Bishop and Knight Checkmate

A checkmate, using a King, Knight and Bishop against a lone King appears to be extremely difficult to the beginner. Many chess instructors have asked me why I would even consider introducing such a complex mating system to young novice players. Some instructors have even considered my teaching of this mating pattern as pointless. However, a great deal can be learned from this seeming complex checkmate. First off, it breaks beginners of that bad habit of only trying to checkmate with the major pieces, the Rooks and Queen (or Queen and Bishop). It also teaches the art of basic piece coordination as well as how to force your opponent’s pieces to squares you want them on. Lastly it demonstrates the value of minor pieces in the endgame. A great deal of knowledge can be acquired from learning this method of mating.

I first came across a wonderful demonstration of the above ideas while watching an Endgame DVD. Prior to viewing his DVD, I had attempted to mate my opponent’s lone King with a Knight, Bishop and my King. The results were disastrous at best. However, after watching the DVD, I learned a number of valuable lessons regarding piece coordination as well as the correct way to accomplish this type of checkmate. Before delving into a move by move example, let’s review a few key points, starting with piece coordination.

I tell my students that chess is a team sport. By this, I mean that pieces must work together as a team in order to launch successful attacks or defenses. Lone pieces attacking or defending a position don’t last long when facing a coordinated team of opposition pieces. The checkmate we’re going to examine solidifies this point, especially when you’re in an endgame where pawns and pieces are in short supply!

Again, the Bishop and Knight checkmate is difficult for the beginner and this type of mate is most likely not going to come up in the beginner’s game. However, knowing the mechanics behind this checkmate will go a long way towards improving one’s chess skills, especially in the endgame. Take a look at the position below.

While the Bishop and Knight are minor pieces, when working together, they become a very powerful force. It should be noted that the above example is just that, an example of a position that might come up in an endgame. Therefore, don’t try to memorize the moves played out in this example. Rather, try to understand the concepts demonstrated in this example. First, note that the Bishop is a dark squared Bishop which means that we have to drive the opposition King to one of the dark corner squares (either h8 or a1). The Black King is going to try and stay away from these corner squares for obvious reasons. Also note that we’re not going to check the King a lot until we have him closer to our target square.

On move one we activate our King to e2. It is crucial to bring our King into the Endgame immediately since our King plays a critical role in this checkmate! After the Black King moves to d7, White continues to bring his King into the game (2.Ke3…Kc6 3.Kd4…Kb5). The Black King is going to do everything he can off stay off the h8 and a1 squares, trying to avoid the dark squares and thus the White Bishop’s domain. White’s Knight now comes into the game (4.Ne3…Kb6). White’s immediate goal is to activate his King and minor pieces to start forcing the Black King to its mating square. White’s pieces are moving in for the kill together, not individually.

Now the Bishop comes into the game, moving to e5 (6.Be5…Kb6). This moves starts to cut off squares the Black King wants access to. This type of checkmate only works if you can start forcing the opposition King into the mating position. You have to think in terms of where you don’t want the opposition King to go to. The Black King goes to b6, trying to stay away from the corners and edges of the board. White’s Knight moves to c4 (Nc4+…Kb7), not so much to check but to move closer to the opposition King. The Black King is being driven back when he moves to b7. White’s King moves to c5 (8.Kc5…Ka7). Now look at the number of squares White controls.

Black is pushed towards the corner after he moves his King to a7. However, we have to force him to a dark square since we’re using a dark squared Bishop. White’s King moves to c6 (9.Kc6…K8). We drive the King into the corner by move nine. However, we need the Black King to be on one of the dark corner squares. Our target square is a1. Now it’s time to force the Black King there. We have to now seriously consider where we don’t want to Black King to go. Bringing our Bishop to c7 forces the Black King to a6 (11.Bc7…Ka6), marching his majesty towards the a1 square. After the Black King moves to a6, we want to keep him from retreating. Therefore, we move our Bishop to b8, forcing the Black King to a5 (12.Bb8…Ka5).

The next move is a quiet one but it serves an important purpose, blocking the b4 and c3 squares (13.Nd5…Ka4). In our example, the Black King goes to a4. Note that there are other moves that the Black King could make in this example but, since this is a basic lesson, I’m try to keep it as simple as possible. White’s King moves to c5 (14.Kc5…Kb3). The overall concept here is to drive the Black King to its mating square using well coordinated White pieces. After Black moves the King to b3, it appears the Black King is making a run for it. Therefore, we bring our Knight to b4, cutting Black’s access to c2 and d3 (15.Nb4…Kb2). We’re making moves with the purpose of corralling the Black King to the mating square.

After the Black King moves to b2, we activate the Bishop, moving it to f4 (16.Bf4…Kc3). Remember we’re trying to cut off the Black King’s access to certain squares so simply checking the King on d5 with the Bishop would be a mistake! Black’s King suddenly moves to c3. No worries, we bring our Bishop to e3 (17.Be3…Kb3). Notice that the Black King is deprived of a large number of squares with this last move. Again, we’re forcing the King to go where we want him to go! Black moves the King to b3 and we move our Bishop to d2 (18.Bd2…Ka4), closing in on the enemy King. Black’s King makes break for a4 but we’re in hot pursuit. Our Knight moves to c2 allowing the Bishop to cover the a5 square which stops Black’s King (19.Nc2…Kb3). However, Black moves his King to b3, attacking our Knight. We move our Knight to d4 (20.Nd4+…Ka4). The Black King moves back to a4, thinking he’s going to either move out of the mating attempt or possibly play for a draw. White moves the King to b6 (21.Kb6…Ka3), dashing Black’s escape plans so Black moves the King to a3. The White King moves to a5 and Black is running out of places to go so he moves his King to b2 (22. Ka5…Kb2). While moves his King to a4 while Black moves his King to a2 (23.Ka4…Ka2). Black is quickly running out of options because the White pieces are working as a team. White’s Bishop moves to c2 and the nose is growing tight (24. Bc1…Kb1). Black desperately moves to b1 to attack the Bishop but no matter, the Bishop moves to a3 (25.Ba3…Ka1).

Black’s King is now down to two squares and chooses a1. White moves the King to b3 and Black moves the King to b1 (26.Kb3…Kb1). The White Knight moves to e2 which forces the Black King to a1 (27.Ne2…Ka1). White brings his Bishop to b2 with check and after the Black King moves to b1 (28.Bb2+…Kb1) we have checkmate by moving the Knight to c3 on move 29. Play through this Endgame position at least five or six times and you’ll learn a great deal about piece coordination.

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).