Chess Checkmate and Winning at Chess

The way to win at chess is called "checkmate" and it's quite a weird concept. You don't actually take your opponent's king. The game ends in a concept called "checkmate", which is basically one move before you take the king. Checkmate is where your opponent cannot save their king, and will lose it in the next turn.

Checkmate: The Usual Way to Win at Chess

What is checkmate? Checkmate ends the game. The person whose King has been checkmated has lost the game.

Checkmate isn't taking the King, it's actually when taking the King will be inevitable next move. So it's quite tricky ...

Checkmate means two things must be true:

  • (1) the King is attacked by an enemy piece or pawn (usually said as "in check from" an enemy piece) and,
  • (2) there are no legal moves to get out of check.

A player in checkmate cannot avoid the King being taken on the next move. But the game ends with the checkmate position, it isn't necessary to play the next move and then have the King taken.

Checkmate is too tricky for beginners. Checkmate is a complex concept. It's too tough for young kids to understand when they're beginning. Kids are better at understanding that they need to take the King! And for very young kids you can just use concepts like "You win if you take all of my pieces and pawns."

Is it checkmate or stalemate? If there are no legal moves, then it's either checkmate or stalemate. Checkmate is when the King is in check (a win), but sometimes a King is not in check, but still has no legal moves (i.e. every other square would move it into check). That's called "stalemate", which is unfortunately only a draw, rather than a win.

Taking the King?

Can you take the King? Is it a win? It depends. Often, beginners will not see a check, and will leave their King to be taken. Do you win if you take the King?

Certainly, when teaching young children how to play chess in social play or practice games, it's good to make it a win. Taking the King is easier to understand that the concept of checkmate. Really, who came up with the rule that "you win on the move before taking the King" and we'll call that "checkmate".

In the official types of chess in tournaments, taking the King is usually not a win! But it depends on the tournament rules, sometimes it's a win, sometimes its a re-do. If you are not sure, then you need to ask the organiser or adjudicator of the tournament whether a King capture is a win or a re-do.

  • Taking King is a Win: In some types of chess, such as rapid play chess or "5-minute chess" (lightning chess), it is allowed to win by taking the King (and the game ends, it doesn't matter if the other King can be taken next move).
  • Taking King is a Take-Back/Re-Do (Illegal Move). In formal or advanced chess tournaments, and most slower format games, it is not allowed to take the King. In these tournaments, if a King can be taken somehow, then it means your opponent has made an illegal move, and must take back their illegal move, and play a different legal move (and if it's "touch move" in the tournament, they must first try to find a legal move with the piece they touched). Or if they try to find another legal move, but have no legal moves, then its either checkmate (win for you) or stalemate (draw).

Is it Really Checkmate?

Are you sure it's checkmate? No legal moves? Beginners often get checkmate wrong, when there are still legal moves. No legal moves means there are no moves of at least these 3 possible types of moves:

  • (a) King moves: The King cannot move to another square where it isn't attacked. A king can move in 8 different directions, just a single square. Are any of these squares safe? And it can capture in any of its 8 different directions too.
  • (b) Captures: Can the enemy piece giving check to the King be captured by any of your pieces or pawns? Look at the piece that is giving check. Can it be taken by any of your pieces? Or by a Pawn? And also, can your King take it? Beginners often overlook King captures where the King can actually capture the enemy piece right next to it (e.g. if you put a lone Queen right up next to a King and claim checkmate, the King can often just take the Queen!).
  • (c) Blocking moves: There isn't a piece that can be put between the attacking piece and the king to block the check. If the check is by a Rook or Queen, can you put another piece in the way? Or a bishop or Queen along a diagonal? Can you block it? With a pawn? (Note: you cannot block a Knight check or a Pawn check, but all other pieces can be blocked.)

And More...

But there's more... Read about Winning, Losing, and Drawing Chess Games.