Can I Checkmate With These Pieces?

white moves queen into position for checkmate
Knowing which pieces you can checkmate with can help you enter more endgames with confidence. H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images

For beginners, it can often be difficult to checkmate an opponent's king even with overwhelming force. Conversely, new players often continue playing long after a game should have already been drawn due to the insufficient mating material rule. Here's a quick guide to what you can (and cannot) use to checkmate an enemy king.​

  • King and Rook vs. King: The stronger side can checkmate, and while it may take more moves than with a queen, the technique is still quite simple.
  • King and Bishop vs. King: The stronger side cannot checkmate.
  • King and Knight vs. King: The stronger side cannot checkmate.
  • King and Pawn vs. King: The stronger side may be able to checkmate, depending on the position. The goal here is to promote the pawn into a queen, after which checkmating is fairly simple.
  • King and Two Bishops vs. King: The stronger side can checkmate, though the method for doing so is somewhat more complex than with a rook or queen.
  • King and Two Knights vs. King: The stronger side cannot force a checkmate, although it is possible with the cooperation of the enemy king.
  • King, Bishop, and Knight vs. King: The stronger side can checkmate. However, the technique is rather difficult, and even many strong players have failed to properly convert this endgame, especially in time pressure.
  • King vs. King: This endgame is always a draw, despite the heroic efforts of beginners and scholastic players who have danced their kings around the board for dozens of moves.

Of course, many checkmates take place with much more material on the board than these situations.

The best use of this information is twofold.

First, it can stop you from continuing on in hopeless situations: if you are down to a king and bishop vs. an enemy king, for instance, it is time to start a new game. Secondly, it helps to know what endgames you can head towards that will be winning when you have a material advantage. If you have a bishop and two pawns vs. a bishop, it is fine to trade those bishops if you'll later be able to promote a pawn and win that way. However, allowing the other player to trade their bishop for your two pawns will lead to a draw.