The Importance Of The Endgame Four

One of the first checkmate beginners learn is the Rook Roller, in which a pair of Rooks systematically push the opposition King to the edge of the board and deliver checkmate. This is followed by Queen and King versus lone King and King and Rook versus lone King mates. While these checkmates are easy to master, the beginner becomes very dependent on the pieces used to deliver mate and falls short in the victory department when they lose one of these key pieces before they can deliver checkmate. We’re going to look at using a pair of Bishops to deliver checkmate in today’s article. However, before we start, lets take a look the Rook Roller. I want to go over this simple mating attack because it will serve as a comparison point when discussing checkmate with a pair of Bishops.

It should first be noted that while the Rook and Bishop are both long distance pieces, there’s a huge difference between them when it comes to spacial control. Rooks can control both light and dark squares simultaneously while Bishops can only control squares of one color due to their diagonal movement. In the above example, white plays 1. Ra4 which sets up a barrier across the the 4th rank that the black King cannot cross. After 1…Kc5, white creates a second barrier with 2. Rh5+ forcing the black King back a rank with 2…Kb6. Both white Rooks work together to easily push the black King to the board’s edge. Of course, black tries to slow white down by covering the the a6 square so the the Rook on a4 can’t safe check. Beginners often lose this Rook with a hasty check ,but in our example, the a4 Rook simply glides across the board and prepares for mate with 3. Rg4. Black tries in vain to stay in the game, but after 3…Kc6, white checks again with 4. Rg6+. Note that the Rooks always maintain a pair of walls in front of the black King. With 4…Kd7, white checks again with 5. Rh7+ and mate occurs with white’s next move no matter what black does.

Notice that the white King didn’t have to involve himself in this endgame fracas. However, when we use a pair of Bishops to deliver mate, the white King will have to roll up his sleeves and fight for the mate along with the Bishops! Look at the example below:

I’ve taken the liberty of placing the white King on the square he needs to be on to assist in this checkmate. It’s important to move your King to a square that allows him to control squares the opposition King needs to use for escape. This means you have to get your King close to the opposition King rather than chasing that King around with your Bishops which gets you nowhere. Keeping the opposition King off of escape squares is a key concept in minor piece checkmates. Unlike the Rook who can control entire ranks and files, minor pieces have a limited ability to control space around the enemy King.

In our example, the dark squared Bishop on b4 keeps the black King from occupying a5. The white King controls b6 and b7. Our goal is to drive the black King to the a8 square. With 1. Bc4+ we force the black King to a7 (1…Ka7). Note the opposition of the two Kings. With the light squared Bishop covering a6, it’s time to push the black King once more with 2. Bc5+, forcing the black King to a8 (2…Ka8). We finally deliver mate with 3. Bd5#. The idea here was to drive the black King to the mating square while covering possible escape squares with our King and one of the Bishops.

In the above example, things are a little different. Here, King opposition is crucial in delivering mate, specifically the control of the a7 square. Less work chasing the opposition King around the board helps to avoid costly mistakes. When white plays 1. Kb6, creating King opposition, he keeps the black King from using the a7 square to avoid the mating attack. The black King is forced into the corner with 1…Ka8. It’s at this juncture that beginners playing the white pieces often end up with a stalemate because they play 2. Be5, which leads to stalemate, instead of the correct move, 2. Be7. This (2. Be7) is one of those great quiet moves that gives the black King a square to move to while still keeping an eye on the position. Black plays 2…Kb8 and now we can play for mate with 3. Bd6+. The Bishop on e6 covers the c8 square so the black King is forced back to the corner with 3…Ka8 and white mates with 4. Bd5#. Always be weary of stalemate when you have these types of positions. Before even considering the delivery of the first check, note which escape squares your King and Bishops cover and make sure the opposition King has a square to move to in order to avoid stalemate. As you can see, it’s all about piece coordination with minor piece mates!

Our last example is a slight variation of the previous example. I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing Bishop and King endgames, especially since it will teach you a great deal about how to force the opposition King to move where you want him to move.

In this example, white plays 1. Bd4 to use the Bishop rather than the King to control the a7 square. The opposition King moves to c8 (1…Kc8). With 2. Bf6, the Bishop reminds the black King that minor pieces are in charge in this position. Black makes a run for the a7 square with 2…Kb8. Now white moves his King into opposition with 3. Kb6 which cuts off the a7 square. Note that white had two options for controlling the a7 square, the King and dark squared Bishop. The black King tries to avoid the corner with 3…Kc8 and white checks with 4. Be6+. Notice that the dark squared Bishop on f6 keeps the black King from running away towards the h file. Always control potential opposition escape squares. The poor black King shuffles back over to b8 (4…Kb8) and gets hit with 5. Be5+ and the end is near! The black King if forced to a8 (5…Ka8) and white mates with 6. Bd5#.

With the Bishop pair you have to use your own King to help cut off the opposition King. Your Bishops will then corral the enemy King to the mating square but you need to be very careful when doing so because stalemate can be just a move away if you’re not observant. I recommend that you practice this type of mate, placing your King and two Bishops on their starting ranks and the opposition King towards the middle of the board. In the above examples, the pieces were placed in positions that allowed for a quick demonstration of the checkmate. In over the board play (real life), you won’t be as fortunate. Play through them because next week, we’re studying the Knight, Bishop and King against lone King. That’s a tough one. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


Author: 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).