15 July 2017

Checkmate Patterns

Some readers of Chess Skills may have been disappointed that my postings have been limited the past two months. Much of my chess time has been devoted to preparing lessons for my camp in August. A standard feature of my annual summer chess camp has a been a camp workbook that each student receives. This year's workbook will be more than twice the size of my previous largest, which ran 92 pages. This year's workbook will be available through Amazon. My title has changed three times in the past two days. Currently, my working title is Five Days to Better Chess: Essential Tools.

In this summer's camp, each day will be focused on one topic. Each topic will be layered to accommodate students of a wide range of skill levels. There will be group activities and individual activities. The topics in sequence are checkmates, endings, middlegames, openings, and great games.

On the first day, beginning students will learn three basic checkmates against a lone king: queen and king, rook and king, and queen and rook. Then, they will move on to where the second tier group begins. Here is a sample from my workbook in progress.

Checkmate Patterns

It is not clear precisely how many ways exist to deliver checkmate. Nonetheless, my study of many thousands of checkmates in my games and in the games of others has convinced me that there are only a few dozen basic checkmate patterns. Most opportunities to force checkmate will fall into a much smaller set, perhaps two dozen. My research is not original, but merely confirms what many chess masters have found through the ages.

My booklet, “A Checklist of Checkmates”, lists 37 patterns. Portions of this booklet have been distributed to my students for the past fourteen years. The booklet contains illustrations of patterns from games, followed by exercises.

Several books have helped me learn and teach these patterns. The best one in my view is The Art of the Checkmate (1953) by Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn. When I wrote “A Checklist of Checkmates”, the English translation of The Art of the Checkmate was available only in descriptive notation, which few children learn these days. Since then, it has been republished in algebraic. After The Art of the Checkmate, the most useful book that I have found is Mikhail Tal, and Victor Khenkin, Tal’s Winning Chess Combinations (1979)—this book is new to me, having purchased it a few months ago.

Tal and Khenkin arrange their book with one chapter for each piece, followed by combinations of pieces: rook, bishop, knight, queen, pawn, two rooks, queen and bishop, and so on. Each chapter presents a small number of essential patterns. This arrangement is similar to the arrangement that I created for “A Checklist of Checkmates”, reproduced here.

The Checklist

1.Back-rank mate
2. Edge-file mate
3. Two rooks (or rook and queen)
4. Two pigs
5. Anastasia’s mate
6. Max Lange’s mate

7. Fool’s mate
8. Boden’s mate
9. Parallel diagonals
10. Reti’s mate

11.Rook and bishop
12. Opera mate
13. Pillsbury’s mate
14. Morphy’s mate
15. Two rooks and bishop

16. Smother mate
17. Smother mate with pin
18. Two knights
19. Corner mate
20. Arabian mate
21. Modified Arabian mate
22. Knight and bishop mate

23. Edge checkmate
24. Swallowtail
25. Dovetail
26. Epaulette
27. Half-epaulette
28. Queen and bishop
29. Queen and knight
30. Queen and rook

31. Legall’s mate
32. Lolli’s mate
33. Mayet’s mate
34. Anderssen’s mate
35. Blackburne’s mate
36. Damiano’s mate
37. Greco’s mate

Just as there is no certain definite number of possible patterns, there is considerable variety in the naming of patterns. For example, my “two pigs” checkmate has been called “blind swine checkmate” in other books, including Vladimir Vukovic, The Art of Attack in Chess (1965). I dislike the name blind swine because that term’s origin comes from a grandmaster discussing a situation when two rooks could force a draw, but not force checkmate—hence, they are blind. I see blind swine as a drawing combination, not a checkmate pattern. Rooks on the seventh rank are sometimes called pigs, or swine.

Although there is not universal agreement on the number and names of common checkmate patterns, many of these names are in common use. An entry on Wikipedia lists many of them. Some names, such as Reti’s mate and Anastasia’s mate, have very specific histories. On the other hand, one name, Pillsbury’s mate, comes from a specific game that was not played by Pillsbury. Renaud and Kahn present the game as one of his, although it was played by others. There are several important ideas in chess that are misnamed from a historical point of view. For example, the Lucena position (part of the second day lessons) does not appear in Luis Ramírez de Lucena, Repetición de Amores e Arte de Axedrez (1497).

Of central importance are the patterns themselves. If learning the names helps you learn patterns that you will see often, then they are useful. Knowing the name is not essential to perceiving the pattern. For most chess players, the name is a useful memory device.

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