Types of Checkmates

by Bill Wall


Checkmate (or mate) is a game position in which a player’s king is threatened with capture (check) and there is no legal move to escape the threat.  It is the ultimate goal in chess.  The king in never actually captured.  The game ends as soon as the king is checkmated.

The term checkmate comes from the Persian phrase “shah mat” which means “the king is helpless” or “the king is dead” in Arabic.

In early chess, the king could be captured, which ended the game.  The Persians introduced the idea of warning the king that it was under attack (announcing check).  An additional rule was later added that a king could not be moved into check or left in check. 

There are a variety of checkmate types, depending on the position.

Anastasia’s Mate.  The name derives from a novel, Anastasia und das Schachspiel by Wilhelm Heinse, published in 1903.  It usually involves a white knight on the e7 square, a black pawn on the g7 square, and the black king in the corner on the h8 square.  If White can check on the h-file with a rook or queen, and Black has no piece to put in front of it, the result is mate.

Anderssen’s Mate.  White sacrifices a bishop on h7 to open up the h-file and mates with the queen on h8.  Black has a king on g8, rook on f8, and pawns at f7, g5, and h7.  White has a bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal, another bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal, and a queen on e2.  White plays 1.Bxh7+ Kxh7 2.Qh5+ Kg8 3.Qh8 mate.

Arabian Mate.   This is a corner mate using rook and knight to checkmate the enemy king.  If a white rook is on the 7th rank, and a white knight is on f6, with the black king in the corner at h8, then White plays Rh7 mate.   It is one of the earliest checkmates on record.

Back-Rank Mate.  This is the most common checkmate.  The pattern is usually a queen or rook gives check on the eighth rank and the enemy king can’t escape.  Black has a king on g8, a rook on c8, and pawns at f7, g7, and h7.  White has rooks on d1 and d3.  White plays 1. Rd8+ Rxd8 2.Rxd8 mate.

Blackburne’s Mate.   Two bishops are used to mate the enemy king.  The fundamental pattern is White having a knight on g5, with two white bishops on the a1-h8 and b1-h7 diagonals.  Black has a king on g8, a rook on f8, and a pawn on f7.  White mates after 1.Bh7.

Boden’s Mate.  The typical pattern is a white bishop on the h2-b8 diagonal and a white bishop on the f1-a6 diagonal.  It is characterized by two bishops on criss-crossing diagonals.  Black’s king is on c8, rook on d8, and knight on d7.  White plays Ba6 mate.  It was a pattern Boden used against Schulder in England in 1853.  However, it was played in an earlier game, Horwitz-Popert, Hamburg 1844.

Cornered Mate.  The king getting checkmated is in the corner and cannot get out of checkmate.

Damiano’s Mate.  Pedro Damiano published this kind of mate in 1512.  It involves a two-rook sacrifice.   For Black, the king is on g8, the rook is on f8, and a pawn in on g7.  For White, a pawn is on g6, rooks are on h1 and d1, and the queen is on c1.  White plays 1.Rh8+ (sacrificing the first rook) Kxh8 2.Rh1+ Kg8 3.Rh8+ (sacrificing the second rook) Kxh8 4.Qh1+ Kg8 5.Qh7 mate.

Epaulet (Epaulette)  Mate.  This is a mating pattern where the king is hemmed in by its own rooks.  Black has a rook on a8 and h8, a queen on e8, and a king on g8.  White has rooks on f1 and f3, and a queen on h6.  White plays 1.Rf8+ Qxf8 2.Rxf8+ Rxf8 3.Qg6 mate.

Fool’s Mate (or “Two-Move Checkmate”).  This is a mate in two moves.  1.g4 e5 2.f3?? Qh4 mate.

Greco’s Mate.  White opens the h-file with a knight sacrifice on the g-file.  Black has a king on g8, rook on f8, pawns on f7, g7, and h6.  White has a queen on h5, knight on g5, and bishop on c4.  White plays 1.Bxf7+ Kh8 2.Qg6 hxg5 3.Qh5 mate.

Helpmate.  A type of problem mate.  Black moves first and cooperates with White to get a position of selfmate in one move.

Legall’s Mate.   This is a mate with two knights and a bishop.  A typical game would be 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Bg4 4.Bc4 g6 5.Nxe5 Qxd1 (White has lost his queen) 6.Bxf7+ Ne7 7.Nd5 mate.

Lolli’s Mate.  Black has a king on g8, rook on f8, and pawns on f6, g7, h7.  White has a queen on g5, and a pawn on f6.  Black to move, but White is threatening to play 1.Qh6 and 2.Qg7 mate.  So Black plays 1…Kh8 and after 2.Qh6 (threatening 3.Qg7 mate), Black plays 2…Rg8.  Now White brings a knight to g5 or a rook to the h-file for the mate threat.

Morphy’s Mate.   This involves mating with a rook and bishop.   White has a rook on g4 and a bishop on e5.  Black has castled and has a king on g8, rook on f8, and pawns on f7, g7, and h7.  White then plays 1.Rxg7+ Kh8 2.Rxf7+! Kg8 3.Rg7+ Kh8 4.Rg5+ Rf6 5.Bxf6 mate.

Pillsbury’s Mate.    This is similar to Morphy’s Mate.  White has a queen on d4, bishop on b2, rook on a1.  Black has castled and has a king on g8, rook on f8, and pawns on f8, g8, ah h8.  In addition, he has a knight on f6.  Now White sacrifices his queen to mate.  White plays 1.Qxf6 gxf6 2.Rg1+ Kh8 3.Bxf6 mate.

Right Triangle Mate.  The kings are opposite each other and the queen or rook checkmates from either corner.

Scholar’s Mate.  A mate in 4 moves.  1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7 mate.

Selfmate.  In chess problems, White moves first and forces Black (in a specified number of moves) to checkmate White.

Smothered Mate (Philidor’s Legacy).  A smothered mate occurs when the defender’s own pieces hem in his king completely (smothered), allowing a knight to move and checkmate.  If White has a Queen on d5 and a knight on h6 (checking the enemy king), with Black’s king on g8 (in check), a rook on e8 (or d8, c8, b8, a8), and pawns on g7 and h7, then the Black king moves to h8 to get out of check.  Now White plays Qg8+.  Black must now play Rxg8.  White now mates with Nf7.  If the white knight was on g5, it is mate after 1…Kh8 (Black was in check by the white queen) 2.Nf7+ Kg8 3.Nh6+ Kh8 4.Qg8+ Rxg8 5.Nf7 mate.  A quick smother mate is 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Qe2 Ngf6?? 6.Nd6 mate. 

Stalemate.  Not a real mate.  A player’s king is not in check, but has no legal moves.  The game is a draw.

Stamma’s Mate.  White has a king on c2 and a knight on d3.  Black has a king on a2 and a pawn on a3.  White plays 1.Nb4+ Ka1 2.Kc1 a2 3.Nc2 mate.  If Black were to play first, then 1…Ka1 2.Nc1 a2 3.Nb3 mate.

Support Mate.  A mate using a queen and king against king in which the king supports the queen in the checkmate.