Beginner Mating Patterns Part 1

Beginner Mating Patterns Part 1

| 49 | Tactics

The ins and outs of a mating combination are, on one level, simplicity itself, and on another level deep, complex, and (like a fine wine) full bodied and intoxicating. In this new column we will explore how beginners can create mating combos, while also demonstrating how the simplest mating pattern can be the foundation for a work of art.

The excitement of a mating combination doesn’t start with a long calculation or genius-level imagination, it starts with the most basic mating positions. Thus, to create a stunning mating combination, you will in effect need to know the final mating position ahead of time. This might sound terrifying to a beginner, but it actually makes a mating combination far easier than one would imagine. And, like everything in chess, it’s all about patterns.

Though true mastery of chess demands tens of thousands of patterns etched into your brain (the time and effort needed to accomplish this is beyond the reach of most people since the vast majority of their waking hours revolves around family, responsibilities, their profession/education, and a certain amount of relaxation), even a couple hours of study a week can lead to the lover of chess making serious strides in his understanding and enjoyment of the game. Here we will ignore openings, endgames, and positional niceties and instead focus our attention on the tools one needs to stomp an opponent with a sweet mating combination.

For beginners, the most important and common mates are bank rank, Queen mates on h7, and Queen mates on g7. I’ve added smothered mate too since beginners and advanced players alike really love it:

Back Rank Mate

My first tournament win was by a back rank mate! I was 0-4, 12 years old, clueless, and down material in my final game. I didn’t really understand the difference between checkmate and stalemate, and I usually tossed out moves quickly so I could talk to my friends who were also in the event. My final opponent (an adult in his mid-twenties) was also moving fast since he had to get to an appointment. When he finally blundered and overlooked a back rank mate in one, I stared at the position not knowing what to do. My opponent finally exploded, grabbed my hand and forced it to pick up my Rook, placed my Rook on the back rank and screamed, “It’s mate! Mate you idiot! Mate!” Then he stormed out. It was the only time in my chess career where, in a tournament game, my opponent literally mated himself.

Basic pawn structure:

This is the same structure as the “Queen mates on h7” pattern. However, in this case the target is black’s first rank because an unopposed Rook or Queen check there is mate since the black King can’t step forward and get out of check.

A classic back rank mate:

White mates in one:

Queen Mates on h7

Basic pawn structure:

This is a normal, healthy kingside pawn structure for Black, and though it’s usually quite safe, experienced players understand that h7 is vulnerable since it is only defended by its King. This means that if white’s Queen can move to h7 with the protection of one of its other pieces, it might well be mate (or at least the start of a monster attack).

A classic Qxh7 mate with Knight backup:

A classic Qxh7 mate with Bishop backup:

A classic Qxh7 mate with Rook backup:

A Classic Qxh7 mate with pawn backup:

White mates immediately in the next four positions:

I should add that the same pattern occurs if Black doesn’t have an h7-pawn. In that case things are even easier for the attacking side because the structure won’t allow for a saving …h7-h6 move since the h-pawn no longer exists!

However, this kind of attack can often be rebuffed if Black can stick a Bishop or Queen on the b1-h7 diagonal, which defends the h7-square:

Queen mates on g7

Basic pawn structure:

This structure is usually seen when Black finachettos his dark-squared Bishop, as illustrated in the next diagram.

Same Structure, but here black’s Bishop is defending its dark-squares. In the previous diagram, black’s dark-squared Bishop is gone, which means the squares f6, g7, h6 and in some cases even h8 and f8 are all potentially vulnerable.

A Classic Qg7 mate with pawn backup:

A Classic Qg7 mate with Knight backup:

A Classic Qg7 mate with Bishop backup:

White mates immediately in the next three positions:

Smothered Mate by a Knight

Basic pawn structure:

This structure leaves Black vulnerable along the a2-g8 diagonal. If White can somehow stuff the enemy King in the corner (on h8), the following can occur:

How it happens:

Either White Knight can leap to f7 and deliver mate since the enemy King has no moves due to it being “smothered by the corner and its own Rook.”

You do NOT need to know any fancy names for these mates. Instead, you need to remember the placement of the doomed King in relation to the enemy pieces that kill it (i.e., you need to remember the pattern!). These mates are VERY important, and anyone that wants to make any progress in chess needs to know them.

Once this very simple material has been completely digested, then you can move on to actual combinations with the understanding that even really hard mates are, in a way, a product of reverse engineering since without that firm familiarity of the beginner basics, the more complex stuff couldn’t be solved. The problems that follow show you what often happens when you combine knowledge of a basic pattern with a dollop of flash.

Solve the Problems

[Whether you find the answer or not, please DO check out the "Solution" and "Move List" for variations and prose]

In our next position, will the fatal blow occur via the Qxh7 mate, the Qg7 mate, the back rank mate, or the smothered mate?

In our next position Black’s a pawn up, his Knight on c5 is nicely placed, and though his kingside dark-squares are vulnerable due to the absence of black’s dark-squared Bishop, his Queen on f8 stops Qg7 mate and threatens to swap Queens. Does White have enough compensation for the sacrificed pawn?

In our next puzzle, White just chopped black’s Bishop on e7 by 1.Rxe7, no doubt viewing it as a winning combination. Is Black doomed?

Though White has the move in our final puzzle, it seems that he’s in trouble due to the triple threats of 1…Ra1+ (which leads to a back rank mate!), 1…bxc3 and 1…Nxd4. What can White do?

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