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.
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 unwary.
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.
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 trap.
Greed is also a factor in our next example.
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.
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 early knockout.
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 retreat.
5…Bxg3+ is also possible, with the same outcome – but nobody ever bothers to play that way, because everyone loves sacrificing the queen for a checkmate.
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 course, 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.
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