How to Checkmate Your Opponent

In this article, you’ll learn about different types of checkmate, stalemate, and how to checkmate your opponents fast.checkmate with only a knight

You’ll be able to improve your sight on the chessboard and find mates quicker thanks to this guide.

I’ve included gifs and practice exercises for beginners as well as more advanced chess players.

Click any of the topics below to skip ahead to that section

Table of Contents

Check vs Checkmate

Before we learn about the different ways to checkmate your opponent over the board, let’s learn what the difference is between check and checkmate.

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What is Check?

Check occurs when you or your opponent’s king is under attack and threatened to be captured by another piece. When this happens, the king must move, or the piece attacking the king must be captured.

If the player cannot move out of danger and away from check, this is considered checkmate, and the game is over.

Here are some examples using every type of chess piece to help visualize what check means.  All of these examples are check, and not checkmate.

Notice the King cannot check another king because it would be putting itself into check by doing so.

check with pawn
A pawn delivering check
check with knight
A knight delivering check
check with bishop
A bishop delivering check
check with rook
A rook delivering check
check with queen
A queen delivering check

Unlike the rest of the pieces in the game, the king is never captured as it is a special piece that must be protected at all costs.

What Happens if you Don’t say Check out loud?

When a king is threatened, you should verbally say “check” to inform the opponent that their king must move or the piece threatening the king must be removed from the board.

If the king is in check and your opponent attempts to move another piece, an illegal move has occurred. When this happens, the move is taken back and 2 minutes are added to the player who initiated check’s clock (if a clock is being used).

In many blitz time controls, a kingtake will be allowed, resulting in an immediate loss for the second player.

For this reason, a lot of players won’t always say “check” out loud because winning the king wins on the spot.

In fact, it is not required to say “check” out loud in tournament play, but is generally a courtesy.

What is Checkmate?

Checkmate occurs in chess when you or your opponent’s king is in check, the king cannot move, and nothing can capture the piece delivering check.

Checkmate also means that the game must come to an immediate end, despite how many pieces are left on the board.

Here is a pawn delivering checkmate, despite the board being almost full of chess pieces.  The king is under direct attack, cannot move, and cannot recapture the pawn because the queen protects it.

checkmate with pawn

While it is important to play for a material advantage in chess, it is always important to keep the main goal of checkmate in the back of your mind while you play.

Some attacks can be stopped because of the threat of checkmate on the other side of the board.

Additionally, some checkmates include sacrifices of strong pieces just to end the game by delivering checkmate.

Here are some examples to help visualize what this means.

Black is able to checkmate white in one move, however, white moved first and played Qf7, checkmate (written in notation as Qf7#).  Notice how the pawn on g6 and the bishop on c4 protect the queen from the king’s recapture.

checkmate with queen
Here is the checkmate with a lot of pieces on the board
checkmate with queen no other pieces
Here is the same checkmate with the rest of the pieces removed from the board.

The rest of the board becomes irrelevant when checkmate is achieved because the game must end.

What is the difference between check and checkmate?

Check does not immediately end the chess game, but rather alerts the player their king must be rescued or move.

When a player has their king en prise, they must move it or capture the piece attacking their king.

Checkmate immediately ends the game, no matter how many pieces are left on the board.

What is Stalemate in Chess?

a strange stalemate

When a stalemate occurs, the game is considered drawn and both players receive half a point (1/2-1/2)

Stalemate occurs in a few different ways:

  • Both players agree to a draw

If a player offers a draw and their opponent accepts, it is a draw no matter what the position is.  Some players would rather offer a draw than mess up a complicated position.

Often, draws are not draws at all on the board based on the position.  Not everyone is as strong a chess player as Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion of chess.

  • One player is unable to move any pieces, is not in check, and it is their turn

In chess, both sides must move a piece on their turn, even if they don’t want to move a piece because it will compromise their position.  If one side cannot move a piece on the board at all, then a draw is reached automatically.

Again, regardless of how many pieces are left on the board, the result is a stalemate.

Many beginner chess players fall into this trap when trying to checkmate with a queen and king (example below)

The board does not have to look the same three consecutive turns in a row for this type of stalemate to occur.

Sometimes other pieces are moved on the board, but the position is returned to.  This can happen when a knight moves to a square, then back, to continue the symmetrical position.

The best way to avoid this stalemate is to move a pawn, since they cannot move backwards.

  • Neither player has sufficient mating material

There are a few combinations to leave the chessboard with insufficient mating material.  The best examples are:

  • 1 knight
  • 1 bishop
  • 2 knights

Notice how pawns are not on the list.  Because they can be promoted into any other piece, they are not considered in the insufficient mating material equation.

Sometimes, a pawn is forced into underpromoting into a knight to turn into a stalemate.

  • No major piece has moved and checkmate is not achieved within 50 moves (50 move rule)

If a pawn has not moved in 50 moves, then stalemate is achieved.

The most common example of when this would occur would be a beginner unsure how to checkmate with a rook and king or queen and king.

At the higher levels, this can occur when a player is unable to checkmate in 50 moves with 2 bishops or a knight and bishop.  Since these are more complicated checkmates, this can occur more frequently than you might think.

Examples of stalemate

Stalemate with bishop
white’s king cannot move
stalemate with queen
the queen removes the king’s safe squares, and the king is not in check
stalemate by repetition
draw by repetition as the king and queen will move back and forth. No other moves are possible for white.

Let’s now take a look at some basic ways to checkmate your opponent.

How to checkmate Fast for Beginners (in the Opening)

Checkmate can come at any time in the game, so it’s important to always be on the lookout for it.

There are a ton of ways to checkmate your opponent. Most of them involve maneuvering your pieces towards your opponent’s king.

You can sometimes get a fast checkmate if your opponent isn’t paying attention.

Often in a chess game, there is so much going on that obvious checkmates can be overlooked easily.

How to checkmate in 2 moves (Fool’s Mate)

To checkmate your opponent at the sub 1000 ELO rating level, you can often “pull a fast one” on your opponent.

The easiest example of this is the Fools Mate, or 2 move checkmate.

  1. f3 e5
  2. g4 Qh4#
fools mate
The queen delivers mate as the other white pieces block the escape of the king. No pieces can move to f2 or g3 to block checkmate.

However, if a player follows the basic opening principles, then they would never play like this and allow this type of checkmate.

How to checkmate in 3 moves

You can checkmate your opponent in 3 moves by utilizing the same strategy as the checkmate in 2 moves (fool’s mate) laid out above.  This would occur if your opponent didn’t see the checkmate right away, but white (or black in this case) opted to advance both the f and g pawns before moving anything else.

How to checkmate in 4 moves (Scholar’s Mate)

The Scholar’s checkmate is one that can be reached in 4 moves (for white) and plays on the weakness of the f7 pawn, which is only protected by the king and no other pieces.

1. e4 e5
2. Bc4 Nc6
3. Qh5 Nf6??
4. Qxf7#

Scholars mate

This checkmate makes use of the light squared bishop and queen to work together to to attack the f7 square.

This opening trap is often seen at the beginner level and is a great way for new players to learn how checkmate works. It is also great for new players to learn how to see the checkmate coming and block it.

Over time, if your opponent keeps trying this checkmate, you will learn to defend against it and understand that moving the queen so early is often a bad idea.

When you do so, you’ll start to see checkmate coming and understand how to prevent it.

Different Types & Patterns of Checkmate in Chess

There are tons of checkmate patterns and it is important to memorize the idea of all of them.

Seeing these checkmates without a ton of pieces on the board will help you to find them quicker when you’re playing with a chess clock and are pressed for time.

You may not always know the name of the type of checkmate, but as long as you understand the main concepts, you will be in good shape to not miss them in a game.

Additional checkmates can be found from wikipedia, but I decided to use the most common types of checkmate.

Backrank Mate

A backrank checkmate occurs when the king is on the 1st or 8th row of a chess board and checkmate is delivered. It must be given by a rook or queen as they are the only pieces that attack horizontally.

backrank mate

This typical formation of 3 pawns is a common sight for either king.  It is most common after castling because it provides safety.  However, if you aren’t able to give your king an escape square, you can fall victim to backrank mates.

backrank checkmate gif

Sometimes pieces can substitute for pawns by keepings the king on the back rank.  Because you cannot move to squares occupied by your own pieces, they work against the king in many types of checkmates.

back rank with pieces blocking king
back rank with pieces blocking king

Staircase Checkmate

The staircase checkmate comes from Jeremy Silman’s Endgame Course and is a method of checkmating with 2 rooks, 2 queens, or a queen and a rook.

The method involves alternating which piece checks until the king is pushed to the edge of the board (which edge does not matter).

staircase mate

The queen and rook alternate in removing files from the opposing king until he is pushed to the edge of the board, and checkmate is achieved.

staircase mate gif
Note how the queen protects the rook every step of the way.  The king can never capture the rook.

The same style of checkmate can be given with 2 rooks, though more distance between the king and rook must be secured, otherwise the king can capture one of the rooks.

staircase mate 2 rooks

Smothered Checkmate

A smothered checkmate is when the king is stuck in a cramped space and checkmate is delivered by a knight.

smother mate

All of the king’s own pieces remove his squares of retreat.

Here is a famous version of the smothered mate that involves a queen sacrifice.  Note how moving the king to c8 when given the chance results in a quicker mate with the queen moving to c7.

This checkmate involves a doublecheck, in which the king is attacked by two pieces.  When this happens, the king must move.

smother mate with queen sacrifice gif

Anastasia’s Checkmate

Anastasia’s checkmate involves a knight and rook, and usually the opponent’s own pawn, to create a checkmate.

Note how the king cannot move to b6, b7, or b8, effectively forming a wall that is similar to a backrank checkmate.

This checkmate usually occurs on the A or H file rather than the backrank (1st or 8th).

King (or pawn) and Queen Checkmate

This checkmate involves the king and queen finishing the game, usually when there are no other pieces left on the board.

queen pawn checkmate

This mate must occur on an edge of the board with the queen delivering check, and the pawn or king protecting  the queen.

The edge of the board secures part of the king’s retreat and the queen cuts off the rest.

Opera Mate

An Opera checkmate occurs with a bishop (or queen) and a rook. Like Anastasia’s Mate, the opponent’s pawn usually helps remove a square the king can move to.

opera mate

This checkmate is most common when the bishop is able to occupy the squares a defensive fianchetto would.  This means you want to watch out for this type of mate when you fianchetto your bishop and trade it away for a knight.

Fianchettoing is normal in an opening such as the Sicilian Dragon or the King’s Indian Defense.

Hook Mate

The hook mate is a nice maneuver using the knight, pawn, and rook in unison.

hook mate

The pawn protects the knight, allowing the knight to protect the rook’s final checkmate delivery.  This type of checkmate is pretty common if you know what to look out for.  Here’s a gif of it being forced.

This is a strong checkmate to keep in mind and more common in endgames.

Kill Box Mate

The Kill Box Checkmate is a common strategy to slowly force a king to the end of the board by slowly pushing him with a queen and rook.

kill box mate

This is faster than the staircase method, and sometimes easier to pull off if there are more pieces on the board.

The formation can be repeated from as far away as necessary.

David and Goliath mate with pawn

A David and Goliath checkmate involves the lowly pawn delivering the final blow of the game.

David Goliath Mate

The rook often removes an entire file from the king’s retreat.  In this case, a simple check from anywhere will finish the king off.  As long as the other squares are blocked off, the pawn’s check is more than enough.

A bishop, knight, or queen can deliver the mate as well in this type of situation.

Cozio’s Mate

Cozio’s checkmate occurs when a queen delivers checkmate without its own pieces helping out, aside from the queen’s protection. The main culprits of this checkmate are the opponent’s own pieces, usually pawns.

Cuzio Mate

Note that when the queen delivers check from a diagonal at close range, it cuts off 7 of the 9 squares a king can move to.  The king must move diagonally back and out of range of the queen’s attack range.

If those two squares are occupied and unable to be taken by the king, then checkmate occurs right away.

There are other types of checkmate, but these give you a great idea how you can use all of the chess pieces to achieve the mission of the game.

Methods of Checkmate in the Endgame

While it is important to understand how checkmates occur in the opening and middle game, working on checkmating when there are just a few pieces on the board is super important.

Practicing these checkmates below will help you to better understand other types of checkmate to aim for.

Additionally, it will help you to prevent stalemates with winning positions.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than being up a queen and rook vs a king and stalemating your opponent. This turns your hard earned full point into a half of a point (but at least it’s better than 0 points in a tournament).

Click below to skip to the checkmate you’re most interested in:

How to checkmate with 2 queens, 2 rooks, or a queen and a rook

To checkmate with any of the above material, you will want to utilize the Staircase Method, from Silman’s Endgame Course.  This is not the only way, but is an easy way to master.

Let’s start with two queens as they are the easiest to use and protect each other along the way

The staircase method involves slowly pushing the king to the edge of the board, alternating with queen and queen.

Let’s start with 2 queens and checkmate the king.

2 queen checkmate

Alternate your queens along the 2nd and 3rd rank to achieve a checkmate of the king on the A file.

Try to achieve this position

2 queen checkmate

Here’s a gif of the solution

Now let’s try with a queen and rook.  You’ll want to achieve a position like this, with the black king on the edge of the board.

checkmate queen and rook

You will want to alternate the queen and rook and continue to take files away from the king.

Similar to the box checkmate, you want to reduce the possible escape squares of the king until there is not more squares on the board to run to.

Now let’s try to checkmate with 2 rooks.

You’ll want to achieve a position like this for checkmate.

checkmate 2 rooks

Just like the 2 queen checkmate or the queen and rook, you want to alternate files, taking squares away.

However, with two rooks, you will need to “waste a move” or “mark time” as Yasser Serawan discusses in his endgame books.

Because the king can capture one of the rooks if unprotected, it’s important to remember this.

If you accidentally allow the king to capture 1 rook, you will need to give checkmate with a rook and king alone, covered below.

Remembering the staircase method can bring checkmate about even when there are other pieces on the board.

It may not be as long of a journey for the king with obstacles in the way, but it can be common to checkmate the king earlier in the game.

Can you checkmate with one queen?

The easiest way to learn how to checkmate with a rook and king is the Box method. This can be used for a rook endgame as well.

The box method involves closing your opponent into a smaller and smaller imaginary box on the board.

The box mate with the queen

Notice how the queen starts the king off in a box from a4-a8-h8-h4.

The box mate with the queen

Moving the queen to b5 makes the box smaller (b5-b8-h8-h5).

The king must move to e6.  Any other move will give a quicker mate as the queen will reduce the size of the box without moving the king

Example – Kd7 is followed up with Qb6, taking away the 5th rank.

The box mate with the queen

After the king is in opposition, the queen forces the king back another rank.  The box mate with the queen

Once the queen controls the 7th rank, the king must be in opposition, and the 8th rank is taken away, delivering checkmate.
The box mate with the queen

Here’s a gif of the entire queen and king checkmate.

The goal of checkmating with either a queen or a rook is to bring the opponent to the edge of the board. It doesn’t matter which edge of the board, but with only a king and queen and king on the board, checkmate cannot be completed in the middle of the board.

How to checkmate with rook and king

Checkmating with a rook alone is not as easy as checkmating with a queen alone, but it employs the same Box methodology.

The best way is to slowly push your opponent back to the edge of the board again, but this time you’ll want to maintain opposition before pushing the opponent’s king.

Opposition involves both kings being 1 square apart, essentially staring at each other daring them to step forward, but they can’t!

The box mate with the rook

The rook pushes the king back with check, and the white king controls the squares it can move forward.  You will want to continue to achieve this formation until the king is on the edge of the board.

The box mate with the rook

When the king moves close to the rook, it must move to the other side of the king, as far away as possible.

If the defending king tries to get sneaky by going back and forth (this can sometimes trip up beginner players) then you’lll want to remember to skip a move where possible, as above.

Skipping a move, or marking time, is a chess term that is used when you want to force your opponent into a bad position (zugswang).

This will reduce the number of moves you need to achieve checkmate.

Since you can’t actually skip your turn, you can make a move on the board that seemingly wastes a move, but is really designed to put your opponent into a position they don’t want to be in and make a move they don’t want to make.

Continue forcing the king to the edge until checkmate is delivered.

The box mate with the rook

The same formation is achieved from the other side.

The box mate with the rook

White must “mark time” again by moving to the other side while the black king runs to the very corner of the board.

Once on a8, it must move backwards to the only square, b8, where the rook finishes the game with the final horizontal check.

The box mate with the rook

When in opposition, you deliver check from the side with your rook.

Be sure to remember that your rook won’t be able to protect itself as easily as a queen. Always make sure your rook is protected or has a nice amount of checking distance from the king.

How to checkmate with two knights

Checkmating with 2 knights is possible, but not forced.

This means that it can be done, but unless your opponent decides to help you out, it cannot be done.

For this reason, higher level players agree to a draw immediately if this position is achieved.

checkmate with 2 knights
checkmate with 2 knights. However, the king isn’t forced to move to the corner of the board.

While checkmate is possible, the king is not forced to move to the corner in any way. They would have to blunder for this to happen.

How to checkmate with rook and bishop

Checkmating with a rook and bishop is easy enough to do if you know how to checkmate with a rook and king alone.

However, it’s important to understand how these pieces can work together to achieve checkmate in other mates such as the Opera mate.

opera mate with rook and bishop

How to checkmate with 2 bishops

Checkmating with 2 bishops is a lot like checkmating with a rook and king.

Since both bishops cover opposite colored squares, they need to work together to deliver checkmate by staying close together.

While this checkmate isn’t complicated, it is important that you don’t let the enemy king get too close to the bishops while they’re unprotected. If he captures one, then checkmate isn’t possible (insufficient mating material)

checkmate with 2 bishops

Here’s a gif of the process.

checkmate 2 bishops gif

How to checkmate with knight and bishop

The hardest type of checkmate to complete is with a knight and a bishop and king vs king.

Essentially, you want to force the king to the same color as the bishop that you have since this piece will be the one to give the final blow.

checkmate with bishop and knight

I wrote about how to checkmate with a knight and bishop here to explain the W Maneuver.

FAQ’s About Checkmate

Can you checkmate with 1 knight?

Checkmate with 1 knight is only possible when there is at least 1 pawn on the board. The most famous version is Stamma’s mate.

checkmate with 1 knight

This is a forced sequence that can be tricky to pull off.  It involves careful knight maneuvers that force black to advance their pawn and remove their last escape square.

Here’s how to checkmate with 1 knight, under certain circumstances

What pieces do you need to checkmate?

You can checkmate with any piece besides the king. You will need a coordination of your own pieces in order to deliver checkmate. Otherwise, the king will be able to capture the piece that delivers check.

In some cases, you can mate your opponent with the help of the opponent’s pieces. An example of this is utilizing a knight to deliver a smother mate.

When there is just a bishop or knight, checkmate is completely impossible. However, checkmate with 1 bishop or 1 knight is possible under certain circumstances (your opponent must have pieces left on the board).

checkmate with 1 knight

checkmate with 1 bishop

What does it mean when someone says checkmate?

Checkmate automatically ends the game, regardless of how many pieces are left on the board for either player. In some cases, one player will sacrifice many of their strongest pieces in order to end the game immediately with checkmate.

You don’t necessarily have to say checkmate. Stronger players will understand the checkmate and offer a handshake and congratulations. Some players may not mean it, but it is a common courtesy to say.

Some other checkmates are hard to see right away even for strong players. They may see checkmate and unless their opponent says “checkmate” they might try to find another move.

Did you learn a new way to checkmate someone?

Which type of checkmate were you surprised to see on this list?

Do you already know how to checkmate with a bishop and knight only?

If you learned something new, leave a comment below!