You can watch an awful lot of competitive chess, but you will probably never get an answer to this question by doing so. That’s because the situation in which player puts the other in check, while their opponent also has the capability to announce checkmate is vanishingly rare.
Can you checkmate while in check? You can checkmate while in check. But you must also get your king out of check with the checkmate because you are required to move out of check by the rules. That means you probably won’t be moving your king to do it and the circumstances under which this can happen are very rare.
The Rules Of Check In Chess
Check is the situation in which a king is threatened by another piece in such a way that if the player, whose king is under threat, does not either move the king, block the threat or take the piece which presents the threat would have their king taken by that piece on the following move. The rules of chess specify that when a player is in check they must either move the king out of check, block the check (e.g. inserting a piece between the king and the piece causing check) or take the piece which presents the check.
Checkmate, on the other hand, is caused when nothing a player does will move their king out of check and the piece which is threatening check cannot be blocked or taken. Thus, the player’s king would be taken on their next move and the player would lose the game.
There is no rule that says you cannot checkmate your opponent whilst in check. However, you must obey the rule about moving out of check as part of your move. Thus, your move, in order to be legal, must move your king out of check and place the other king in checkmate simultaneously.
This, as you might expect is a very unlikely set of circumstances. In fact, it’s so unlikely that we found several sites claiming that this move would be illegal. It wouldn’t. What would, of course, be illegal is to checkmate your opponent without moving your king out of check. There is no special clause in chess that allows for this situation, it’s simply against the rules.
How Could Such A Checkmate Come About?
There are only two ways that this can come about during the play of an ordinary game:
- The piece which is moved blocks the attack on the player’s king whilst simultaneously revealing an attack on the opponent’s king from one of their other pieces.
- The piece which is moved takes the piece that is attacking the player’s king and simultaneously makes an attack of its own on the opponent’s king.
Both of these sets of circumstances would be highly unusual but the more likely of the two in ordinary play would be a “revealed checkmate”.
We’ll take a look at how that might look in a few moments but first, we should acknowledge why you can’t move your king to make checkmate come about.
It’s quite simple – a king may not be placed next to another king at any time because while it would, indeed, threaten the other king – it would simultaneously be threatened itself and because the next turn would belong to the other player, their king would then be able to immediately be able to take the threatening king.
You also cannot castle someone into checkmate in this position because you cannot castle whilst in check – so if you were thinking of cleverly switching your king to the other side of your rook to open up your heavy artillery at this point, you, sadly, left it a move too late to do so. Your only hope now is to block the attack and castle at another point, so, no checkmate for you either.
An Example: Revealed Checkmate
So, now let’s look at an example of a discovered checkmate in these circumstances. To begin, you’ll need to set up a board with the following pieces on it.
White – Rook (on H3), Knight (on H5), Bishop (on C3) and King (on G4)
Black – Queen (on C4), Bishop (on G8) and King (on H7)
The preceding move here was Qc4+, that is the black queen moved to check the white king. At first glance, you may think “this looks bad” but quickly you will see that if white were to move Nf4 this is checkmate.
The white rook offers discovered check on the king. The white knight and bishop prevent the king from moving out of check. The black bishop is trapped behind the king and cannot block the check and the black queen is prevented by the knight and the king from positioning itself between the rook and the king.
The game is quite over for black which has lost and white can celebrate his or her incredibly escape from a tricky situation.
In truth, the only way this happens in competitive play is if the player with the black pieces is a particularly weak player and hasn’t seen the possibility of the knight revealing the rook, something that is very unlikely outside of beginner play.
An Example: A Blocked Checkmate
For a slightly more complex version of a revealed checkmate, which is also an example of blocking the attacking piece, you would need to set up the board as follows:
White – Rook (on h4), Rook (on C7), Queen (on D8), Knight (on B8) and King (on E3)
Black – Queen (on B6) and King (on A4)
Here the black queen has just moved to B6 to call check. Qb6+
This is very easily turned around by moving the white rook to C5, checkmate. Rc5!++
The rook’s attack can be broken by the black queen taking the rook, of course, but this reveals a second attack on the king from the white queen on the diagonal. The king cannot move because the knight and the two rooks threaten all the available squares that it can move to and thus, we have ourselves a checkmate!
Again, while this is a theoretically possible position on a chessboard, we think it even more unlikely to occur than the previous one. In this position black is already at such a huge material disadvantage that the odds are very good that they would have resigned many moves before this position had the chance to coalesce.
Studying Rare Positions In Chess
Whilst it may seem like just a bit of fun to theorize on whether or not these kinds of situations ever arise in real play, the study of such situations can have real benefits for your chess game. By understand that this kind of move is possible and what kind of circumstances it might arise under, you can prevent your play from resulting in a similar kind of error and thus, reduce the odds even further of seeing this kind of play in a real life game.
The best players are always looking to squeeze a little extra learning out of a board even when it’s not “realistic” or “true to life”.
Can you checkmate while in check? 100% you can. While some people on the internet claim this is not possible, it is. It is, however, a very tricky thing to pull off and we wouldn’t expect to see it happen in competitive play very often if ever. That doesn’t stop this from being a completely legal option within the rules of chess, you must only fulfil the criteria that your move also removes your king from check at the same time.
The most likely way for this to happen in play is for you to move a piece to block the opponent’s check whilst at the same time “discovering checkmate” by opening up a line of attack on the other player’s checking piece. However, it’s also possible to achieve this by taking the attacking piece and creating checkmate at the same time.