Weekly Tactics: Back-Rank Checkmate

The only thing better than winning at chess is making your opponent think they’re winning, and then checkmating them.

The above quote brought to mind the back-rank checkmate. I have seen it happen time and again in OTB chess at all levels. The definition of it in Wikipedia is misleading in my opinion:
Back-rank mates occur quite often in games at fairly low levels. This is because beginners typically fail to anticipate an impending mate on the back rank. At higher levels of play, though the mate itself does not occur very often, play is often affected by the possibility of it—the fact that a player has to spend time guarding against the mate may leave them vulnerable to other threats and tactical ideas…
It happens at higher levels as well. Normally the combinations using it are unexpected and very spectacular.

I have selected three puzzles, arguably from the highest level of chess play. One explanation why they happen is the defender losing track of the king safety after castling. Players in general are more careful not to fall for the Greek gift sacrifice. The castle usually protects quite well against the back-rank checkmate, doesn’t it? Well, apparently not as can be seen in the examples below.

Puzzle 1:
Black went all in by sacrificing two pieces. It looks like its attack is running out of steam: the queen is under attack and three out of four White pieces are there to provide more than enough protection.

Puzzle 2:
Incredibly the back-rank appeared in a World Championship match. Looking back it rewarded GM Anand for his very good preparation and aggressive play. Still, we can ask ourselves how was this possible to happen? We all have our moments to learn from when we least expect it.

Puzzle 3:
This last example is from a rapid game. Magnus felt that his back-rank was well guarded, and he could do both: pawn grabbing on the queen side, as well as keeping his queen active. Dubov’s combination is worth of the top three all time when it comes to back-rank checkmating.

The lesson to learn out of the above is to stay vigilant while protecting your castle. Do not be superficial and think that because you are an experienced player, it won’t happen to you. In the same time on the attacking side always keep an eye how well protected is the opposing king. You never know when you might be able to unleash a combination leading to a back-rank checkmate.

Eugen Demian

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Valer Eugen Demian

Author: Valer Eugen Demian

The player – my first serious chess tournament was back in 1974, a little bit late for today’s standards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to play all forms of chess from OTB to postal, email and server chess. The journey as a player brought me a lot of experience and a few titles along the way: FIDE CM (2012), ICCF IM (2001) and one ICCF SIM norm (2004). The instructor – my career as a chess teacher and coach started in 1994 and continues strong. I have been awarded the FIDE Instructor title (2007) for my work and have been blessed with great students reaching the highest levels (CYCC, NAYCCC, Pan-Am, WYCC). I am very proud of them! See my website for more information. I have developed my own chess curriculum on 6 levels based on my overall chess knowledge and hands-on experience. A glimpse of it can be seen in my first chess app:
I can help you learn chess the proper way if this is what you seek! View all posts by Valer Eugen Demian

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