Checkmate

Just because you have three possible ways to get out of check doesn't mean one of them will always be available. Sometimes only two of the possible ways might be available, or maybe even only one of the ways will be available in a particular position. But what happens if none of the possible solutions happens to present itself? What if you can't get out of check? Then the game is over. Your king is trapped and you lose. This situation is known as checkmate.

Checkmate is a position where a king is in check and there is no saving move. Capturing the checking piece or pawn either is not possible or such a capture would leave the king in check anyway. Anywhere the king moves will still leave him in check. Blocking the check is either impossible or blocking one check will still leave the king in check from another direction.

Checkmate may come from the old Persian phrase shah manad, meaning “the king is helpless.” Some think it comes from shah mat, meaning “the king is dead,” but how can that be? The king never dies in chess; he is trapped in a checkmate, not killed. That is perhaps the chief unique identifier of chess.

It is not as easy to checkmate a king as it is to capture something else. It isn't enough to simply threaten the king; you also have to make sure there are no ways out.

Since checkmate is our objective in a game of chess, it's a good idea to know what it looks like. So here are a few diagrams with checkmates depicted.

The Black king is checkmated. He is in check from the queen on f8 along the eighth rank and cannot escape to the seventh rank since the White king controls those squares.

The Black king is checkmated. He is in check from the rook on a8 along the eighth rank and cannot escape to the seventh rank since the White rook on b7 controls those squares.

The White king is checkmated. The rook controls h1 and g2, while the knight controls the g1 and h2 escape squares.

The Black king is checkmated. The rook controls the entire eighth rank, while the pawns control the seventh rank escape squares.

The Black king is checkmated. The knight delivers the check, while the bishop controls the diagonal escape squares.

The White king is checkmated. The Black queen checks and controls all the escape squares except her own b2, which is controlled by the c4-knight.

The Black king is checkmated. The rook delivers the check and covers eighth rank escape squares, while the bishop controls g7.

The Black king is checkmated. The White queen checks and controls all the escape squares except her own b7, which is controlled by the White king.

The White king is checkmated. The knight delivers the check while the rook controls the second rank escape squares.

The Black king is checkmated. The h6-rook delivers the check and controls escape squares. Meanwhile, the g7-pawn cannot capture since that would expose the king to check from the c3-bishop.

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