5 Amusing Back Rank Checkmate Stories

5 Amusing Back Rank Checkmate Stories

| 94 | Tactics

Competitive chess is a very demanding activity. It requires players to constantly keep the highest level of concentration, stay calm under the pressure and be creative throughout the whole fight. Unsurprisingly, each game has its own story. I have no doubt that the stories behind some games would make a great Hollywood blockbuster. 

Today, we'll talk about some of these stories. All of the games that we are going to discuss have something in common: they were decided by back rank tactics. This way, our less experienced members will get familiar with one of the most common chess patterns.


Before we start, let me show you the most famous game that demonstrates the classical back rank combination.

As you can see, the basic back rank pattern looks like this, where a king is checkmated on the back rank:

The One Which Involves Some Trickery

First of all, try to find a decisive move that forced an instant resignation.

This is not a very difficult combination for a grandmaster, so how could IM Vladas Mikenas, a very good tactician who out calculated the great Alekhine, miss this trick? GM David Bronstein devoted a whole article to this topic. It was published in the "Chess In The Soviet Union" magazine with a telling title "Hocus Pocus." There Bronstein, who had a nickname "Tricky David", explains the whole plot which even involved ordering a cup of coffee.

Retelling Bronstein's story in a couple of short sentences is the same as describing the Mona Lisa to a person who never saw the painting. Since in his article Bronstein teaches how to "cheat the opponent at the chessboard by legal means," it probably deserves a separate discussion. Rest assured that such a chess gentleman as Bronstein would never do even remotely unethical tricks. 

I like the end of the story. While Bronstein was "thinking" on his decisive move (which of course was prepared well in advance), Mikenas was walking around the playing area, where he met GM Mark Taimanov, who wasn't playing that day. "Look how great my position is!" said Mikenas. "But...but...what if Rook takes a3?" asked Taimanov. Mikenas immediately realized what was about to happen, but it was too late since Bronstein had already executed the move. 

The One Which Involves Some Mystery

Here is a nice combo by the world champion:

The final position of the game features the classical back rank checkmate. But let's step one move back. Why did White play 34.Qxh6?? instead of a simple 34.Qg3, which would prevent an instant checkmate? The version that White simply missed the winning shot 34...Qe1+ is very unlikely since Andreas Moen had FIDE rating close to 2400 and I think that even a 1400 player would see what's coming. But let's pretend for a second that he had a blind spot, blackout, or whatever you want to call it. Still, did he really think that a world champion would give him a bishop for absolutely nothing? Wasn't it a huge red flag? This is a mystery that I cannot solve.

The One Which Is Very Sad

Here is a cute tactical shot executed by GM Bobby Fischer.

Since GM Oscar Panno didn't show up to play Fischer on the next day, this game versus GM Svetozar Gligoric was the last regular tournament game ever played by the American genius. For some reason, whenever I see this game I remember the words of old Rose Dewit Bukater: "Titanic was called the Ship of Dreams, and it was. It *really* was..."

The One Which Is Shocking

A very recent tournament featured an unusual blunder by GM Magnus Carlsen:

While the World champion's blunder was truly shocking, his reaction after the mistake was quite understandable. You can see it here or below:

The One Which Involves Some Insults

As you can see, even the best players will always lose against "Father Time." In his younger years, GM Viktor Korchnoi would've played 27. Rf8! even in a blitz game, but at 75 he just blundered his bishop. Still, even in his old age, Korchnoi did not lose his inimitable skills to insult people.

Here is what GM Irina Krush wrote in her blog: "The first thing he said was, 'I could have had two extra pawns!', then he would suggest some move and walk away, only to come back in a minute, and all this interspersed with insults such as 'It's good to know theory, but you should learn how to play chess as well.' Finally, it came down to this: he suggested a move, and Elisabeth [WGM Paehtz] suggested a (stronger) alternative, both moves were quite simple, nothing special. So he says, about Elisabeth's suggestion, 'No, this move is too good for her.'"

I hope, my dear readers, that you enjoyed these stories and more importantly will never miss back rank combinations in your own games!

More from GM Gserper
How To Play Decisive Games

How To Play Decisive Games

Are You Better Than A Grandmaster? (World Cup Edition)

Are You Better Than A Grandmaster? (World Cup Edition)