What Is a Checkmate in Chess?
A checkmate in chess is a game-ending state in which one player’s king is threatened, and the player cannot move their king out of danger or take the threatening piece. When a player successfully puts their opponent in checkmate, they win the game. In annotated chess, checkmate is indicated with the # symbol.
If a player’s king is threatened, but they can negate the threat (either by moving their king or taking the threatening piece), it is called check. If a player has no legal moves left, but their king isn’t threatened, it is called a stalemate, and the game is considered a draw.
9 Common Checkmate Patterns
Good chess strategy involves studying different checkmate patterns to prepare to execute or defend against them. There are many common checkmate patterns, each depending on the stage of the game and the various chess pieces at your disposal:
- Checkmate with two rooks: This checkmate involves using your rooks (or a rook and a queen) to slowly reduce the amount of board space that your opponent’s king can move in until the enemy king is trapped against one side and can be put into checkmate. This tactic is sometimes called “laddering,” “rook-rolling,” or “lawn mowing.”
- Checkmate with a king and queen/rook: You can checkmate an opponent using just your king and either your queen or rook. To do this, use your queen or rook to force your opponent’s king to one side (or one corner) of the chessboard. Once you corner your opponent, you’ll have several ways to proceed, including keeping your king near your queen/rook to protect it or keeping your king close to your opponent’s king and covering him with your queen/rook. Be careful of a stalemate, which can occur if you don’t consciously try to keep your opponent in check.
- Checkmate with a king and two bishops: Checkmating your opponent with two bishops is similar to other simple checkmates—the goal is to force your opponent’s king against one side of the board and then slowly corral the king into a corner. You’ll also need to use your king to keep your opponent’s king from moving toward your bishops and taking them.
- Checkmate with a king, bishop, and knight: Checkmate with a king, bishop, and a knight is one of the most difficult basic checkmates because you cannot create a linear barrier a safe distance away from your opponent’s king. To perform this mate, you need to force your opponent’s king to an edge of the board and then corral it to a corner (using your bishop, knight, and king) that your bishop can control (a white square for a white-square bishop, or a black square for a black-square bishop).
- Arabian mate (checkmate with knight and rook): You can use a knight and rook to checkmate your opponent without needing to involve your king. This tactic involves forcing your opponent’s king to one edge of the board and then using your knight to protect your rook and prevent the opponent’s king from escaping mate.
- Scholar’s mate: The scholar’s mate is a four-move checkmate in which you use your white-square bishop and queen in a mating attack targeting the opponent’s f-pawn. The scholar’s mate is one of the quickest mates in chess and is not uncommon to encounter in regular play. (While technically a pattern called the “fool’s mate” is the fastest checkmate in chess, it relies on your opponent making a significant blunder at the start of the game, can only be performed on the white king, and rarely sees use in realistic chess matches.)
- Smothered mate: The smothered mate is a common middle-game strategy, in which your opponent’s king is “smothered” by their own pieces and restricted from moving to any escape squares, allowing you to put them in checkmate quickly. The most common tactics for a smothered knight are to force the enemy king into a corner and to use your knight to put the king in checkmate.
- Back-rank mate: Like the smothered mate, a back-rank mate uses enemy pieces to restrict the enemy king’s movement. In a back-rank mate, your opponent’s king is stuck behind pieces on the second rank (the row immediately beside the edge of the board, usually lined with pawns), allowing you to quickly move in with a rook or queen to put your opponent in checkmate on the next move.
- Anastasia’s mate: Anastasia’s mate (which gets its name from the novel Anastasia und das Schachspiel by Johann Jakob Wilhelm Heinse) is a mate similar to the smothered or back-rank mates in that it uses enemy pieces to restrict the enemy king’s movement. In a traditional Anastasia’s mate, you use your knight and rook to trap the enemy king against one side of the board, beside one of your opponent’s pieces. This mate is more common after castling since your opponent’s king will be closer to the edge of the board.
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