Vishy Anand once had to resign on move 6 of a serious
tournament game, while Magnus Carlsen was lost in 7 moves against Ian
Nepomniachtchi in the first Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Such accidents are
incredibly rare for the best, but for the rest of us they tend to happen all
the time! Sean Marsh takes a look at some potential speedy checkmates in the
opening that you should keep your eyes out for – either to avoid them or to catch
out your opponents.
You may or may not encounter these exact checkmates in your
own games, but remembering the basic patterns will undoubtedly be of use.
Catastrophe in the Caro-Kann
The Caro-Kann Defense is normally very solid, but there are
ways to go wrong in every chess opening.
2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7
Black wants to play 5…Ngf6, which would enable him to
recapture with a knight rather than pawn after 6.Nxf6+ thus avoiding having to
accept doubled pawns.
This is not the best move, but it does set a trap for the
5…Ngf6?? 6.Nd6 checkmate
Note that White’s queen pins the e-pawn, which means the knight
is immune to capture on d6.
There are similar smothered mates in other openings too.
Here is another example of the same theme.
Beaten by the
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5
The Budapest Gambit.
3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Bf4 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bb4+ 6.Nbd2 Qe7 7.a3 Ngxe5
The trap is set.
Greed is often a contributory factor when one falls for a
Greed is also a factor in our next example.
The Legal Way
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6
The Philidor Defense is solid enough but Black has to accept
a cramped position.
3.Bc4 Bg4 4.Nc3 g6
Black mixes his systems and misses White’s big idea.
A big surprise, for those unfamiliar with the trap. White
sacrifices the queen.
5…dxe5 is the lesser of the two evils, but 6.Qxg4 gives
White an extra pawn and a big advantage in development.
6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5 checkmate
Once seen, never forgotten. This is Legal’s Mate, named
after the French chess player François Antoine de Legall de Kermeur, whose name
varies from source to source.
A Rare Bird
There is nothing wrong with Bird’s Opening, but it is an
acquired taste. It is named after Henry Bird. The first move does leave a
strange impression, as White opens up his king, allowing Black to dream of an
This is From’s Gambit, named after Martin Severin From. I
recall, many years ago, a local wag at my chess club claiming it was called the
From’s Gambit ‘because nobody knows where it came from.’
When two gambiteers play each other, we sometimes see the
amusing sequence 2.e4 (transposing from a From’s Gambit to a King’s Gambit)
2…d5 (transposing to a Falkbeer Counter-Gambit).
2…d6 3.exd6 Bxd6
White needs to tread very carefully here.
A blunder, of course – but it does happen. White needs to
play 4.Nf3 to stop Black’s next move. Black will then continue to have fun with
4…g5, trying to dislodge the defensive knight.
Big trouble for White.
The pawn attacks the queen, but Black does not need to
5…Bxg3+ is also possible, with the same outcome – but nobody
ever bothers to play that way, because everyone loves sacrificing the queen for
6.hxg3 Bxg3 checkmate
There are plenty more examples of speedy checkmates in the
opening and we will feature other cases in future posts.
If you enjoyed speedy checkmates in the opening, you may
like to know that there are many more beautiful checkmating patterns in the
Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and
CraftyRaf. This course won third place in the Chessable Awards for 2020.
There is a shortened, free version of the course here.