‘Check and Mate’... How many times wondered ‘Hey, what exactly does that mean?’ and ‘How do you even make it happen?’ Let’s get right on to it!
A ‘Checkmate’ signifies the end of the game, so the primary objective of Chess is to Checkmate your Opponent’s King. The player who delivers Checkmate wins and the player whose King is Checkmated loses. It is delivered when there is a direct attack by one of your Pieces, except your own King, on the opponent’s King so that the opponent’s King has no legal moves to escape the threat of being captured on the next move. A Checkmate is delivered by a single piece or pawn, either by themselves or with the help of one or several other pieces. A ‘Check’ however, is not the same as Checkmate. A Check occurs when the king is under direct attack, but is able to escape it. Thus, every Check is not a Checkmate, though every Checkmate is a check.
The different ways to escape a direct attack are by:
1. Capturing the attacking piece by our own piece
2. Moving our King to a safe square, or
3. Bringing another piece of ours in between the attacker and our king, to act as a wall
The concept of Checkmate helps us learn two main strategies of the game:
Develop all your pieces quickly and pay attention to ‘Piece Activity’: Usually, pieces are best placed in the centre. Pieces control more squares when in the centre than from the corners, and it is easier to move to either side of the board quickly from the centre.
Keep your King safe: All the strategies of warfare and leadership are applicable on the chess board, so we must keep our own King safe while carrying out our strategy to outplay our opponent. An important method to do this is by Castling which literally means bringing our King into the Castle.
Castling is a special move in Chess that protects the King and develops one of the Rooks in one single move! It can be made on either side of the board.
When the king castles with the help of the ‘h’ rook, ie on the ‘Kingside’, the manouvre is known as a ‘Short Castle’. Here, the King moves two squares to the right (left, when black) from ‘e1’ to ‘g1’. On the same move the rook on ‘h1’ jumps two squares to its left (right, when black), from ‘h1’ to ‘f1’, and low and behold, our King is in a Castle. The three pawns in front of the king, on ‘h2’, ‘g2’ and ‘f2’ act as a wall, making it harder for black to attack our king.
Similarly, when the King castles on the ‘Queenside’, with the help of the ‘a’ rook, it is called a ‘Long Castle.’ This time the King still travels the same distance of two squares, to ‘c1’, but the ‘a’ rook travels a little longer, to ‘d1’, jumping over three squares.
Conditions need to be fulfilled for castling to be possible:
There must be no pieces in between the King and the Rook
The King cannot Castle when it is under check, or if any of the squares it is passing through, that is, ‘f1’ or ‘g1’ in case of Short Castle, are under direct attack from one of the opponent’s pieces
Neither the King nor the concerned Rook should have previously moved from their original squares
For the sake of convenience, all the examples in Chess are given from White’s perspective, but of course the same work for black too. Do apply these new concepts in your next game during the holidays! Happy Diwali!
(Soumya Swaminathan is an International Master and Woman Grandmaster in Chess. She has been World Junior Champion and Commonwealth Gold Medalist)