6 Chess Moves You Have To Play Before You Die

6 Chess Moves You Have To Play Before You Die

| 143 | Fun & Trivia

The idea of a “bucket list” is not a new one. It’s an age-old concept to compile a list of things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket,” or pass away.

Unlike traveling the world or buying your dream house, your chess bucket list doesn’t have to be costly or all that hard to achieve.

Here are our picks for the six moves all chess players should play at least once before they die.

Let us know what’s on your chess bucket list in the comments and on Facebook

1. Smothered Mate

If you've never seen this checkmating pattern before, you're in for a treat.

For many players, the smothered mate delivered by the knight after a double-check and queen sacrifice is the pinnacle of chess beauty.

Here's how Paul Morphy did it:

I remember the first time I ever saw this mate, I couldn't believe it.

Playing it to win an actual game is even more exciting, but it's fairly difficult to achieve.

Not only do you have to set up the mate, you also have to hope your opponent dutifully plays it out and allows you to finish with a flourish.

2. Underpromotion

Some beginning chess players don't even know that a pawn reaching the eighth rank doesn't have to become a queen: it can promote to any piece other than a king or pawn.

Most of the time, of course, you want the power and mobility that only a queen can offer when you promote a pawn. But sometimes the position calls for a different piece -- and that's underpromotion.

In the following game, Black's pawn reaches the endzone early: on move seven. It's hard to believe in such a crazy position, but promoting to a queen leaves White with a playable game and does not win for Black.

But Black doesn't have to promote to queen.

Only by promoting to a knight -- with check -- does Black gain the time he needs to win the game. 

Sometimes an underpromotion is absolutely needed to prevent a draw via stalemate. 

Bruce Pandolfini shows us a position similar to a problem composed by Theodorous Kok where four (!) underpromotions are necessary to prevent stalemate and eventually win the game:

So the next time you're about to score a touchdown with a pawn, keep an eye out for a chance to promote to a piece "lesser" than the queen.

If you want to see more underpromotion fun, check out FM Mike Klein's excellent videos. 

3. Bishop and Knight Endgame Mate

Did you know you can force checkmate against a lone king with just a bishop, a knight, and your own king?

This one is tough.  Unless you're a supremely talented player, you've got to practice this mate many times before you could ever hope to pull it off in an actual game.

Now imagine trying to do it without looking at the board. That's what Judit Polgar had to do at a blindfold tournament in Monaco in 1994: has a computer workout devoted to this tricky checkmate. Take some time to practice with it. Even if you never get the exact ending in your games, learning how to do the checkmate will significantly improve your understanding of how the bishop and knight work together.

4. Mate With a Pawn

The pawn is such a lowly chess piece, it's not even considered a "piece" in chess vocabulary. But sometimes even the pawn gets to deliver the coup de grâce, checkmating the king in a single move.

Pawn mates actually aren't very rare, but they're still beautiful and exciting to play. If you haven't done it yet, try to get those pawns rolling. 

Here's an illustrative pawn mate miniature from an old simul:

5. The Queen Sacrifice

OK, so the first item on this list, the smothered mate, also sometimes involves a queen sacrifice. But the smothered mate is really more about the knight. 

There are many other creative ways to sacrifice your most valuable piece and still win the game.

Can you imagine a chess move so pleasing that spectators immediately shower the winning player with gold coins?

History is a bit unclear as to whether Frank Marshall actually received any gold pieces for this incredible queen sac, but the move itself is as beautiful as any precious metal:

White can take the queen three different ways, and all of them lose. The very best White can do is give up a knight for no compensation, demonstrating the tremendous power of Marshall's famous move.

Sometimes the queen is sacrificed not for an immediate win, but for a beautiful idea that creates a decisive advantage.

Bobby Fischer's "Game of the Century" is a great example. On his 17th move, the young Fischer casually played Be6!!, abandoning his queen for a ferocious coordinated attack by his remaining pieces:

Both of these amazing sacs are covered in FM Klein's extensive queen sacrifice video series

6. The Cavalry Mate

This one is my personal favorite, and also the most rare: forcing a checkmate in an endgame with three or more knights against a lone king.

Checkmate with two knights vs. a single king is possible, but cannot be forced. To truly impose this checkmate, you need at least three knights -- but you could theoretically have as many as 10. 

To achieve this mate, you have to be playing against an exceptionally stubborn player who will not resign, or a computer that never gives up.

GM Hikaru Nakamura needed just three minutes (and 155 moves) to achieve this beautiful checkmate against the venerable chess engine Crafty in 2007:

Nakamura, by the way, teamed up with a chess engine to become a "chess cyborg" in a event against Stockfish last summer.

As a bonus, check out a similar checkmate by Nakamura with five bishops. In what has to be the most mind-blowing blitz game ever played, Nakamura managed to play 271 moves against the strong computer Rybka, and still had time to compose an aesthetically beautiful mate.

Start from the beginning of the game for the full shocking effect:

What's on your chess bucket list?

What amazing moves have you already achieved?

Let us know in the comments. 


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