Saturday, June 7, 2008

Immortal Mates, Part I

Caissa does not bestow fame lavishly, but to her few champions and those who unravel the secrets of her game, she grants nothing short of immortality. Ruy Lopez sits on his throne on the Chess Olympus, smiling every time the bishop moves to b5. To his left, Philidor brushes his wig -- slightly disgruntled, perhaps, because he hasn't seen his d6 much in recent grandmaster games ("Sacrebleu!"). And Nicolas Rossolimo (one of the younger members of the chess pantheon) sips his wine, laughing a raucous laugh at this blogger's feeble attempts to squeeze a couple of cheap wins out of the Rossolimo variation in the Sicilian.

This is the heyday of chess opening fame. After all, few grandmaster games nowadays end in a decisive mate. But let us not forget that the ultimate goal of chess is to checkmate the enemy king, and those who "discovered" a mate deserve no less of our admiration, nor ring their names any less magnificent: Damiano, Greco, Morphy, RĂ©ti, Philidor, Blackburne, Legall.

On a more practical note, familiarising yourself with their mates, absorbing them till you know them by heart, is arguably more beneficial to the amateur player than studying openings. And in this vein, I would like to start a series on the various checkmates, from "Anastasia's" mate to the "Smothered" mate. Since I love the melody of chess names, I shall start at the letter "A" and proceed alphabetically. I draw on Mark Lowery's comprehensive chess site and a couple of excellent posts by chess blogger Batgirl, that go by the delightful title How Do I Mate Thee, Let Me Count The Ways. (She also has a fascinating website dedicated to Paul Morphy and the history of chess.)

Our first mate, then, is Anastasia's mate, named after a Chess novel by Wilhelm Heinse, Anastasia und das Schachspiel (the next entry on my to-read list!):

Ne7+! and the king is doomed. Similar to Anastasia's mate, the Arabian mate uses the combined power of the rook and knight to checkmate the king in the corner. The Arabian mate takes its name from its source, an old Arabian manuscript, and ranks among the earliest recorded check mates in history:

Once again, the knight delivers the death blow: Nf6+ and the rook finishes the king off! Anderssen, who achieved immortality through his "Immortal Game" against Lionel Kieseritzky in 1851, has also a mate named after him. In Anderssen's Mate you trap the enemy king with a bishop and rook:

Rh8#! Crucial to these mates is the restrained maneuverability of the enemy king, his own pieces blocking his escape route. Of course, these mates can appear in all sorts of different variations, but the basic arrangement remains the same. Until next time, good mating!

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