two bishop mate

Endgame Fundamentals: Two Bishop Checkmate

By Donny Gray

Mating with the two bishops can be confusing on your first try, but once you see how it is done, you will realize that it is not that hard.  As in other basic mates, you push the king towards the edge of the board, then to the corner,  and then mate follows.

For the side with the lone king, his only hope is to either get a stalemate or go past 50 moves so as to claim a draw via the 50 move rule.  Good strategy for the lone king is to always try to stay as close to the barrier created by the two bishops.  In this way, if the stronger side makes a mistake, he can run away, thus making it harder and making the process longer.

Mating with the two bishops is a great example of how well the bishops work together, not only in this basic mate, but also during a full game.  Since they control both the light and dark squares, they can be very powerful indeed!

Let’s get started!

When I teach a student this mate, I always start from the following position.  But this method works no matter what the starting position.




As you can see, I put the white pieces on their original squares and the black king dead in the center.  Much work to be done as we are far away from a corner where we can deliver mate.

The way I do it is to line my two bishops and king in a row.  Take a look at the next diagram to see what I mean.




As you can see, I have everything lined up together on the 2nd rank.  It does not matter where the black king is as he will be controlled by the bishops.  My plan is to force the black king to the 8th rank.




In diagram 3 we see that the black king can never get past the “barrier” created by the two bishops (shown by the red lines).

Now let’s return to the 1st diagram and see how to achieve all the pieces on the 2nd rank.




1.Be2         Ke4
2.Bd2        Kd4




We have lined up all of our pieces on the 2nd rank.  Our next step is to line them all on the 3rd rank.  By this method we will squeeze the black king to the 8th rank, one rank at a time–whether he wants to go or not.

When we are ready to move all of our pieces from one rank to the next, you must be careful not to let the black king out of the barrier created by the two bishops.  If you move the wrong piece first, he will jump out of the barrier.  But if you look closely, you will always be able to tell which of the three pieces to move first.

Let’s take a look at some examples of a wrong first move trying to get all lined up on the 3rd rank.

3.  …          Ke4
4.  Bf3+?  Kd3




Black did not have to go towards the 8th rank after Bf3+.  Instead he runs the wrong way.  Not acceptable.

Also wrong here would be:

3.   …         Ke4
4.  Kg3?    Kd4

While not technically wrong, it is adding extra moves to our quest.  We can still line up our three pieces.  It just will take longer.

Correct is…

3.  …        Ke4
4.  Be3!

Black has no choice but to go backwards towards the 8th rank.  The bishop’s barriers are in full effect and are pushing the black king back.




Now we can move our last two pieces onto the 3rd rank during the next two moves.

4.   …        Ke5
5.   Bd3    Kd5
6.   Kf3

And just like that we have our three pieces all lined up on the 3rd rank.  We will continue doing the same thing until we have all of our pieces lined up on the 6th rank with the black king trapped to the 8th rank.

6.  …        Ke5
7. Be4      Kd6
8. Bd4     Ke6
9. Kf4      Kd6

It is now time to decide which piece moves first to the 5th rank.  Any bishop move allows the black king to escape, so we move the king.

10.Kf5 and black has no choice but to back up even more.

10.  …       Ke7
11.  Be5    Kd7
12. Bd5



We now have black pushed back to the 7th rank.  Only one more rank to go.

12.  …       Ke7
13. Be6    Kd8
14. Bd6    Ke8
15. Kf6     Kd8



We now have what we wanted: his king is trapped on the back rank.  Now all we have to do is walk him to the corner.  The corner we choose is always the one that is nearest the white king.  In this case we will push the black king to h8 where we will deliver mate.

To do this we will “walk” his king there .  We will use the bishops to walk him to the corner and the king to make sure he never gets off the 8th rank.

16.Be5!    We “waste” a move to get the black king to move.  His only move is:

16.  ….        Ke8
17. Bc7!    And the walking begins

17.  …        Kf8
18. Bd7    Kg8

Black now threatens to come off the back rank.  Don’t think so!

19.  Kg6     Kf8
20. Bd6+  Kg8
21.  Be6+  Kh8
22.  Be5++

Piece of cake.



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