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Check and Checkmate
Check and checkmate
How can you get your King out of check?
- You can move your King away
- You can block the piece that attacks your King.
- You can capture the piece that attacks your King.
Checkmate is when your King is in a position from which it cannot escape and you cannot do anything to stop your King being captured. When your King is in checkmate the game stops and you lose the game! Checkmate comes in various forms, such as back rank mate and smothered mate.
In back rank mate the King is trapped on the 1st or 8th rank behind his own pawns and he cannot escape checkmate. See ” Chess tips for beginners: back rank mate ” for a discussion and an example.
Discovered check is when you move one of your pieces away and discover that another piece puts your opponent’s King in check! A material or positional advantage can be gained. In the diagram below white moves her pawn on c3 to c4. The Bishop puts black’s King in check and forces Black to move his King away (see absolute skewer). At the same time white gains a material advantage and capture black’s Queen on g7!
Double check is when you move one of your pieces to check your opponent’s King and you then discover that another of your pieces now also puts the opponent’s King in check! Thus, both pieces simultaneously put your opponent’s King in check. In the diagrams below the Knight on e6 moves to c5 and puts the King in check, but at the same time black discovers that the Rook on e8 also puts white’s King in check – double check!
Smothered mate is when a King is checked by a Knight and cannot escape, because he is surrounded (smothered) by his own pieces! Smothered mate usually takes place in one of the corners.
In the above example the Knight on square c2 (Nc2) puts the King on square a1 (Ka1) in checkmate (” smothered mate “). The white King is unable to move and he cannot escape to a vacant square, because he is trapped by his own pieces! What should white have done to prevent smothered mate? Why do you think is it easier to get smothered mate in a corner than any other part of the chess board?
Stalemate is when it is your turn to move, but you have no legal move to make, i.e.
- your King is not in check, but it cannot move, because it will then move into check
- and you cannot move any of your other pieces, because they are blocked
- or you have no other pieces left on the chess board to move
The game ends in a draw!
In the example below it is white’s move. White has no other pieces to move except its King (the pawn on e5 is blocked!), but the King cannot move to b2, b3, b4 as it will be in check with the Rook. The King cannot move to c4 as it will be in check with the Bishop. The King cannot move to d3 as it will be in check with the pawn. If the King moves to d4 the King will be in check with both the Queen and the Knight! The King can also not move to b2, c2 or d2, because it will be in check with the Queen. The game ends in a draw (each player receives 1/2 a point).
Diagonals are straight slanting lines that join two opposite corners of a square on the chess board. In the example below the diagonal starts from square a1 to square h8. A diagonal line is not horizontal or vertical!
Example of a Bishop moving on a diagonal
The white Bishop moves from square c1 to square h6 and the black Bishop moves from square c8 to square h3. Can the white Bishop on square c1 move to square c5? Can the black Bishop on square e6 capture the white Bishop on square e3?
The columns on the chess board are called files and labeled by the letters ‘a’ to ‘h’: white from left ( ‘a’) to right (‘h’) and black from left (‘h’) to right (‘a’). The ‘a’ file (column) is illustrated in the example below:
Example of a Queen moving on a file
The white Queen moves from square d1 to square d8 on the d-file. The black Queen on square g5 moves to square g2 on the g-file.
The rows on the chess board are called ranks by the numbers 1 to 8. The 1st rank is closest to the player who plays white and the 8th rank is closest to the player who plays black. There are 8 ranks on the chess board. See example below:
Example of a Rook moving on a rank
The black Rook moves from square a8 to square h8 on the 8th rank. The white Rook on square h3 moves to square c3 on the 3rd rank.
The following example illustrates the differences between a diagonal, a file and a rank:
- A diagonal: the Bishop on square c1 moves [diagonally] to square h6 (Bh6).
- A file: the Rook on square a8 moves [vertically] to square a1 (the a-file) (Ra1).
- A rank: the Queen on square d8 moves [horizontally] to square h8 (8th rank) (Qh8).
The factor which distinguishes diagonals from files and ranks is that a diagonal is not horizontal or vertical!
A passed pawn is a pawn with no pawn(s) from your opponent in front of your pawn on the same or adjacent files which can capture it or prevent it from advancing to the 8th rank (white) or the 1st rank (black).
If you have a passed pawn you must not neglect it – in a pawn and King versus King endgame bring out your King to assist the pawn or if you still have a Rook you can put the Rook behind your passed pawn to protect it from the rear and then push it to promote to a Queen (or a Rook, Bishop or Knight)!
In the example below the Rook on a2 protects the passed pawn on a5 which can advance to a8 to promote!
A backward pawn is a pawn weakness in a chess player’s games. It is a pawn that has been left behind by the rest of its own pawns, on the adjacent files, which have advanced further up the chess board.
Other characteristics of a backward pawn are:
- A backward pawn has no support or protection from its own pawns or other pieces to advance safely or easily.
- A backward pawn is threatened to be captured by the opponent’s pawn(s) if it advances.
- A backward pawn is easily blocked by the opponent’s pieces.
- A backward pawn’s weak square, the empty square in front of it, is controlled by the opponent’s pawn(s).
- A backward pawn is attacked on a half-open file by one of the opponent’s Rooks or Queen.
- A backward pawn can be advanced if you have the necessary material to attack your opponent’s pawn chain! The diagram below illustrates the various characteristics of a backward pawn.
White’s pawn on b3 is a backward pawn. Why? It has been left behind by its own pawn (c4), it has no support from any other of its own pawns, if it moves to b4 it is under threat of capture by black’s pawn on c5 (c x b4) – the pawn on c5 controls the square on b4, if it is black’s move then the backward pawn (b3) can be blocked by the Bishop (Ba5 to Bb4), the backward pawn on b3 is also attacked on the half-open b-file by black’s Queen (Qb7).
Black’s pawn on g6 is a backward pawn. Why? It has been left behind by its own pawn (f5), it has no support from any other of its own pawns, if it moves to g5 it is under threat of capture by white’s pawn on h4 (h x g5) – the pawn on h4 controls the square on g5, if it is white’s move then the backward pawn (g6) can be blocked by the Knight (Nf3 to Ng5), the backward pawn on g6 is also attacked on the half-open g-file by white’s Rook (Rg1).
Doubled pawns are two pawns of the same colour that are on the same file. It occurs when one of your pawns captures a piece of your opponent that stands in front of another pawn of you and it moves in front of that pawn. A weakness of doubled pawns is that they are not able to defend one another!
Other characteristics of doubled pawns are
- Doubled pawns can be blocked easiliy.
- Doubled pawns’ mobility can be drastically restricted – they cannot move easily.
- Doubled pawns are obstacles to your other pieces.
- Double pawns cannot create passed pawns if they are part of a pawn majority.
- Doubled pawns can increase pawn islands.
- Doubled pawns in the centre of the chess board can provide additional control of the centre.
- Doubled pawns can defend important squares on the board.
- Doubled pawns can open a file for one of your Rooks or Queen.
- A pawn exchange can eliminate the weakness of the doubled pawns, because doubled pawns do not have the same value as two pawns on separate squares.
Black’s pawn on a5 captures white’s Knight on b4. Black now has doubled pawns on b5 and b4 which is an obstacle for the Rook on b8. White’s pawn on h5 captures white’s Bishop on g4. Though black has doubled pawns again it opens up the h-file for white’s Queen on h2. The pawn on d4 and the doubled pawns on e4 and e5 provide additional control of the centre. White can create a pawn exchange with the e5 pawn to eliminate the weakness of the doubled pawns on e4 and e5 – it captures black’s Knight on f6. The value of the pawns on d 4 and e 4 is slightly higher than the value of the doubled pawns on e4 and e5!
A fork is an attack on two pieces at the same time (a double attack), sometimes attacking more than 2 pieces at the same time! See discussion and examples of a fork under ” Chess tips for beginners: Tactical tools “.
Relative pins (a piece of lesser value is pinned to a piece or square of more value – not the King!)
- A relative pin is when a piece of lesser value is pinned to a piece or square of more value, but cannot move, because it defends a more valuable piece (or square!). However, it can make a legal move, but will loose the piece of more value! The Knight on c3 is pinned to the Rook on a1 by the Bishop on e5. White can move the Knight away, but will then expose its Rook to capture! See diagram below.
Absolute pins (a piece is pinned to the King)
- An absolute pin is when a less valuable piece is pinned to its King but cannot move, because it exposes the King to check! If the attacked piece moves away it will be an illegal move! The Queen on c4 pins the Knight on d5 to the King on g8. Black cannot move its Knight, because it will expose the King to check and it will also be an illegal move! See diagram below.
Skewers are reverse pins!
Relative skewers (a piece of more value is pinned to a piece or square of lesser value – not the King!)
- A relative skewer is a reverse relative pin. A relative skewer is when a piece of more value is pinned to a piece of lesser value and is forced to move the piece of more value and in the process loses its piece of lesser value. The Rook on e5 is pinned to the Knight on f6 by the Bishop on c3. Black must move the Rook away, because it is of more value than the Knight. See diagram below.
- An absolute skewer is when the King is pinned to a less valuable piece. The King is in check and must move away (if possible!). If the King moves away the less valuable piece is captured. The Bishop on c4 pins the King on e6 to the Rook on f7. The King is in check and must move away and in the process white loses its Rook! See diagram below.
Summary of pins and skewers
- Relative pins: a piece pins a weaker piece against a stronger piece or square.
- Absolute pins: a piece pins a weaker piece against the King.
- Relative skewers (reverse pins): a piece pins a stronger piece against a weaker piece or square.
- Absolute skewers (reverse pins): a piece pins the King to a weaker piece.
Advantages of forks, pins and skewers
- To gain material (capturing a piece of value)
- To improve the development of your pieces
- To immobilise the opponent’s piece which is pinned on the King.
Pattern recognition is when you realise that the present position on the chess board is similar to a position you had in a previous game or tournament. Pattern recognition plays an important role in a chess player’s progress. Once you develop your ability to recognise a specific pattern, learn and memorise it you can make an informed decision during your games and in this way improve your strategic thinking. Remember, chess is about strategic thinking!
Strategy is the development of a general long term plan – what your goals and objectives are and how you are going to achieve it. Strategy is a path to accomplish your mission on the chess board.
Tactics are specific short term tools (the means, eg. forks and pins) to gain an immediate advantage and are the little steps on your path to accomplish your mission on the chess board. Tactics form part of your overall strategic plan.
Summary of strategy and tactics
Strategy is what you want to achieve (the general direction) and tactics are how you are going to achieve it (the specific actions). Strategy is about thinking and tactics is about observing.
The great Chinese general, Sun Tzu, distinguishes between the two concepts as follows:
- tactics can be seen
- strategy cannot be seen – which is the decisive factor between victory and defeat!!
- A chess set in every classroom in every school in every community – a child who can’t pay must be able to play!