Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rook's Recommendations - Checkmate with Bishop and Knight vs. Lone King

One of the fundamental things the chess novice must learn is how to force checkmate against a lone King (or if it is even possible to force checkmate at all). To briefly summarize what we all should know:

Checkmate CAN be forced in the following situations:
  • Queen vs. King
  • Two Rooks vs. King
  • Rook vs. King
  • Two Bishops vs. King
  • Knight and Bishop vs. King

Checkmate CANNOT be forced in the following situations:

  • Two Knights vs. King (Checkmate is possible but cannot be forced)
  • Knight vs. King
  • Bishop vs. King

The conventional wisdom is that learning to checkmate with two Bishops vs. lone King or Bishop and Knight against vs. lone King is so rare they are not worth learning. In fact, Jerry Silman in his excellent book (see Great New Book - Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master ) goes so far as to say:

Bishop and Knight [vs. lone King] might never occur in your whole chess lifetime and is far too difficult to waste your precious study time on.

Is that true? I've heard a contrary opinion that says, even though you'll probably never experience a game with a Knight and Bishop vs. a lone King, learning how to checkmate in this situation is very helpful because 1) it helps you to better understand how Knights and Bishops can work together in other situations and 2) it is helpful to learn how the King can be used as an active piece (together with the Bishop and Knight) in the endgame.

Well, as Rook has a little time on his hands and is always up to a challenge, I going to try and find out for myself. Can a novice actually learn this forced checkmate? Will practicing this help my game at all? Of course, my rational side agrees with Silman that doing ANYTHING other than this would be a better use of my chess improvement time. I'm sure that is probably true. But I have another motivation. I would really like to pay back Chessmaster 10 by proving to it I can force checkmate against it no matter how much it tries to resist. Sounds like fun - or perhaps complete folly - anyway I'll play with it awhile and let you know what happens.


Sciurus said...

I don't know if it all that useful, too. I actually learnt it once myself solely for the reason that it is one of the things at the beginning of Pandolfini's Endgame Course. Once you memorized a couple of key positions it is doable. However, I already forgot them again, so I am relieved to read in your post that I will probably not need it ;-) In any case it is fun to try it a couple of times against the machine!

Greg said...

GM Karsten Mueller's 1st DVD on the endgame offers an excellent and very clear explanation of how to mate lone king with king, knight, and bishop. He shows the necessary coordination of the pieces in a way I'd not seen before.

Memphis said...

Although it may be true that this endgame may never happen in a chessplayer's career, I think it is fair to say that we have ALL been in a situation where, when calculating a possible endgame variation, we feel the gnawing discomfort of MAYBE having to perform this feat. And, knowing that we are unable to execute this form of checkmate, it drives us away from that variation because we know it is essentially a draw. We don't go down that path. We avoid it! So, the REASON we never have to perform this checkmate is that we are avoiding having to do it. Learning how to do this will give you a certain confidence that will effect the way you see certain variations in the endgame. You won't have to panic when that last pawn is captured. We deluded ourselves into thinking that it never comes up. It DOES come up ... we just run away from it (either consciously or subconsciously). My recommendation is: Learn how to do it.

Amy said...

Hi RVW - I hope yr feeling better.

In all the permutations, you do not mention whether a rook and bishop can force a checkmate.

I'm in an endgame with a friend - he has a bishop, a rook and 6 pawns, I have a rook and six pawns. I'm about to capture his pawn in the 7th rank.

He's won our first 10 games. I'm just hoping for a draw...

Rook Van Winkle said...


A rook and king against a lone king can force chedkmate, having a bishop in addition to the rook could only help.

Good luck!


Robert said...

I play chess online at Red Hot Pawn. I have one game that has consumed about 108 moves now. I have a rook, bishop, and pawn against my opponent's rook at endgame. He has offered me a draw twice, but I just know that with my material advantage I should be able to force a mate. Thoughts?

Michael said...

I am a VERY novice chess player. I haven't played a game against a human in 20 years, and have only begun playing the machine in the past few weeks.

I recently finished a game in which my opponent had three pawns against my rook and knight. I was narrowly able to capture the pawns before promotion, but then found myself needing to perform the very mate that "might never occur in your whole chess lifetime."

I found a nice video that clearly explains the technique. I learned it in couple of hours, and I am sure I my ability improved far more than just adding one more checkmate to the arsenal.