The Beautiful and Surprisingly Common Smothered Mate

Smothered Mate is a checkmate pattern that is only possible if the enemy king is completely surrounded by his own pieces. It also features the unique jumping ability of the knight. Your knowledge and understanding of the Smothered Checkmate is a useful addition to your tactical skill.

Smothered Mate Example 1

Smothered Mate Example 1

Diagram above: This simplified position demonstrates the Smothered Mate checkmate pattern. Note how the black king is completely surrounded (smothered) by his own pieces.

Smothered Mate Example 2

The next example is from an actual game between James McConnell and the legendary Paul Morphy, played in New Orleans, 1849. Morphy had the black pieces.

Smothered Mate Example 2a

Diagram above: 1… Nh3+ is a double-check (check from the knight on h3 and also from the queen on b6). White is forced to play 2.Kh1

Something to think about… did you know? The only way to escape from a double-check is to move the king. This is true because it requires two pieces to create a double-check and you cannot block or capture both pieces with one move.

Smothered Mate Example 2b

Diagram above: 2… Qg1+ is a queen sacrifice that forces white to surround their king with their own pieces. White is forced to play 3.Rxg1 (Kxg1 isn’t possible because it’s check from the knight on a3).

Smothered Mate Example 2c

Diagram above: 3… Nf2# relocates the knight to f2, but this time it is checkmate because the white king is smothered by his own army.

The combined effort of the black queen and knight in this second example illustrates a typical maneuver used to execute the smothered checkmate.

Smothered Mate Example 3

This checkmate pattern is quite common in chess. It even features in games between strong grandmasters. In a game between Alexander Grischuk and Ruslan Ponomariov, played in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, 2000, Grischuk got the opportunity to use this checkmate pattern against his highly rated opponent:

Smothered Mate Example 3a

Diagram above: 1.Qg8+ clears the f7-square for the knight and forces black to play 1… Rxg8, smothering the black king.

Smothered Mate Example 3b

Diagram above: 2.Nf7# is checkmate. It’s slightly unusual to see this checkmate pattern with the bishop on g7. In most cases g7 will instead be occupied by a pawn.

An Interesting Note on the Smothered Mate

The Smothered Mate occurs more often in actual games than you might suspect. If you know the pattern well, and if you play chess quite often, there is a very real chance that you will someday get the opportunity to use this checkmate on your very surprised opponent. In some cases, simply threatening to execute the smothered mate can force your opponent to make some concessions in order to avoid it.

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