Sports & Games

Chess 101: What Is Double Check? Learn How to Perform and Respond to Double Check in Chess

Written by MasterClass

Jul 31, 2019 • 3 min read

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Double check is a rare but especially deadly maneuver that can take even chess masters by surprise. Though related to the more common discovered attack, double check has some particular characteristics that are worth paying attention to.

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What Is Double Check?

Double check is a fairly rare but especially powerful form of discovered attack. As in other forms of discovered attack, moving one piece reveals an attack from another piece. In this case, though, both the piece being moved and the piece being uncovered are used to attack the king. (In chess notation, double check can be notated with ++, though in other cases that can also be used to signify checkmate.)

  • Unlike other discovered attacks and double attacks, double check isn’t necessarily guaranteed to win material, since the subject of both attacks is the king. That said, a player on the wrong side of double check only has one out: they have to move the king. At the very least, this is likely to cost them a tempo, and possibly a piece as well.
  • Of course, the same move can also result in a discovered checkmate, especially in situations where the enemy king is cornered or “smothered” by its own pieces.
  • Note, in standard chess, the maximum number of pieces that can be checking a king at once is two. In certain chess problems involving fairy pieces, however, it may be possible to triple check or even quadruple check a king.

How to Perform Double Check

Since double check is most often a form of discovered attack, many of the same guidelines apply here.

  • Though in practice double check nearly always comes about as a form of discovered attack, there is one other, highly improbable way to set up double check without moving either piece that’s attacking the king. It’s theoretically possible to reveal a double check by capturing with a pawn en passant.
  • In this case, the capturing pawn would both uncover an attack from a piece behind it while also removing an enemy pawn blocking another lane or file. While this scenario is extremely unlikely to occur in actual play, it sometimes shows up in chess problems and practice positions.

How to Respond to Double Check

There is good news and bad news about being caught in double check. The good news is that your only move is to move your king. The bad news is that it may not matter very much. Because a double check by definition requires two different lanes or files to be open at once, it’s impossible to block or capture your way out of it without moving the king. This is also why double check is exceptionally deadly near corners or when the king is surrounded by pieces that limit its mobility.

Being forced to move your king will usually result in a lost tempo and frequently drive you into a worse position than before. That said, in very rare cases, it may be possible for the defending king to capture one of its attackers while escaping the other.

Double Check in Practice: The Evergreen Game

While the difficulty of pulling off double check makes it relatively rare in practice, there is at least one notable game where it figures prominently. The so-called “Evergreen Game” between early chess master Adolf Anderssen and Jean Dufresne in 1852. On turn 21, Anderssen, playing white, checked black’s king on e8 with an aggressive capture on d7.

With no other options, Dufresne captured the white queen, but then Anderssen revealed a trap. Anderssen had already set up a bishop on d3 and a rook on d1. With Bf5++, Anderssen uncovered a devastating double check from both the rook and the bishop. Mate followed three moves later.

Learn more about chess strategy in Garry Kasparov’s MasterClass.