Articles
The 10 Most Beautiful Checkmates Of All Time

The 10 Most Beautiful Checkmates Of All Time

SamCopeland
| 100 | Tactics

Checkmate is the essence of chess. It ends the game, providing a satisfying closure to a long struggle.

Checkmates can also be incredibly beautiful. By definition, checkmate involves coordination and teamwork between your pieces. No single piece can ever deliver checkmate alone. Even the mighty queen must, at a minimum, have support from one other piece from its side, or possibly some traitorous opposing pieces that block their monarch's escape squares. The coordination of the supporting and opposing forces can create thousands of checkmating combinations, some that happen daily and some that have yet to ever be played over the board.

We've broken down our promised top 10 most beautiful checkmates in our video below. If you want, check it out now! Otherwise, scroll on for the full list here as well as thoughts on what makes a checkmate particularly beautiful.

What makes a checkmate beautiful? Certainly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are some mates that may be particularly delightful to you and less so to others. That said, there are elements that we can identify that are often found in "beautiful checkmates."

  • Economy of Force: Generally, the fewer pieces used to deliver the checkmate, the better. Checkmating your opponent when you have three extra queens is certainly a dominant checkmate, but it's not necessarily beautiful. Checkmate with a lone pawn? Now that's beautiful!
  • Diversity of Force: Using different types of pieces to deliver checkmate is often aesthetic. Who doesn't love to see a bishop and knight working together to deliver both the check and the checkmate?
  • Sacrifices: What precedes the checkmate is often just as important as the final checkmating position. Did the victor have to sacrifice the queen or perhaps all of the minor pieces to achieve checkmate? Incredible sacrifices doubtless make for beautiful checkmates.
  • Multiple Variations: Some checkmates are quite directly forced, and the defender has no choice but to submit to one specific checkmate. More beautiful are the cases where the defender has options available, but in all lines, there is a unique checkmate at the end.
  • Quiet Moves: Most spectacular checkmates are delivered with forcing checks, but a quiet move that precedes the final checkmate can be remarkable, providing a breath of fresh air and a moment to enjoy the coming checkmate after a violent sequence.
  • Relatability: The best checkmates are accessible to all! Grandmasters will be struck by a unique and fresh pattern, but even beginning players can, with clear instruction, understand the checkmate and the moves leading to it. Chess is for all, and the best checkmates prove that.
  • Rarity: Back rank checkmates, Scholar's mates, and especially smothered mates are excellent and each can be beautiful, but they are also quite common. The most beautiful checkmates happen only occasionally, standing out as once-in-a-million gems. Playing such a checkmate is a lifetime aspiration for a chess player.

The following are 10 of the most beautiful checkmates ever played, as selected by the author with contributions from Chess.com's content team. Each meets multiple of the above criteria, and taken as a whole, these 10 represent a wide range of beautiful patterns.

There is one other criterion I have added: All of these checkmates are from actual games. Composed positions often feature incredibly beautiful checkmates, and perhaps I should make a list of the most beautiful composed checkmates later, but for now, I have stuck to checkmates played in games between two human chess players.

#10: Donisthorpe vs. Mundell, 1892

We begin with nearly the oldest checkmate on our list. Donisthorpe's delightful checkmate is hardly the most complex we'll see, but its wonder is in how impossible the initial move seems as well as the delightful pair of checkmates it leads to.

#9: Neugebauer vs. Degenkolbe, 1956

In another pretty but not overly complex checkmate, Neugebauer must have shocked Degenkolbe as he reverses a seemingly losing position with a thunderbolt. This idea has been seen in a few games, but this is the earliest example I have seen. If you know a prior example, please share it in the comments!

#8: Milman vs. Fang, 2005

In the only checkmate from the 21st century on this list, IM Lev Milman finds a dazzling and unique sequence to achieve a checkmate that is hard to believe at first. Can the black king really have no escape here?!

#7: Bauer vs. Gollner, 1956

Bauer's masterpiece has been published in countless checkmating anthologies, and with good reason, it's a pristine combination with multiple aesthetic lines leading to checkmate.

#6: Kasparian vs. Manvelian, 1939

Genrikh Kasparian may not have ascended to the heights of the competitive chess world, but his chess compositions are among the very best ever created. Here he created magic over the board with a violent combination that concludes with a resistance-crushing quiet move.

#5: Vaccaroni vs. Mazocchi, 1891

While findable in a puzzle, Vaccaroni's combination (older than Donisthorpe's by just one year) seems nearly impossible to find over the board. It strikes like lightning from a clear blue sky and converts seeming chaos into clear checkmate.

#4: Popov vs. Novopashin, 1979

This combination inspired GM Magnus Carlsen in the final tiebreak game of the 2016 World Chess Championship match. What more can be said?

#3: Engels vs. Cardoso

Our final three checkmates see the difficulty truly ramp up. Engels's checkmate deserves a place here in the top three because of the incredible array of variations and possible checkmates. It's amazing how many different checkmates emerge from the combination and ALL of them are beautiful, unique, and forced.

#2: Jung vs. Szabados, 1952

Subtlety is the order of the day in our #2 checkmate as Jung crafts a true zugzwang with a lone bishop battling a queen. If Black needn't move, no win could be forced—but Black must move, and even with a massive material advantage, every single move leads to catastrophe.

#1: Rossolimo vs. NN, 1944

Our #1 most beautiful checkmate combines the complexity of Engels vs. Cardoso with the subtlety of Jung vs. Szabados. Rossolimo offers a stunning set of sacrifices to drag the black king into a net that is miraculously closed by White's own attacking king and a deadly quiet move by the rook.

There you have it—10 incredible checkmates! What do you think of this list? Which amazing checkmates have been left off that you think desperately deserve inclusion? Leave your suggestions and comments below, and I hope that these checkmates have made your day just a little bit better.

More from NM SamCopeland
10 Positions Chess Engines Just Don't Understand

10 Positions Chess Engines Just Don't Understand

How NOT To Improve At Chess

How NOT To Improve At Chess