Here's why it's impossible to checkmate with 1 bishop - ChessPulse.com

Here’s Why It’s Impossible To Checkmate With 1 Bishop

So, you’re starting to get into chess and you’ve probably noticed that by the endgame, you can end up with very few pieces left on the board. But how few is too few? Is it possible, for exampl, to take a bishop and a king and force your opponent into checkmate?

Can you checkmate with one bishop? No. You can’t checkmate your opponent’s king with just a single bishop and your own king on the board. That’s because you can’t position the two pieces to place the king in check and cover all his escape routes. In this case, the game is drawn.

However, you can checkmate with a bishop assuming that there’s at least one other piece available to work with – let’s take a look at that.

Here's why it's impossible to checkmate with 1 bishop - ChessPulse.com
Here’s why it’s impossible to checkmate with 1 bishop – ChessPulse.com

How You Can Checkmate With One Bishop

Well, as we’ve already seen, you can’t force checkmate with a bishop. In fact, there are four potential endings where your opponent has got a king on the board and you have a king plus additional material in which you can’t force a checkmate or get checkmate even if your opponent blunders like Prince Philip at a news conference.

  • You can’t force checkmate with a king and a single knight – no matter how you place these two pieces together, the opponent’s king can always slide away.
  • You can’t force checkmate with a king and a single bishop – sorry, but it’s not happening for the same reasons.
  • You can’t force checkmate with two knights – this is more painful to learn because if you could swap for two pieces of equal value say, a rook and a pawn,  you would easily win the game but two knights can’t achieve checkmate either.
  • You can’t force checkmate with two bishops when both bishops are on the same color squares – this is a very unusual situation. It requires the player to have promote a pawn to a bishop (something that happens in less than 5% of pawn promotions when the pawn is underpromoted – as all the other pieces are normally more desirable for the endgame) and then to have lost all their other pieces except the bishop on the same rank as the other bishop. However, when you pair two bishops of the same color squares – they have the same real impact as a single bishop and cannot prevent a king from moving out of check.

So, if you were hoping to redefine chess by demonstrating your brilliance with a single bishop, sadly, you are going to be out of luck. The geometry of the game won’t allow even the smartest chess player to achieve checkmate with just a bishop on the board.

However, there are situations where a bishop can be paired with just one other piece and they can force checkmate, and these are:

  • A knight – this is a challenging checkmate to pull off and, in a minute, we shall explore some strategies for getting it right. This is a very common endgame position and if you know how to manage it, you will have a big advantage in tournament play.
  • A bishop on the opposite color – we know, this is technically two bishops not one bishop, but this is another very challenging checkmate to pull off.
  • A rook – well, obviously really, as you can achieve checkmate with just a rook and a king against a king then having an extra bishop on the board just means that you’re speeding the process up a bit. As this is a super easy thing to do, we won’t touch on strategy for this.
  • A queen – and if it’s easy to achieve mate with a king and a rook, it’s even easier to grab checkmate with a king and a queen, the bishop is absolutely superfluous to requirements here if your opponent only has their king on the board, you shouldn’t need to move it at all unless it speeds things up a bit.

How To Checkmate With One Bishop And A Knight?

This is a challenging position to find yourself in and while you can force a checkmate with these pieces, it requires perfect play, and it may take up to thirty-three moves to achieve! That means it’s worth practicing this ending as it does turn up in competitive play.

It is considered by Fine & Benko to be one of the four “basic checkmates” that is the checkmates that every chess player ought to know off by heart as they will have to work through them at some point or another. (The other three are king and queen, king and rook, and the king and two bishops of different colors).

There are only 6 positions which can provide checkmate using these pieces (with minor variations which allow the bishop to move further up or down the diagonal or for reflected or rotational symmetries).

And they are:

White: Knight (A6), Bishop (C6), King (B6)

Black: King (A8)

White: Knight (C6), Bishop (B7), King (C7)

Black: King (A7)

White: Knight (B6), Bishop (G3), King (A6)

Black: King (B8)

White: Knight (D6), Bishop (E7), King (E6)

Black: King (E8)

White: Knight (E6), Bishop (C6), King (F6)

Black: King (E8)

White: Knight (C7), Bishop (A7), King (A6)

Black: King (A8)

Of these six positions, only the first three can be forced, the other three require errors on behalf of black to achieve.

If you were wondering what the board might need to look like for it to take the full 33 moves to force checkmate with these pieces – this is the starting position:

White: Knight (H2), Bishop (E8), King (A8)

Black: King (C8)

In general, chess strategists recommend that you master this checkmate prior to mastering the two bishops ending because it’s entirely possible to go through an entire chess playing career without ever ending up with two bishops against a queen in a real life situation.

Some, however, also argue that you shouldn’t bother learning this mate because while it does occur at lower levels of the game, at the highest levels you rarely end up with a bishop and a knight against a king. Though Tai Shaked, in 1997, was glad to know it because he beat Alexander Morozevich for the World Junior Chess Championship title – had he been forced to declare a draw, he wouldn’t have been champion.


The Basic Strategy Is This:

There are three parts to forcing a checkmate with a knight and a bishop:

  1. You force the opponent’s king to the edge of the chess board
  2. Your force the king to the right corner (and out of the wrong one if they are on the other side of the board)
  3. You deliver the checkmate

The first phase is best achieved by making sure that the opponent’s king can’t reach the longest diagonal of the opposite color to the player’s bishop.

The second phase requires familiarity with the attacking pattern known as the W maneuver or the other pattern known as Deletang’s triangle. This allows the bishop and knight to combine their area coverage to force the king into an ever-smaller box on one side of the board.

The final part is simply executing the checkmate.


Is It Hard To Mate With One Bishop And A Knight?

Very. In fact, even grandmasters such as Vladimir Epishin and Anna Ushenina have failed to execute this checkmate for their lack of familiarity with the end game tactics. Both ended up with stalemates from positions which ought to have seen them win.

In his endgame manual “Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual,” Dvoretsky laments, “… I have seen how many chess players, including very strong ones, either missed learning this technique at an appropriate time or had already forgotten it.”


Conclusion

If the only piece that you have left on the board is the bishop (and the king) and your opponent has no material with which they can achieve checkmate, the game is drawn. There is no way to position a king and a bishop to create a checkmate position. In fact, if you have another bishop and it’s on the same color squares – you still can’t create checkmate.

However, pair a bishop with a knight, a bishop of an opposing color square, a rook or a queen and you can create checkmate. Though, it may be very challenging to force checkmate with some of these combinations (particularly using a bishop or a knight as a partner) and it can be worth rehearsing the moves required prior to taking part in tournaments or risk accepting a draw when the game could have been won.

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