Missing a Smothered Mate
Every day I dutifully review the tactics puzzles on chess.com. The area where I have to improve the most is smothered mate. It’s my lowest score of all 38 tactics.
Smothered mate occurs when the enemy king is surrounded by his own pieces and checkmate is delivered by a knight. Although it’s one of my favorite ways to see a game end, I do not easily recognize when this tactical possibility exists, particularly in a blitz game.
In a blitz game today, I succeeded in starting an attack on a castled king whose defenses had been weakened by kingside pawn moves. On the 14th move, Black made a mistake with the move Qc7 to attack my knight (protected by only a rook) with two pieces, the queen and g-bishop. The board position is illustrated by the diagram below.
My 15th move as White was Qb3+. When Black moved the king to h8, I immediately followed with Nc7+. Rather than taking the knight with the rook, Black moved the king back to g8. As this point, I should have recognized that mate in three moves is possible: a smothered mate. The diagram below shows the board position after 16 moves had been made. Do you see how a smothered mate is possible?
The best move for White is Nh6+ with discovered check by the queen. I instead moved the knight to g5 to set up a move to e6, where the knight can fork Black’s queen and rook. Although I did win the game, winning by a smothered mate would have been much more satisfying.
To continue the approach for a smothered mate with the knight on h6 and Black’s king on h8, White moves the queen to g8 to check the king in a sacrifice. Because the queen is protected by the knight on h6, the only option for Black is to capture the queen with the f-rook. Now the king is completely surrounded by Black’s own pieces. The win for White is delivered by the knight when it moves to f7 as shown in the diagram below.
After the game was over, I reviewed the computer analysis and then realized what I had missed. Even though I won, the win would have been more satisfying if a smothered mate had ended the game. I hope to learn from this game and next time move the knight correctly to force a quick checkmate.