Last week we discussed the game where Russian Super Grandmaster Evgeny Tomashevsky missed a checkmate in one. Of course that was a special situation where a draw was enough for him to win the match and qualify for the next round, but in general, how often do grandmasters miss a checkmate in one? More often than you might think!
Let me start with my own game:
Strangely enough, the reason for my stupid blunder was to some extent similar to what happened in the Tomashevsky's game. I was in a must-win situation and saw that my opponent was about to deliver a perpetual check by 47.Ng6+ followed by Nf8+. With my last seconds ticking away, I saw the only way to stop the Ng6 check. Somehow, I totally missed that the Nf8 controls the h7 square as well... I was very embarrassed by the finish of this game until the next game was played six years later:
This game made me feel better. Unlike me, Kramnik wasn't in a must-win situation and had plenty of time; you can see here how calm he is just moments before committing his horrible blunder:
So, I realized that it is not me or Kramnik; rather, it is the strange way the chess player's brain thinks. Suppose you have Nf6 or Ng5, then I bet you'll never miss Qh7 checkmate because you've seen countless number of checkmates like this, so this pattern is engraved into your mind, meanwhile the Nf8 + Qh7 checkmate is not that common. You can say that this explanation is far fetched, but here is another game:
Here my teammate GM Zagrebelny explained to me what happened. There was mutual time trouble and he was looking for the way to bring his bishop to d3 (Bg8-c4-d3) to create a threat of Qxh7 checkmate and that's how he missed that Bg8 already allowed Qxh7 checkmate! Fortunately for him, his opponent GM Zaichik noticed the unstoppable threat of Qxh7 checkmate and lost on time trying to find a defense. Otherwise it would be funny to see the manuver Bg8-c4-d3 to prepare the Qxh7 checkmate which could be delivered right away!
You see what happened here? The battery bishop + queen (like Bd3 + Qe4) where the queen is ahead of the Bishop is common and that's why in his time trouble GM Zagrebelny tried to reach the familiar pattern. Meanwhile, the pattern Bg8 + Qh7 is uncommon, so he missed it.
I am at a total loss to explain what happened in this next game:
In this video you can see that Ivanchuk spent about 30 seconds on his move and yet didn't find the checkmate in one move:
Finally, if you think that finding a checkmate in one is child's play, try to solve the next puzzle of the famous Russian composer Leonid Kubbel where you need to find exactly that: checkmate in one! Good luck!