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The Lonely Bishop Checkmate

The Lonely Bishop Checkmate

In my recent article, "The Lonely Knight Checkmate," I discussed a very uncommon situation where a checkmate is delivered by a knight and the winner has no other pieces on the board besides pawns. Such situations are indeed so rare that all the examples that I used were either composed studies or played by not well-known players.

Therefore, when I was preparing the companion article about checkmates delivered by a lonely bishop, I expected even fewer examples available. Indeed, a knight is a very tricky piece and the notorious smothered mate immediately jumps to your mind when you talk about knight's checkmate, but what about bishops?

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To my surprise, I have learned that there are many games played by strong chess players that ended or could have ended with a checkmate by a lonely bishop! A good (even if a bit goofy) example is the very recent game by the world champion.

You are probably asking "What's going on? Why did Carlsen resign and what does this position have to do with a lonely bishop checkmate?"  

Well, if this is indeed what you are thinking, then you are not alone. There was a big commotion when the result of the game was posted in the live transmission. But the explanation is very simple and to some extent sad. It was a blitz game and Magnus Carlsen lost on time. According to the rules, if you overstep your time limit and your opponent can create a legal mating position on the board (even if it will require some serious help on your part), it means that you lost the game.

As you can see, a checkmate is indeed possible here, for example:

If we don't count this slightly foolish example, then the first thought of any experienced chess player when she hears "the lonely bishop checkmate" is the so-called Troitsky checkmate named after the following famous study. Try to solve it on your own; I guarantee you'll enjoy it!

There are many more composed positions where the lonely bishop delivers a checkmate, but what about real tournament chess? To tell you the truth, personally I witnessed just one such checkmate, which was also a devilish trap. Look at the next diagram: White just took the h3 pawn thinking that it was the fastest way to draw. Can you find a very beautiful win for Black?

Talking about traps, who can forget a similar trick from the magician. Tal just offered his Ne7 en prise. Can it be taken? GM Geller decided to ignore the gift and eventually won the game:

Try to figure out what would have happened had Geller grabbed the knight.

Chess history buffs will probably remember a similar checkmate that happened in the following game:

In this game played almost 100 years later Black also resigned just before the actual checkmate appeared on the board:

Did you ever checkmate your opponent with a lonely bishop?

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