Can you checkmate without check?

While chess allows for a great deal of creativity, strategy, and technique. We all have to abide by the rules of the game. Whenever two players sit down and start a game of chess, they both have one goal in mind – to win. A common question new players ask is whether it is possible to checkmate your opponent without putting them in check first.

The short answer to this question is YES. It is possible to legally checkmate your opponent without checking them. While it is a somewhat rare occurrence, there are two specific scenarios where this happens. These are known as the Fool’s Mate and the Scholar’s Mate.

Checkmate without check in chess

This piece will explore these two instances and how they come about. We’ll also take a closer look at the rules and conventions surrounding check and checkmate, just in case you’re new to the game. And answer some of the most common questions learners have regarding the check and checkmate position.

Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with any of the terms we’ve used so far. We’ll clear everything up as we go along.

Differentiating Between Check and Checkmate

Check and checkmate are very similar, which is why beginners often have trouble making the distinction between them. Here’s a simple way of defining the terms so that you shouldn’t have any problems in the future.

What is a Check Position?

The check position comes about when a player’s king is placed under threat of attack but retains a legal means of escaping to safety. There are three methods of avoiding danger to your king exist, as follow:

  • Moving another piece to take up a position directly between the attacking piece and your king.
  • Moving your king out of harm’s way onto a safe square nearby.
  • Turning the tables and capturing the attacking piece instead.
chess board trying to checkmate without check

What is a Checkmate Position?

Checkmate also referred to as mate, comes about when a player’s king is faced with a threat that they have no legal way of evading. This condition signifies the end of the game. With the side that has been checkmated being the loser and the player that enacted the checkmate being the winner.

What is Fool’s Mate in Chess?

This is the first example of a checkmate arrived at without going through a check position. Here’s how players arrive at this position:

  1. White begins the game by moving their pawn to f3. Black then responds by moving their pawn to e5.
  2. White moves their pawn to g4, and black responds by moving their queen to h4. Thus placing black’s king in checkmate.

You will notice that white will have no options by which to save their king, as there are no legal, safe squares available to move to. To make matters worse, all other avenues of rescue are unavailable because the attacking queen cannot be taken. And there aren’t any white pieces in a position where they can be moved to block the line of attack. 

Who Gets To Play The White Pieces

The result is that white will be checkmated in two moves. Which is why this play is also referred to as the two-move checkmate

As you might imagine, this is a rare occurrence in chess once you get past amateur skill levels. But it is entirely possible and legal. If you ever have the opportunity to pull this off. Consider yourself lucky or look for more skilled opponents to give you a more significant challenge.

What is Scholar’s Mate in Chess?

This is another possible checkmate without check scenario to look out for that develops as follows:

  1. White starts the game by moving a pawn to e4, to which black responds by moving their pawn to e5.
  2. White then moves their The History of Chess Bishops (And Why They Have a Cut on Top)bishop to c4, thus attacking black’s f7 pawn. Black responds to this by moving their knight to c6.
  3. White moves their queen out to h5, putting further pressure on black’s f7 pawn. Black then moves their knight to f6.
  4. White then finally captures black’s f7 pawn and places black’s king.

In this instance, checkmate will come about because the black king will not be in a position to attack the white queen. This is because the queen is protected by its bishop. Such a move would be illegal as the king would still be under attack.

In addition, the black king will not have any other move since all the squares around it are blocked. So there is no possibility of moving another piece between the king and its attacker. This play brings the game to a checkmate position in four moves and is referred to as the four-move checkmate

A chess game in draw

While viewing this scenario, you will notice that the f7 pawn is particularly weak compared to other pieces on the board since it’s only protected by the king at the beginning of the game. The fact that we can’t use a king to protect a pawn (we can’t place a king in danger as it leads to losing the game) means that our goal should be to find the best strategies available to protect our f7pawns.

What Happens When Neither Side Can Checkmate?

While each player in the game starts with the goal of emerging victorious, this isn’t always possible. In some instances, the game might evolve so neither side can get their opponent in a checkmate position. What happens next is referred to as a draw. Let’s explore the different types of draw conditions there are.

Straight Draws

In most cases where neither player can checkmate their opponent, the game will end in a draw. Where neither player wins, and both are awarded one point if they’re playing competitively. There are, however, a couple of variations regarding draws. 

If the scenario is such that none of the players can checkmate their opponent by any series of legal moves, then this is referred to as a ‘dead position,’ whereby a win cannot be declared for either player. 

An example might involve one player only having a king left on the board. While the other only has their king and one bishop. It might also happen when both players only have their kings left. The condition is officially registered as a ‘draw to insufficient material for mating.’

Stalemates in Chess

A stalemate in chess occurs when either player cannot be checkmated and is not in check. While the player is out of legal moves to push the game forward from that point.

Repeated Move Draw

Every game of chess should show a clear progression. Otherwise, it is considered a moot game, necessitating a draw. One of the signs that a game is not progressing, either way, is the repetition of a similar position three times within the same game. The referee has the discretion to call the game a draw in such cases.

Timeout Draws

Professional games are played with a time limit to prevent the possibility of games dragging on for hours unnecessarily. Each player will have a chess clock with a set amount of time, and they will switch as their turns shift from one to the other. If one player runs out of time on their clock, they will lose the game. 

old white manual chess clock

This, however, will only be the case if their opponent has a series of legal moves they can make to achieve a checkmate position. If the situation is such that there wasn’t any chance of the opponent placing them in checkmate, no matter how long the game might have gone on, the game will end in a timeout draw.

Second Illegal Move Draw

According to the official FIDE Rule 7.5.5. Should a player make an illegal move during a game, their punishment will be to have their opponent given two extra minutes on their clock. This, however, only applies to the first illegal move. Should the player go on to make a second unlawful move within the same game, the arbiter (referee) has the authority to declare the game a draw. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Checkmate and Check in Chess

Here’s a look at some of the most frequent queries new players have regarding the rules and conventions surrounding check and checkmates.

Chess training

What happens when a player moves their king into a check position?

There are only two legal options in this situation. According to the game’s rules, you cannot legally move your king to a check position if you have other options available. This is considered an illegal move. If you don’t have any legal move to make, you are in checkmate, and the game is over for you.

Is it possible to go straight to checkmate?

As we’ve seen in this article, there are a few instances where it’s possible to get into a checkmate position without going into check first. We’ve examined the Scholar’s Mate and the Fool’s Mate, which can be brought about in four and two moves, respectively.

checkmate or check in chess

Can you win a game of chess without saying check?

It’s possible to win a game of chess without uttering the word ‘check’.

Leaving aside scenarios where a player goes directly into checkmate without getting into a check position. A game can end without saying the word.

According to official regulations, chess players at official tournaments, matches, and other high-level engagements are not required to say the word ‘check’ or ‘checkmate’ when they get into these positions. Players at this level are considered skilled enough to recognize that they’re in these positions without their opponent’s pronouncement. However, it’s up to the players outside of professional matches, although most people favor making these announcements.

Can you take a king down without a check?

At a technical level, it’s impossible to take an opponent’s king; they can only be checkmated or checked. As we’ve seen, placing your opponent in checkmate without going through a check position is possible.

How many checks are allowed in a single game of chess?

Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of checks that can be made in a single game of chess. Even so, there are standardized conventions geared towards preventing the possibility of a player trying to stretch out a game by repeatedly getting into and out of check. 

These rules include the 50-move rule (the game ends once each player has made five moves) and the threefold repetition move (you are not allowed to make the same set of moves more than three times in a row). 

What happens if you mistakenly say checkmate?

Aside from the potential embarrassment of being wrong, there are no real repercussions for mistakenly saying checkmate. The rulebooks do not consider this a severe infraction since they might be honest mistakes and don’t cause much harm to the game. 

Even so, it’s considered good etiquette to avoid such occurrences as much as possible since they might be a distraction to your opponent. Whether they involve saying check or checkmate mistakenly, frequent interruptions may result in your opponent making a complaint to the referee (arbiter). 

Can a king checkmate another king?

Because of their limited range of motion, coupled with the fact that it is impossible to intentionally place your king in a checkmate position, it is considered impossible for one king to directly put another in checkmate and win the game. Even so, there are ways that a king can be used to indirectly put the opposing king in checkmate, but never directly.

Two kings on a chess board image

Final Thoughts on Checkmate without saying Check

Even though the goal of each game is to place your opponent in checkmate and claim your victory, getting to that point can often be complicated. One of the interesting scenarios that may take place is the possibility of placing your opponent in a checkmate position without first having them in check. As we’ve demonstrated, this is entirely possible through the Fool’s and Scholar’s checkmate.

As you continue to develop your skills as a player, it’s useful to continue learning about these strategies and patterns so that you can earn success by employing them and avoid them wherever possible by spotting them early. Best of luck!

Jenna Ostria
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