There are many different skills that need to be cultivated in becoming a competent tournament chess player and most people find the sheer enormity of the task to be overwhelming. The gathering and understanding of chess knowledge comes before anything else. In my current profession of chess teacher and coach, I have found that the student will generally find the road to mastery to be less daunting if this vast chess knowledge is somehow broken down into smaller content areas. Acquiring a solid understanding of even one small aspect of the game generates confidence in one’s abilities and can serve as a springboard for success.
Checkmating Patterns – Queen & Bishop
By FM Sunil Weeramantry
Executive Director, National Scholastic Chess Foundation
All chess players will agree that the ultimate objective of chess is to checkmate your opponent. But what exactly is the best way to realize this goal? Most beginning players will attempt to score a quick knockout by setting a trap that they hope will go unnoticed by their opponent. Checkmate! How else can we explain the continuing fascination of the Scholar’s Mate? The realization that such wishful thinking is far divorced from the reality of serious tournament play is a sobering thought. Suddenly, the game is not quite so easy. It requires more thought, more planning and a constant effort to outmaneuver an opponent who has the very same intentions towards you.
The serious chess player understands that a checkmate is not a matter of luck. He appreciates that a checkmate needs to be carefully planned and diligently executed. To achieve this, he needs to follow a prescribed sequence of moves from a recognizable position. These checkmating patterns are well known in situations where one of the players has been reduced to a lone king. They are not as familiar, however, when more material is present. Here we are going to explore a checkmating pattern in the middlegame involving the queen and the bishop.
The best way to identify a pattern is to strip away all extraneous material. With this in mind, let us look at the following position:
The immediate check with 1.Qh7+ would allow the black king to slip away. The white queen should remain on h6 casting her net over the black king until other pieces can take their proper positions to help execute the mate. Therefore, the correct sequence is 1.Bh7+ Kh8 2.Bg6+ (attacking the critical f7-square once more) 2...Kg8 3.Qh7+ Kf8 4.Qxf7 mate.
There are two key elements in this particular checkmating pattern: the attacking queen's placement on h6 (a6) in relation to that of the defending king which is confined to g8 (b8); and the attacking bishop's control of the long diagonal leading to h7 (a7). A player who recognizes this pattern could easily steer the game in the right direction. For instance:
The proper conditions for the checkmating sequence can be created in two moves with the piece sacrifice 1.Bxh6 gxh6 2.Qxh6. Naturally, the presence of all the other pieces makes the position more complicated and may give Black some chances for survival. A close examination of this position, however, reveals that none of the defensive resources available can save Black from defeat.
Knowing that checkmate is going to be delivered on f7, Black's first attempts at preventing this are likely to involve moves that defend this critical square. Protecting f7 by placing either the queen or rook on e7 will only seal off Black's flight square and will lead to a simple two-move mate with Qh7+ followed by Qh8 mate. Moving the queen to d7 is hardly better as White can win the black queen with 1.Bh7+ Kh8 2.Bf5 discovered check. And there are no other reasonable means of guarding f7.
Another attempt at defense is to create more space around the king by advancing the f-pawn to f5 in order to clear the second rank for a major piece. But this attempt is neatly refuted by the white bishop who switches diagonals by moving over to b3, catching the black king in a crossfire leading to checkmate. This change of direction on the part of the bishop adds an interesting twist and illustrates the versatility of the queen and bishop attack.
You should now be able to apply this knowledge in solving the more complex example presented below.
This position was reached after Black’s eighteenth move in the game Dobias-Podgorny, Prague 1952. It is apparent that the black king is in a mating net and that the only piece standing between the king and immediate disaster is the black knight on f6. A logical course of action, then, is to remove the defender. Dobias accordingly played the resourceful move 19.Re6, threatening to eliminate the knight with mate to follow on h7. But would he have ever conceived of this move if he had not known the checkmating pattern with queen and bishop that we now know so well? I doubt it. Play continued along a familiar path, twist and all. 19...fxe6 20.Qxg6+ Kh8 21.Qh6+ Kg8 22.Bh7+ Kh8 23.Bf5+ Kg8 24.Be6+ Resigns. It is checkmate in one move after 24...Rf7 25.Bxf7+.
A winning attack will often include more than one idea, as shown above. In Dobias-Podgorny, the queen and bishop pattern was the dominant theme, while the threat of removing the guard played a secondary but significant role. Learning to combine different attacking ideas and checkmating patterns is vital to improving chess skills. Our next example has the queen and bishop assuming the secondary role and assisting in creating the checkmate.
This position is given in the excellent book by Vladimir Vukovic, The Art of Attack (Pergamon 1965). For our purposes, the most important observation is to notethat the b1-h7 diagonal is blocked by the white pawn on f5 with the result thatwhite's light square bishop is not aiming at h7. The queen and bishop patternthus appears not to be a factor in this case. But even dormant bishops cancome alive in the right circumstances. White proceeded with 1.Rh1threatening mate. Black responded with 1...Kg8 hoping to reach the safety ofhis central pawns after Qxh7+. White refused to release the mating net andcontinued with 2.Rh5 intending Rg5+. Suddenly, it became clear that if Blackwere to capture the rook on g5, his f6-pawn would be pried loose and thewhite bishop on d3 would get a new lease once the long diagonal was cleared.Realizing the power of this bishop/queen combination, Black answered with2...Qc7, protecting the critical f7-square. However, he had to resign in shortorder following 3.b6 Qd7 (to keep f7 protected) 4.Rh4 when White had theunstoppable threat of Rg4+.
In the next article we will explore more checkmating patterns. Meanwhile, do not run into a queen and bishop combination on a dark night!
© 2018 Sunil Weeramantry. This article is adapted from an earlier version published by ChessCafe.com.