All checkmates have two things in common:
1) the king is under attack;
2) there is no way for the king to escape.
And this book is based on two big ideas.
The first big idea is that, since the ultimate goal of the game of chess is checkmate, the player who knows more about checkmate has an advantage over the player who knows less.
The second big idea comes naturally from the first: many checkmates fall into well-known patterns or concepts that can be studied and learned. Once these patterns have been learned, players can seamlessly incorporate these checkmate patterns into their own games.
While it is certainly possible—in fact, necessary—to discover new ideas over the board as you play, the player who sits down knowing a lot of patterns has an advantage over the player who has to make it all up on the spot.
What you don’t know can cost you the game. Knowledge is power, and you get that power by studying. Studying checkmates helps you win games. It’s that simple.
PART I of this book is simply building pattern recognition. We first present a basic pattern, and then give a series of puzzles based on that pattern. Then we move on to another pattern, and then another, until the student has amassed a huge collection of checkmate patterns that can be used to win games.
In presenting the basic patterns, only the pieces needed to show the pattern are on the board. Most often, there is only one king on the board, simply because we don’t want anything distracting us from seeing the most important idea, which is the basic pattern.
The exercises start at a very basic level. Some students may find them very easy while others may find they have to think quite a bit on some of them. If you find them to be a little difficult at first, just go back and do them again. Athletes and musicians practice certain moves or exercises over and over. Each time you do an exercise, it gets easier and easier. That’s because the neural pathways in the brain are strengthened and reinforced with each repetition. In the chess player, the eye-brain coordination is essential to building pattern recognition. Skill in chess is largely a matter of training in pattern recognition.
If, on the other hand, you find the first exercises to be too easy, that’s not a bad thing at all. The purpose is not necessarily to challenge the skill at this point. Rather, the goal of the first part is simply to present patterns that will be useful when playing games against real opponents. If you want to remember a pattern, seeing that pattern and then practicing it over and over is the best way to do it.
I recommend going through this book several times so you are able to quickly spot similar patterns in your own games.
PART II is a collection of mixed mate in one move puzzles. Once you know the basic patterns, the next step is to be able to recognize the patterns when you don’t know ahead of time which one to look for. PART II will give you practice in finding mate in a variety of situations.
PART III is made up of well known patterns that take several moves to unfold. Each pattern is introduced with a little history of how it came to be known.
PART IV is a look at how some of the great players of the game have found checkmate hidden in much more complicated positions. We do not give puzzles for this section because this is, after all, a book for those just starting out, and expecting relative beginners to achieve the brilliance of Alekhine or Fischer is asking way too much. However, it is important for those just beginning to enjoy chess to know that this kind of magic can happen on the chessboard. Diagram 386 is taken from a student game where Chris Mayfield, a 900 level fourth grade student from the Bronx, found an astonishing mate in three moves. Two masters at the tournament did not see it, yet this child kept looking for something. He spent twenty minutes studying the position before unleashing his deadly combination. His perseverance paid off, and is a good lesson to us all.
After studying all the patterns and strategies of the book to this point, PART IV concludes with a collection of mate in two and mate in three puzzles, giving readers a chance to solve problems that could occur in their own games.
Before we go on to our checkmates, let’s go over chess notation and some symbols we use in chess, and learn a few special words and terms we will need to know in this book.