As you are now an expert to recognize a checkmate from a stalemate, we are going to study a few common mating positions. The first pattern worth looking at is the Back Rank mate, as it often appears as a threat during games.
It appears when the opposing King is on the last rank, behind his pawns.
Back Rank Mate basics
We will first focus on simple positions of Back Rank Mate. The goal of this section is that this checkmate becomes so familiar to you that you can spot it immediately.
The interesting point of the Back Rank mate is that the black King is checkmated because of its own pawns.
We are now going to see a few examples, from very easy to very hard ones.
With the previous example, you see that it is not only a matter of controlling the d1-square, but rather how much you control it. Here, White was controlling d1 with only one Rook, whereas Black was attacking it with two Rooks.
There are several possibilities to defend against the Back Rank Mate. A first one is to ensure the last Rank is controlled well enough, as seen above.
That’s it for simple Back-Rank Mate positions. We are now going to look at more complex Back Rank Mate positions.
The Back Rank Mate in complex positions
The Back Rank Mate is not always as obvious as in the previous examples. It can be harder to see, or sometimes, the need to prevent the Back Rank Mate can give opportunities to the opponent.
Combining the Back rank Mate with another threat
In fact, this position combines the Back Rank mate with the Overloading of the c8-Rook. Overloading in Chess is another tactical scheme that you should know about.
Here, the c8-Rook has to defend the e8-square to prevent the Back Rank mate, but also it has to defend the Bishop on c7. This is one too many !
Thus, thanks to the Back Rank Mate threat that lies in the Background, White is able to capture a Bishop for free ! Here the checkmate threat gives White the opportunity to capture the Bishop.
Back Rank Mate in a top level game
The Back Rank Mate is a simple theme. Yet, it allows many variations where the checkmate threat itself is coupled with other themes such as deflection or various pieces’ sacrifices.
The following example is one of those cases, played at the highest level. It was played in the 2013 Dortmund tournament, between Georg Meier and Vladimir Kramnik. It also illustrates the difference of skills between a top 100 player and a top 5 player.
Many Black moves are better. 32… Kh8 for instance is quite decent. But Black has a stronger option.
So the Back Rank mate theme often appears in top level games. Even if very few of such checkmates actually appear on the board, the threat of a back rank mate often forces players to play prophylactic moves like h7-h6 or g7-g6, or to leave enough Rooks on the last rank. This has an impact on the rest of the game.
A famous Back Rank Mate combination to finish with
The next (and last) example we are going to study has a bit of a polemical history, as it was first known to be a real game played around 1920 between a player called Adams and a more famous one, Carlos Torre. However, this game was probably never actually played, and is therefore “only” a beautiful study. It is nevertheless a famous and beautiful example of playing several deflection moves to achieve a Back Rank Mate.
So the only solution for Black is to:
- move the Queen away,
- on a square that still controls e8, else there is a Back Rank Mate,
- and of course on a square where the Queen is not immediately lost
There is only one such square: b5.
So Black’s Queen can only go to the only safe square here: back to d7 !
The previous line shows, once again, how crucial it is to remain cautious, even when your position is crushing. To come back to the position, White has one (and only one !) way to force the win, and it involves a clever pawn sacrifice.
In the previous situation, Black could capture White’s Rook on e2 to get a winning position. Here, the Rook is on e4 and cannot be captured any more ! This is the second point of White’s 22nd move.
Once you have seen this game, you generally never forget it. It is arguably the most famous analysis around the Back Rank mate and the most remarkable about it is that White only has one winning move at each step of the process. A truly wonderful and inspiring example !
This overview of the Back Rank Mate is now over. Time for us to look at other common checkmate patterns, starting with Checkmates on h7, g7 and f7.