How to Win at Chess – Checkmate Combinations

It is much more fun to attack in chess than defend. This is because it is generally easier, and it gives you more immediate winning chances. Some games are won in the endgame, through slow positional maneuvers, but many are also won by strong breakthrough combinations. What I am talking about is a forced sequence of moves where no matter what your opponent plays, you have enough resources at your disposal to ensure an immediate checkmate. Most of these combinations in question begin with checks, a very forcing type of move. It is also important to note, that if you don’t know how to win at chess, then you should start off by learning some typical checkmates.

What is Check? – A Quick Recap

Before I go any further, I will just remind you what check is. Check is when an enemy piece threatens to capture your king on its next move. The person whose king is being attacked is then said to be ‘in check’. They have to do something about this, as losing your king loses the game (you should be aware that it is against the rules to ignore a check). Here are some examples of checks:

In this position, black can play ‘queen to a3 check’ 1… Qa3+! This is a winning move, because after the king moves out of the way e.g. 2. Ke4 black will pick up white`s queen, and go on to win through typical means …Qxg3

Here, white is ‘in check’ because the black queen is threatening the white king. This particular check, that arose from a Scandinavian Defense opening after 1.e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qe6+ is superficial. The queen is prematurely developed, and is only getting in the way on e6. This shows that checks aren’t necessarily the best moves. White can block the check with 4. Nge2 (also possible is Be2, Nce2 and Qe2, but why not develop another piece…)

Now black is ‘in check’ and has to do something about it, but he can’t move his king or block the check, which leaves him with just one option – To capture the checking piece. 1… Rxe8 2. Bxe8 it is not possible for white to now play Rxe8 with the remaining rook, because of the pin caused by the h1 rook.

Ways to Deal With Check

There are only ever a maximum of 3 options for you when you are in check.

  1. Capture checking piece – You remove the piece, and then your king is no longer in immediate danger. This was the only option available in the previous example.
  2. Block the line of fire – You Put a piece in the way of the line of fire. In the second example, to ‘get out of check’ the only option was to put a piece on e2, thus blocking the queen`s attack on the white king.
  3. Move your king away – In the first example, the exposed king in the center of the board had no allied pieces that could block the line of fire of the black queen; nor did it have any pieces that could take the checking queen, therefore the only option was to move the white king out of the way.

When you are in check in a game, you should go through each of these options and consider, which option will lead to the best position for you. Sometimes all three of these options are available to you, perhaps just 2 or even just 1 like the examples above. If none of these options work for you then you are in CHECKMATE!

Using Forcing Moves to Break Through

By now you know what check is, and you know how you can deal with it. This is important for this next section, which is where we start evaluating some checkmate combinations. With time, your intuition about when you sense there may be a tactic on the board will improve. Checkmate combinations are essentially just tactics that win on the spot. These tactics rely on forced sequences of moves, that attack the enemy king, or create an unstoppable threat. The moves to look for are checks, captures and then threats.

Most Forcing Moves

  1. Checks – These demand your opponent to make a decision. Remember that they only have 3 options (mentioned above). Quite often you can see all of your opponent`s responses, and evaluate how good each one of those is, and what move you would play against them – This is called calculation.
  2. Captures – Taking a piece on the board wins you material. Your opponent might be just losing if they don’t do something urgently. They will often recapture the piece to regain the material, or start a counterattack of their own – often beginning with a check.
  3. Threats – In certain positions, the placement of your opponent`s pieces might be so bad, or their pawn structure so damaged, or their king so badly undefended that they have no possible way to defend against a simple threat, like mate in 1!

Example Problems

Since you are fully prepared to solve some checkmate combinations, there is nothing else for it, but to get stuck in!

Position #1 – White to move

Look first for checks. There is a knight to f5 check 1. Nf5+ but after … Kh8 there is no follow up, and we will lose our rook that is pinned on f5. The winning combination is 1. Rg3+ now black can’t take the rook, or block the line of fire, so the only option is to move the king. White`s rook on f4 stops the king going left, so black must play either 1… Kh8 which loses to 2. Nf7# or … Kxh6 2. Rh4#

Position #2 – black to move

There are only 4 checks that black can play. Let`s have a look at each one of them:

1…gxf2+ 2. Kh1 there is no way to break through.

1…gxh2+ 2. Kh1 also doesn’t work.

1…Nf3+ 2. gxf3 gxh2+ 3. Kh1 Bxf3+ wins the queen after Qg2 but black can play 3. Kg2 instead which keeps the queen, and the black king is not being checkmated. If the pawn ever promotes on h1, then white will take with the rook.

1…Ne2+! This is the way to checkmate 2. Kh1 is forced, and mate follows … Rxh2#

Position #3 – White to move

Again, always look for checks first. In this position, there are 2 queen checks and 2 rook checks.

1. Rxg7+ a violent attempt to checkmate black. After … Kxg2 2. Qd7+ the black king is escaping via h6.

1. Rc8+ a slightly more logical attempt … Bf8 2. Qe6+ Kg7 3. Rc7+ Kh8 4. Qf7 Qg7 and black is definitely losing, but not immediately, because black can’t be checkmated on the spot.

1. Qc8+ after … Bf8 white has no follow through. Black will simply bring the rook to f5 and defend the f8 bishop.

1. Qe6+ leaves black with just 2 options. If … Kf8 then 2. Qf7# … Kh8 2. Rc8+ Bf8 It seems natural to take the bishop with check here, but even stronger is: 3. Qf6! Kg8 4. Rxf8#

Test Yourself – Checkmate Puzzles

Here are some more examples for you to have a go at yourself. I won’t state the solutions beneath each one, instead I want you to give me the solutions in the comments. I will respond to them as they come in…

Position #4 – White to move

Position #5 – White to move

Position #6 – white to move

8 thoughts on “How to Win at Chess – Checkmate Combinations”

  1. I absolutely love chess! When I play I tend to concentrate on attack while never allowing my king to be vunerable…well best I can anyway! I Love taking my opponent by surprise.

    Totally enjoyed working through your board scenarios and all options available. You offer superb tips on getting good at chess. In fact it’s made me fancy a game. It’s been a while since we got the chess board out! 

    1. Indeed, I too like to play attacking chess, it is much more fun than defending. Feel free to let me know how your games go, and I will try to offer advice on how to improve your game.

  2. This is a cool and well thought out site for anyone looking to learn and become a master chess player. I used to play a lot growing up but could never get past like novice level. However, reading your article on checkmates, I believe I found my biggest issue beforehand. I never bothered to look past the current move, which likely would’ve saved me a lot of heartache once upon a time. 

    My question is: Do you often look one move past the current move, or are there times in the game where you want to look potentially two or three moves beyond the current move? 

    1. What you are referring to is calculation. While it is an integral part of chess there are other things like strategy and positional concepts that can also play a part. 

      First of all. It depends on what type of position you are in. Is it tactical? Are there many pieces that could be captured and are not defended (en prise)? Is a king exposed to attack? Are there ‘loose pieces’ that might be captured in some variations? You have to subconsciously ask yourself all of these questions and much more. 

      strong players don’t blunder, because of their tactical vision, which is literally their understanding of the different factors of a position, and that should be a more or less instant understanding. 

      However, there is indeed a part of the game called calculation, where you consider ‘hmmm, if I go here, then he will go there, and I will go there, and so on.’ This is calculation. I myself usually calculation all of the relevant variations to about 3-4 moves deep in tactical position, although in ones with few or no branches, it can be up to 12 moves ahead.

      This is all based on visualisation of the chess board, which is hard to do. 

      The reason why I won the Frodsham minor Tournament was because my opponents were falling for 2 or 3 move combinations, that led to the loss of material, and from there onwards, say you win a couple of pawns, or an exchange, the win is quite easy, provided that they have no counterplay. 

      If you can see at least 2-3 moves ahead in all of the tactical positions, then you will be doing a lot better than most people….

  3. Hi Mark. The truth is I have been dealt with mercilessly several times that I tried to plan Chess with my friends maybe because I don’t truly have the skills and experience needed to win the game. So I want to say thank you for sharing this article as it will go a long way helping me defeat my opponents. But first off, I’ve got to practice really hard.

  4. I have never been all that great at chess and I really think you are knowledgeable on the subject. For someone like me, I bet it would be really helpful to see these scenarios play out live. I love the strategy aspect of it all. Have you played chess competitively? How long did it take you to get to the point where you were competing at a high level, and is that a period of time that is reasonable for anyone to do the same?

    1. Yes I do play chess competitively. I won the Frodsham minor tournament:… last year, ahead of 50 other chess players.

      For me, it has taken 2 years to get to the level I am at now. I don’t count what I did when I was 10 and 11 as part of that. I started semi-seriously when I was 15, and seriously when I was 16 and I am 17 now. 

      I believe that it is possible to reach a fairly decent rating of say 1400 in about 1 year if you are focussed and spend at least 1 focussed hour per day on chess, and participate in some tournaments.

      I can’t say whether it is possible for anyone to improve, because I don’t know for a fact, but from my personal experience, then it has everything to do with motivation. If you want to learn chess to be cool, or just so you can say you are good at chess, then that is probably not going to materialize into anything. If you play the game for its own sake and enjoy it, then you will surely improve.

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