How to recognize the checkmate position during a game? Figure out if the opponent King is trapped in its position by some of its own pieces and placing your Queen in the right square, you not only give a check but also take away the rest of the escape squares, horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The Queen is always placed on the diagonally adjacent square to the opponent’s King.

This checkmate is also called Cozio’s mate.

If you must ask why this is called a “dovetail” checkmate, draw two lines from the attacking Queen’s square to the two squares covered by the King’s own pieces. You will see how all adjacent squares on two sides, horizontally and vertically, are spread out and filled up by those friendly pieces―much like a dove’s tail.

In the following diagram, look how the two squares, a Knight jump away from the black Queen, is blocked by the white pawn and the white Rook.

Dovetail-Bishop checkmate

Remember how the two squares, one Knight jumped away from the Queen’s square, were blocked by the opponent King’s own piece in the Dovetail checkmate pattern. In this one, those two squares are blocked by an attacking Bishop instead.

So, the total number of pieces attacking is the Queen, a piece supporting the Queen and a Bishop. Here, the dovetail is rather created by the line originating from the Queen to the two squares covered by the Bishop.

Here’s how the checkmate position look like:

Epaulette checkmate

If you consider a King’s movement choices, considering all squares are empty, a King usually has two lower and two upper diagonally adjacent squares, the lower and upper horizontally and vertically adjacent squares to go.

Now, imagine the lower squares are all taken, either by being at the edge of the chess board, by opponent’s pieces covering those squares or by your own pieces, for that matter.

The left and right horizontally adjacent squares are also taken by opponent’s or your own pieces.

The attacking Queen finally lands in the square that is vertically adjacent to the top of the square that is vertically adjacent to the position of the defending King. That’s right – it’s a checkmate.

Check the checkmate position below:

Escalator checkmate

The name of the “escalator” checkmate comes from the fact that the attacking Queen chases the opponent’s King up and down a diagonal before finally giving the checkmate.

The Queen is supported by a Bishop and this checkmate can be likened with the Damiano’s Bishop checkmate except that an Escalator checkmate can take place anywhere on the chessboard and not necessarily near the edge.

For better understanding, look below (click on the moves to see the current board position):

Greko’s checkmate

Let’s consider this position. The opponent’s King is placed on any of the one―a1, a8, h1 or h8 squares. So, he has got only three squares to move to. Now, say, the horizontal rank or the vertical file is attacked by the Queen or a Rook while the other escape square left in the opposite direction is covered by a Bishop.

Greko’s mate is occasionally called h-file mate or a-file mate. Let’s check the following diagram for a better idea. The black Queen covers the h-file and g1 square is already covered by the black Bishop.

Hook checkmate

The hook checkmate is given by a Rook and a Knight where the Rook is defended by the Knight and the Knight is usually defended by another piece, for example, a pawn.

The Rook sits on a horizontally or vertically adjacent square to the opponent King, thus covering that file or rank. One escape square is taken away by the Knight.

Usually, at this time, there are two escape squares left, which are covered by the pawn or any other piece defending the Knight or might be blocked by its own “friendly” pieces.

In the following diagram, the Rook maneuvers itself to the g8 square to checkmate the White King―it goes to show that pawns around a King are not always good.

Kill Box checkmate

Consider a 3×3 box on the chessboard. There are two diagonals―left and right. The King sits at one edge of that little box, kindly note, in the middle square of that edge. The Kill Box checkmate is given within such a box where a Rook sits right beside the King checking and mating him while being protected by the Queen that sits one square away from the Rook on the same diagonal.

Essentially, the Queen is seated on the opposite edge to the Rook and the opponent’s King. The Kill Box checkmate also morphs into the RailRoad checkmate we are going to see below.

In this diagram, attend to how the opponent’s King is essentially trapped “inside an evil box”.

Lawnmower checkmate

We talked about the Staircase checkmating technique in another article. The lawnmower checkmate is a depiction of the same. This checkmate is given by the heavy chess pieces as a combination like Rook + Rook, Queen + Rook or Queen + Queen.

The two pieces are placed on two adjacent files or ranks, and the pieces take turns to cover each adjacent file or rank to drive the opponent King to the edge of the chessboard, finally checkmating him.

It resembles more or less like going up or down a staircase. I don’t know why it’s called a “lawnmower” checkmate. (The world works in mysterious ways.)

Check out the diagram below.

Legal’s checkmate

In this checkmate, two Knights and a Bishop give the checkmate. Reason? The king is wedged to the edge of the board (alright!) but it has got a few defenders at hand, sitting right beside and in front of it.

This is good because it takes away the escaping squares from the attacked King. This makes the checkmate difficult because the King is not alone anymore.

You have to coordinate the three attacking pieces in such manner that they are not captured yet they end up delivering the checkmate.

Check out the position below for illustration purposes.

Lolli’s checkmate

Remember that checkmate when the Queen suddenly landed on the h6 square with a pawn on f6 square, and you regret the fianchettoed position of the King instantly? That’s right. It’s Lolli’s checkmate.

It also looks like a 3 x 3 box at one corner of the board with the King trapped because the escape square falls on the diagonal covered by the Queen.

Check the diagram below and you will recognize this mate for sure.

Max Lange’s checkmate

This checkmate is given by the Queen and the Bishop, and it is (almost) like the Damiano’s Bishop mate. However, what really makes this different is the unique checkmate position. The opponent King is trapped at the corner of the board. The Queen places itself on the 1st or 8th rank (or file) tagging along with a Bishop as well. However, in this case, the pawns in front of the King are placed in such a manner as to provide him with an escape square unless the Bishop is there, covering that escape square as well.

In the diagram below, if it was a pawn and not a Bishop, the King could have escaped.

Mayet’s checkmate

The opponent King sits one square away from the corner squares of the board. The corner square is covered by an attacking Bishop and a Rook places itself. The mate is given by the Rook and the Bishop does two tasks at once, viz. protect the Rook and take away one of the diagonally adjacent squares to the King.

Now, the Bishop might be relieved from the square-covering duty if only the King is trapped by its ever-so-friendly pieces. But if it has to cover that square it is destined to, it turns into a form of Opera mate.

Aron Nimzowitsch used this checkmate pattern in his game against Semion Alapin, played in Saint Petersburg, 1914. Read the book “The System” today―it’s one of the best.

Morphy’s checkmate

Again the King is on either a1, a8, h1 or h8 squares, and the vertically or horizontally adjacent square is blocked by its own pieces. The Bishop eyes the long diagonal, directly at that particular square and the only square left? It is covered by a Rook!

The checkmate is delivered by the Bishop while the Rook supports the checkmate position. It can be tricky to get this mate since you occasionally have to indulge in discovery attacks to get this checkmate. Morphy was a genius!

In this diagram, the black Rook takes on g3 with a checkmate by the black Bishop.

Opera checkmate

How do you escape a check by a Rook, placed one square away from your King, trapped at the back rank? If you are lucky, you might have that diagonally adjacent square that can’t be covered by the Rook and by placing your King there, you might actually threaten the capture of the Rook instead. Cool, huh?

The problem is if that diagonally adjacent square is being covered by a Bishop and the rest of the escape squares are already blocked by the King’s own pieces.

It might actually be a mate―and this mate is called Opera checkmate.

Look at the diagram below where the Rook on f8 square delivers the fatal blow to the Black King.

Pawn checkmate

Simple? A checkmate given by a single pawn where the rest of the escape squares are either blocked by own pieces or covered by other pieces is a checkmate.

In this position, how would you deliver a checkmate? It’s easy―just move f2-f4#.

Pillsbury’s checkmate

Let’s imagine a 2 x 3 box where the upper diagonally adjacent squares are blocked by the King’s own pieces and one horizontal square opposite to the edge of the chessboard is blocked by another “friendly” piece.

At this moment, the King is seated at one of those corner squares eyed by an attacking Bishop. The King tries to move by placing on an open file and boom! The attacking Rook comes in from nowhere and lands a checkmate.

The checkmate formation is actually the same as that of Morphy’s checkmate. However, the Rook gives the checkmate in this case, not the Bishop.

Queen checkmate

More simple―you checkmate your opponent with the Queen and the King as her support. The opponent King usually sits at one edge of the chessboard. The Queen takes the square vertically adjacent to it and is defended by the attacking King from the back.

Sometimes, the defender is not even required if the opponent’s King is trapped at one of the corners of the board and the Queen gives a checkmate by moving to a square, one square away from that of the King. The only other escape square left is blocked by the mated King’s own piece.

Here’s the position for you.

Railroad checkmate

The King is seated on the edge of the board, in the middle of a 3 x 3 box, and there are two “rail tracks” running on either side of him. Just on the horizontally adjacent square on the right sits the Rook that lands the checkmate and it is supported by the Queen on the same diagonal as the Rook, on the opposite end of the King’s side.

This is the opposite checkmate position of the Kill Box checkmate and the tactical combination can occasionally become that of the Triangle checkmate.

Robert Durkin, a strong American chess player, used this checkmate pattern against his opponent (Bross), in 1958.

Check the diagram below for illustration purposes.

Reti’s checkmate

As you understand, this checkmate is named after the famous game played by Richard Reti against Savielly Tartakower in Vienna, 1990. The checkmate was given by Reti and

In this checkmate position, the opponent’s King can only move along a particular diagonal and a particular rank or file. It so happens that the file or rank is already covered by an enemy Rook and then suddenly, it is followed with a check from an enemy Bishop that covers the diagonal too―and thus, a mate!

It’s a peculiar checkmate position that relies a lot on timing and strict placement of the chess pieces on the board. Here’s the diagram.

Smother checkmate

What does the word “smother” mean to you? Where you are packed in with all your affectionate buddies and relatives, with no breathing space available? Well, the Smother checkmate is exactly like that.

The King is trapped at the corner of the chessboard―a1, a8, h1 or h8 squares. The rest of the squares are blocked by its own pieces and the final move is occasionally done by the attacking, jealous Knight.

Moral of the story: get some personal space as soon as possible, for yourself and your King.

Check the diagram below for illustration purposes.

Suffocation checkmate

This is just like the Smothered mate except for the fact that in this case, there is at least one empty square available. The King is again trapped at the corner of the board. Can you slip away by placing itself on that empty square?

Oops, no. It is being covered by an enemy Bishop. The checkmate is again delivered by a Knight. If you don’t know about the greatness of Wilhelm Steinitz, let me tell you he delivered a Suffocation checkmate in a *blindfold* game. Total badass!

Want to know how the checkmate position goes? Here it is:

1…Bxg7 2.Nxe7#

Swallow’s Tail checkmate

When a Queen sits right beside your King, on an horizontally or vertically adjacent square, with Knight defending it, the only escape squares are the two diagonally adjacent squares opposite to the direction of the Queen.

And it’s a bloody checkmate if those two squares are already blocked by your own pieces. It’s like the Dovetail’s checkmate but it is called a Swallow’s Tail because of its bifurcated structure, much like the checkmate position.

In this diagram, Qf7# is the final move that seals the deal.

Triangle checkmate

This particular checkmate is given with a Rook and a Queen on the same file or rank, with one square in between. The mated King is seated in the file or rank between that of the Queen and the Rook. The King cannot retreat since he has already reached the edge of the board or the squares are blocked by its own pieces.

The name “triangle” comes from the fact that in this checkmate, the opponent’s King, the Queen, and the Rook form a triangle shape, that is, the Queen and the Rook are seated on the diagonally adjacent squares to the King.

This mate is called the Fish Tail’s mate and resembles the two-pointed structure of a fishtail.

Here’s a diagram that might help you understand it.

Vukovic checkmate

The opponent’s King is on one side of the board, as usual. The attacking Rook is seated right in front of him, in the vertically adjacent square, protected by a pawn or any other piece. Just on top of the Rook, on the vertically adjacent square sits a Knight.

The file (or rank) that the King is sitting on, the rank (or file) that the Rook is placed upon, is covered by the Rook itself. What about the diagonally adjacent squares to the Rook, horizontally adjacent to that of the King’s? That’s what the Knight is for.

The other piece merely defends the Rook while it delivers brutal checkmate.

Check this diagram for illustration purposes:

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Checkmates are most probably when the movement of the opponent’s King is restricted the most.” quote=”The only thing to understand about checkmates in chess is that checkmates are most probably when the movement of the opponent’s King is restricted the most.”]

Your task as a chess player is to identify such a position.

Okay, now that you know how to checkmate your opponent in your next game, however fast and easy it might turn out to be, the only question that remains is…

What do you say when you checkmate your opponent?

Frankly, if your opponent is an experienced chess player, I can assure you that he will resign even before you say something. That’s showing respect to you as a player BTW.

However, if he wants to play till the end―or challenges your intellect, the best way to end it is advancing your right hand (or left hand, if you are a leftie) and say, “Checkmate”.

If you are feeling a little sassy, you can use “Shahmat”, whichever floats your boat.

Being able to checkmate a player in chess is of utmost prestige, especially when he is a higher rated one.

It sounds like a thrill, don’t know about you though.

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