A checkmate with two bishops is one of the most elegant and satisfying checkmates in chess. It is also one of the most difficult checkmates to achieve, as it requires precise coordination between your two bishops and your king.
It is important to learn how to deliver this checkmate; being up two bishops and not being able to win definitely doesn’t feel great.
In this guide, we will explore the key principles behind the two-bishop checkmate, and present a systematic method you can follow to deliver this checkmate confidently and consistently.
This article uses algebraic notation like Bd7 and Be5#. If you're not familiar with it, I suggest you read my article where I explain all about this chess notation.
A bishop pair working together can control vast areas of the board, making it difficult for the opposing king to escape.
In order to checkmate with two bishops, you need to force your opponent’s king to the edge of the board. You can then use your bishops to deliver checkmate, with your king blocking the enemy king’s only escape square.
It’s crucial to coordinate the bishops and king effectively. Stacking the bishops allows them to control a broad range of squares and restrict the enemy king’s movement, limiting its options.
Notice how the two bishops form a V-shaped jail that forces the enemy king to retreat, slowly but surely reaching the edge of the board.
Driving the King Back
The way to drive the opposing king back is to continuously shrink the V-shaped jail by placing the bishops next to one another and stacking them whenever possible. Advance the king to protect the bishops and contribute in restricting the enemy king’s movement.
Continuing along this process, the enemy king will eventually be forced into a rank or file on the edge of the board, confined in a jail of only two squares.
Note: In our example, this happens to be the back rank, but we’ll look at other examples as well.
Depending on the starting position, this process may take many moves, so patience is key.
What makes the two-bishop checkmate challenging is that you have to do it within 50 moves. Otherwise, the game will end in a draw by the fifty-move rule.
The fifty-move rule was designed to prevent overly prolonged games. If no captures or pawn moves occur within the last fifty moves by both players, the game ends in a draw. If you're not familiar with it, I suggest you read my article where I explain all draw rules in chess.
Shifting the Two-square Jail
Once the king is confined in the edge of the board, the next step is to force the king into the corner. In our example, this would either be a8 or h8.
One idea may be to move the light-squared bishop to f7 to control the e8 square and force the king to move left towards the a8 square. However, the problem is that this would free up the d7 square for the enemy king, allowing it to escape the back rank.
Therefore, what White should play instead is the waiting move Bf5, keeping the light-squared bishop on the same diagonal to maintain control of the d7 square and pass the turn over to Black, forcing the king to move to e8.
Once the king moves to e8, White can start shifting the two-square jail towards the h8 corner by playing Bc7. Notice how the White king is cutting off any escape squares the bishops aren’t covering.
Next, White can continue shifting the two-square jail by playing Bd7, forcing the Black king to g8.
At this point, White must move the king to g6 to trap the enemy king. Otherwise, the h7 square would be available for the Black king to escape.
Here, the enemy king can either help White achieve their objective by moving to h8 directly, or, more probably, will move to f8 trying to escape the corner.
To force the enemy king back to the corner, White should play the two bishop checks Bd6+ and Be6+, followed by the killer blow Be5#.
A Second Example
Let’s take a look at another example.
Black is up two bishops vs a lone king. After some moves of stacking the bishops and advancing the king, Black manages to confine the White king in the a-file.
In this position, Black should play Kc3, placing the king next to the bishop pair and preparing to shift the two-square jail to either a1 or a8. White’s only legal response is Ka5.
Take a moment and think about Black’s next move.
Just like in the first example, if Black attempts to push the White king to a8 by playing Bb3, the White king can escape the a-file to the b5 square. Therefore, Black should play the waiting move Bd3 instead.
Notice how Black is still controlling the b5 square since the light-squared bishop is still on the same diagonal. White’s king will be forced to go back to a4.
Now, Black can start shifting the two-square jail to a1 by playing Bb6. White’s only move is Ka3. Black then continues shifting the jail with Bb5. White’s only move is Ka2. Black then moves the king to c2 to trap White’s king near the a1 corner.
Again, the White king can help Black achieve their objective by moving to a1, or try to escape the corner to a3. This time, let’s say White chooses Ka1.
At this point, Black must be very careful not to play Bc4, as that would cover the White king’s only escape square. Since the king is not in check and has no legal moves, this would be a stalemate; the game would end in a draw.
A stalemate occurs when a player has no legal moves left, but their king is not in check. This results in a draw. If you're not familiar with it, I suggest you read my article where I explain all draw rules in chess.
Instead, Black should play Bc5, preparing to play Bc4+ once the White king moves to a2. Finally, with the White king back to the corner, Black can the win the game with Bd4#.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Here are some common mistakes to avoid when trying to deliver checkmate with two bishops:
- Don’t lose a bishop: Make sure your king is protecting both bishops at all times. Whenever you stack the bishops or place them next to one another, your king must be controlling both squares. If your opponent captures a bishop, the game will end in a draw by insufficient material.
- Don’t let your opponent’s king escape: Once you shrink the V-shaped jail enough to force your opponent’s king to the edge of the board, make sure the king stays in that rank or file. Drive the king to the corner by shifting the two-square jail as we saw in the two examples.
- Don’t blunder stalemate: Make sure the enemy king always has at least one square available until you deliver checkmate.
Checkmating with two bishops is a difficult but rewarding skill to master. With practice and patience, you will be able to effectively deliver checkmate with two bishops and become a more complete chess player.
The more you practice checkmating with two bishops, the better you will become at it. It took me hours of practice before I was able to master this checkmate. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed at first.
If you have any questions or insights you’d like to share, please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. I’d love to have a chat with you.