Features Jan 5, 2021 | 3:10 PMby chess24 staff

Checkmates at the Top

Daniil Dubov got to deliver checkmate against none other than World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen in the recently finished Airthings Masters. Sean Marsh, a chess writer and Chief Trainer for Chess in Schools and Communities, takes a look at some more checkmates, or near checkmates, featuring World Champions and their challengers.

He didn't quite get to give mate on the board, but the final move that won Magnus Carlsen the 2016 World Chess Championship was hard to beat | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, FIDE/ChessPro

It is time for the first Checkmate Monday of 2021 and today we have three examples of checkmates at the top.

Checkmating the Champion

Our first example occurred in the Airthings Masters Knockout event.


Daniil Dubov – Magnus Carlsen

White to play

Can you pick out the checkmate from this position?

It is 39 Qxf5 checkmate, as the e-pawn is pinned against Black’s king by White’s rook and it cannot capture the queen.

The current (forced) trend for online tournaments brings games at faster time limits than we see at classical events. This means the players are under more pressure from the start and it is guaranteed that more blunders will occur, even in the games of the top players. This is not the first time we have seen the World Champion’s king find itself in a mating net.

Naturally, Magnus Carlsen features on the other side of checkmating attacks much more frequently. Our next snippet shows a classic example of a checkmate at the top.

The Champion Checkmates the Challenger

The World Chess Championship match of 2016 between Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin was very close. The 12 regular games brought a 6-6 tie, which sent the match into a four-game Rapid match. Carlsen won the tie-breaker 3-1. The final game came down to this position.


Carlsen – Karjakin

White to play

Karjakin is threatening mate with his queen on g2, e1 and f1. Carlsen appears to be in trouble but he has prepared a stunning finish.

50 Qh6+!!

Sacrifices on empty squares are more startling than sacrifices with captures.


Karjakin resigned the game – and the match – due to unstoppable checkmate.

If he captures with the pawn, the rook on f5 delivers the checkmate: 50…gxh6 51 Rxf7 checkmate.


The alternative capture, 50…Kxh6, allows the other rook to finish the job, with 51 Rh8 checkmate. Quite a way to win a match for the World Chess Championship!


The games featured above came at times of high tension. They are easier to spot in the comfort of our own homes because we are not under pressure.

No Pressure; Big Blunder

Sometimes, top players miss simple checkmates even though they are not under pressure.

It seems quaint now, but there used to be considerable mileage and interest in Human vs. Computer matches.

Don't do it, Vlad! | photo: ChessBase

In 2006 Vladimir Kramnik played Deep Fritz and was doing well in game two.


Deep Fritz – Vladimir Kramnik

Black to move

Kramnik played 34 …Qe3?? which is a terrible blunder, due to 35 Qh7 checkmate.


Kramnik could offer no reason for missing this simple move. Perhaps he was thinking too deeply and the lack of ability to ‘read’ a human player’s emotions may have also been a contributory factor.

A common theme in all three of today’s examples is the presence of the queens in the latter phase of the game. Their immense strength makes them dangerous at all times. Watch out for snap checkmates by queens in your own games!

There are many more beautiful checkmating patterns in our course, The Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and CraftyRaf.

Here's Magnus taking the final test:

There is a shortened, free version of the course here.

See also:


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