Lesson 3 – How to checkmate your opponent’s king

Learning the moves of all the pieces is one thing, but a beginner chess player will quickly discover that to actually checkmate the opponent’s king is a surprisingly difficult task. In fact, without a few guidelines on how to checkmate your opponent it will be almost impossible to achieve. In this lesson you will learn a few fundamental checkmate patterns that will enable you to execute a checkmate on your opponent’s king.

Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).


How to checkmate your opponent’s king

In this lesson you will learn the meaning of three important words in chess: check, checkmate and stalemate. When you make a move that attacks your opponent’s king, then we say the king is in check. And when a king is in check, the king must do something to get out of check. It is a rule in chess – a king may not stay in check, and if he is in check, then he must do something to get out of check. There are a few ways to get out of check.

I’ll use this example to show you the different ways a king can get out of check:

The black rook is threatening to capture white's king. This means white's king is in check.
The black rook is threatening to capture white’s king. This means white’s king is in check.

Here black moves their rook and attacks the white king. It’s check. There are 3 possible ways to get out of check.

The first way is to, if you can, capture the piece that checks your king.

If white captures the rook, their king will not be in check anymore.

So, if you capture the black rook with your bishop, then your king wouldn’t be in check anymore. The second way to get out of check is to block the piece that checks your king. For example, you could place your rook here to block and now your king isn’t in check anymore.

White could block the check with their rook.

Of course, if he captures your rook and says check again, then you can recapture him and this would be an equal exchange.

If you block the check with your rook, and if black captures your rook, then your king will capture their rook. It will be an equal exchange.
If you block the check with your rook, and if black captures your rook, then your king will capture their rook. It will be an equal exchange.

The third way to get out of check is to simply move your king to a safe square where nothing can capture him.

The king could also choose to move to a square where he won't be in check.
The king could also choose to move to a square where he won’t be in check.

Which option would you choose in this case? Would you capture the rook or would you block the check or would you move your king?

Which option would you choose? You should capture the rook!
Which option would you choose? You should capture the rook!

Well, you should of course capture the rook because you are winning 5 points. I want to repeat this important rule. If your king is in check, then you must do something to get him out of check. For example, in this case the king is not allowed to move here,

The king may not move into check. White must take back this move and play a legal move.
The king may not move into check. White must take back this move and play a legal move.

otherwise he will be in check by black’s bishop. Even if white makes this move accidentally, then he must take back that move and move somewhere else where his king won’t be in check. But now, what happens when a king is in check and there is nothing he can do to get out of check? Let me show you what I mean:

White moves their rook and checks the black king:

This move would checkmate black's king.
This move would checkmate black’s king.

And now there is nothing black can do to get the king out of check, because wherever he goes – he will be in check with one of white’s rooks. If this happens (a king is in check and there is nothing he can do to get out of check), that is checkmate. If you checkmate your opponent’s king, then you win the game. So now you know the difference between check and checkmate. The third important word you must now know, is the word stalemate.

I’ll show you an example to illustrate what stalemate is.

Black can't move anywhere... but he is NOT in check. Stalemate. Game over. Nobody wins.
Black can’t move anywhere… but he is NOT in check. Stalemate. Game over. Nobody wins.

White move their queen to g6 and now it’s black’s turn. But, black can’t move. There is nowhere the king can go. It’s almost like checkmate, but the difference is – the king isn’t actually in check. When this happens, when a player absolutely cannot make any moves, and their king isn’t in check, then that is what we call stalemate. That means – nobody wins, and the game ends in a draw.

Notice that if black had another piece, for example if he had a knight here…

Black is not in stalemate because they can still move the knight.
Black is not in stalemate because they can still move the knight.

then he would not be in stalemate. This is because even though the king can’t move, he would still be able to make a move with the knight. It’s only stalemate if there is absolutely nothing a player can move and he also isn’t in check.

Let me show you a few more examples to illustrate the difference between check, checkmate and stalemate. Here’s the first one:

This is not checkmate. The black king can simply capture white's queen.
This is not checkmate. The black king can simply capture white’s queen.

White moves their queen and checks the black king. But, the king is not in checkmate because even though he can’t move anywhere, he could simply capture the queen and then wouldn’t be in check anymore. The next example is slightly different:

This is checkmate. Black's king can't capture the white queen since he will then be in check with the white bishop.
This is checkmate. Black’s king can’t capture the white queen since he will then be in check with the white bishop.

White again moves the queen to check black’s king and in this case the king can’t move anywhere, but he also can’t capture the queen, otherwise he will be in check by the bishop. In this case, black’s king is in checkmate.

Here it’s white’s turn to move, but white can’t move.

It's white's turn but they can't move anywhere. Stalemate.
It’s white’s turn but they can’t move anywhere. Stalemate.

Anywhere the king wants to go he would be in check either by black’s rook or black’s bishop. So, the king can’t move at all. But the pawns can’t move either since they are blocked. So even though white can’t move here, he isn’t in check, which means this is stalemate and the game ends in a draw. Nobody wins.

There’s a few important ways to checkmate your opponent’s king. The first one I will show you, is how to checkmate their king when you have two rooks and your opponent has only their king.

We start here. How can you get the black king into checkmate?

How can you use the rooks to checkmate black's king?
How can you use the rooks to checkmate black’s king?

Well, first of all, you should understand that it’s pointless to simply keep on checking their king, because he will simply keep running away and you won’t be making any progress. The trick is to trap their king to one of the sides of the board. And this is how you do it.

White moves their rook here…

White is working with a plan - they will cut off the black king and eventually force him towards the side of the board.
White is working with a plan – they will cut off the black king and eventually force him towards the side of the board.

because now he covers all these squares and it means the king isn’t able to move further away from the side anymore, because he is not allowed to move into check. He can go left or right but let’s say he goes here:

The black king moves to c6. How can white make progress?
The black king moves to c6. How can white make progress?

White moves the other rook and checks the black king:

White checks the black king and forces him closer to the edge of the board.
White checks the black king and forces him closer to the edge of the board.

And in this case, it is not just a pointless check, because you are in fact forcing their king to move closer to the side of the board. The king can’t go down, because the white rooks cover all these squares.

Let’s say black goes here, closer to the side:

Black's king must move towards the side of the board.
Black’s king is forced to move towards the side of the board.

White now check’s him again with this rook, forcing black to go to the side of the board:

White checks the king again and forces it to move to the side of the board.
White checks the king again and forces it to move to the side of the board.

And that is why we didn’t move this rook…

Don't check with the wrong rook!
Don’t check with the wrong rook!

because if we did, then the black king would again be able to move further away from the side which isn’t what we want to happen. Instead we check with the other rook.

White checks the king again and forces it to move to the side of the board.
The correct move.

And now black’s king is forced to move to the side, but black has one last trick up his sleeve. He moves here,

White must be careful. Black is threatening to capture the rook on b7.
White must be careful. Black is threatening to capture the rook on b7.

and now white must be careful because if he moves the rook here to check the king, then black could simply capture him. So, what should white do?

Well, he can simply move the rook here…

Black can't capture the rook else he would be in check with the other rook.
Black can’t capture the rook else he would be in check with the other rook.

because now black’s king will be forced to move away, and once he goes here…

Black's king is forced to move away from the white rooks.
Black’s king is forced to move away from the white rooks.

we can check him with either of the rooks:

Checkmate!
Checkmate!

And now it’s checkmate because there is nothing black can do to get out of check. So, this is how you would checkmate someone if you had two rooks and they had only a king. You use the two rooks to force the enemy king to the side of the board and then you checkmate them there.

Next, I’ll show you how to checkmate an opponent when you have a king and a queen, whilst they have only a king. I’ll use this position as a starting point:

Your king and queen must work together to get black's king into checkmate.
Your king and queen will have to work together in order to get black’s king into checkmate.

You should already know that it would be pointless to keep on checking the black king because they will simply move out of check every time and you wouldn’t be making much progress. So again, you must first find a way to try force their king to the side of the board where he can’t run freely. I’ll show you how to do that. The trick is that you use your queen to trap the enemy king in a cage. And then you keep making the cage smaller until their king is trapped on the side of the board.

White moves the queen to c4… can you see the cage?

Use your queen to trap black's king in a cage. Then patiently make the cage smaller till black's king is trapped on the side. Use your king to help when needed.
Use your queen to trap black’s king in a cage. Then patiently make the cage smaller till black’s king is trapped on the side. Use your king to help when needed.

The black king can never move outside the cage. Black must move. He can’t go to d5 as that would be check, so let’s say he goes to d6.

Black goes to d6. How can make make progress?
Black goes to d6. How can make make progress?

Of course, white must be careful the whole time. If he now moves the queen to c5, then the black king could capture her. Now instead of moving the queen, white brings their king closer to support the queen.

The king arrives to support the queen.
The king arrives to support the queen.

Black moves their king back to e5…

Now the white king is close enough to support the queen.
Now the white king is close enough to support the queen.

and now white can move the queen to d4…

White's queen makes the cage smaller.
White’s queen makes the cage smaller.

which not only checks the black king, but also makes the cage a bit smaller. Of course, black can’t capture the queen in this case, otherwise he will be in check by white’s king. So, you can see the white king plays an important role here to support the queen.

The black king goes to f5 and white, again, makes the cage a bit smaller by moving the queen to e4.

Slowly but surely the cage gets smaller.
Slowly but surely the cage gets smaller.

Then, black’s king goes to g5 and white’s queen goes to f4..

White is making progress.
White is making progress.

The cage is getting even smaller.

Black goes to g6, and now white must again be careful not to play their queen to f5, otherwise the black king could capture her. Instead, white bring the king closer to help:

The king must stay close enough to support the queen.
The king must stay close enough to support the queen.

Black goes to g7 and white moves their queen to f5.

Progress!
Progress!

You can see the cage is getting very small now! Black moves their king to g8 and now there is two ways to make the cage smaller:

White has two good options. Moving the queen to d7 is simpler because it immediately traps the black king on the side of the board.
White has two good options. Moving the queen to d7 is simpler because it immediately traps the black king on the side of the board.

You could move your queen to f6 which would be good, or, you can simply move the queen to d7,

Black's king is trapped to the side of the board.
Black’s king is trapped to the side of the board.

and this is a great move because now the black king is trapped right against the side of the board. Let’s say he goes to h8. White must again be careful here because if he moves the queen to f7…

Moving the queen to f7 would be a big mistake - black's king would be in stalemate!
Moving the queen to f7 would be a big mistake – black’s king would be in stalemate!

it would be stalemate. It would be a draw and that is not what we want. Instead, white leaves the queen on d7 and brings their king closer to support the queen.

The white king needs to join the action.
The white king must join the action.

Black must move to g8 as it’s the only move. And white moves their king to g6.

Wherever black goes, the next move will be checkmate.
Wherever black goes, the next move will be checkmate.

Black has two options but both lead to checkmate. If he goes back to h8, then Qh7 would be checkmate. He can’t capture your queen as he will be in check. Or the other option black has… if he moves to f8…

Checkmate. Black can't capture the queen, else he will be in check with white's king.
Checkmate. Black can’t capture the queen, else he will be in check with white’s king.

then, similarly, white plays Qf7 and this would also be checkmate. This is how you should aim to checkmate your opponent’s king when you have a king and queen and they have only a king.

To conclude this lesson, I want to show you something interesting. What is the quickest possible checkmate in chess? It’s two moves, but it only works if the player with the white pieces make two bad moves at the start of the game.

It goes like this:

The quickest checkmate in chess...
The quickest checkmate in chess…

White moves their pawn to f3 and black moves their pawn to e5:

White now goes here…

Bad move by white
Bad move by white

which is a very bad move because now black moves their queen to h4 and says checkmate:

Checkmate!
Checkmate!

There is nothing white can do to get out of check. There is no way to capture the black queen right away, and the white king can’t move. If he goes to f2, it’s still check, and white can’t block either – the bishop only moves on diagonals and the knight also can’t help. White is in checkmate. Now I should say that chances are very slim that you would be able to get the opportunity to checkmate your opponent in this way but at least now you know what the quickest checkmate in chess looks like.

We’ve reached the end of this lesson and you’ve learned a few important ways you can use to checkmate your opponent’s king. In the next lesson we will take a look at a few special moves and special rules you need to know.

End of Lesson 3 – How to checkmate your opponent’s king