Lesson 8 - Checkmate Patterns: How To Checkmate A Lone King

"Begone! Ignorant and impudent knight, not even in chess can a King be taken."
- King Louis VI

If you do not know what is a checkmate or if you need a refresh, I recommend that you go through the page introducing the checkmate before continuing.

In amateur games, it is quite common to see a player having a big material advantage over his opponent which, on his side, has only his king remaining on the board. We already have learned from lesson 5 that a game is drawn when a lone king is fighting against the other king and two knights or the other king with a knight or a bishop. Knowing that, it then means that any other setups where one of the players has a material advantage against a lone king should end into a checkmate. Well, this is according to the theory... but it does not mean that it can be easily achieved!

We saw previously how to checkmate a lone king with a rook (with the Corridor / Back Rank Mate) and a queen (with the Corridor / Back Rank Mate or The Lethal Kiss), but to refresh your memomry, here are some possible configurations:

Corridor Mate

Diagram 8.15 - Corridor Mate

Corridor Mate

Diagram 8.16 - Corridor Mate

Lethal Kiss mate

Diagram 8.17 - Lethal Kiss Mate

Lethal Kiss mate

Diagram 8.18 - Lethal Kiss Mate

By looking at the above diagrams, a question might pop in your mind: "My opponent will certainly fight to avoid his king being trapped like this... so how can I force him to play into these checkmate patterns?". Well, as I explained in the introduction on endgames (lesson 7), we need to learn the techniques related to specific game endings.  In order to succeed in checkmating a lone king, we simply need to learn how to do it. In the case of a lone King versus a King and a rook, or versus a King and a Queen, the technique is quite simple:

  • centralize your king
  • push the enemy king toward one of the side of the board by using both of your pieces
  • when the enemy King is occupying the side of the board, work with your pieces so you can realize the checkmating pattern (be careful though not to setup a stalemate pattern!)

For example, if you are handling White in the following position when you have a K+Q duo against a lone King, the moving sequence could be:

The same idea could be applied with the rook, however more moves will be required to reach the checkmate pattern:

Great, case closed for the major pieces. Now, let's see if this is as easy for the minor pieces: the king with its bishop pair or the king with a knight and a bishop. As it is the case with the major pieces, it is a must to force the enemy king to occupy a target square for the chekmate to occur. This time, the target square will be in one of the chessboard's four corners. To do so, we must follow the following technique:

  • Use all pieces (including its majesty) to force the enemy king to move toward the side of the board
  • Once it gets there, work for pushing it in a corner
  • While pushing the enemy king toward a corner, place your pieces to obtain the desired checmating pattern

We need the following checkmating pattern when we have a king and the bishop pair against a lone king:

Checkmate with the bishop pair against a lone king

Figure 8.19 - Checkmate with the
bishop pair against a lone king

Even if we have more pieces, this pattern is longer and harder to get than the one for the rook or the queen. This helps justifying the difference between minor and major pieces. Here is an example of a possible moving sequence required to checkmate the black king. Pay attention to the way white pieces work together to control the squares around the black king and force it to go toward a desired direction:

As we can see, 21 moves is needed to deliver the checkmate... and by always playing the best moves! There is a strong possibility that a player who is not familiar with the above technique will fail to reach the checkmate pattern before triggering the 50 moves draw rule. The world champion from Cuba José Raoul Capablanca (1888-1942 world champion from 1921 to 1927) recommended to study this moving sequence to get familiar with the power of a bishop pair of opposite colors.

As for the knight-bishop duo, the principles are almost the same and the task is much longer to realize and really hard to execute. The potential for slipping and miss a move is high. We will not study the moving sequence in this lesson as this study is more related to an advanced lesson on endgames. For now, we will only have a look at possible patterns. The checkmate will be different depending on the the color of the square occupied by the enemy king:

White square bishop against king occupying a white square corner

Diagram 8.20 - White square bishop against
king occupying a white square corner
White square bishop against king occupying a dark square corner

Diagram 8.21 - White square bishop against
king occupying a dark square corner

And voila! I am pretty sure that you now feel the importance of mastering the techniques required to play a game ending properly. Other techniques will be studied later on in a more advanced lesson dedicated to the endgames. But for now, go through the examples exposed in this page a couple of times: by doing so, you will improve your technique. It would also be nice if you could find a partner (human or computer) and practice random positions. If you cannot find a partner, play the position against yourself by driving both colors (keep in mind that the lone king must always try to stay in the center as long as possible to offer the best resistance).

Let's continue the lesson with the next page on other checkmate patternsonline chess tutorial.