Smothered Mate: Meaning & Examples

The smothered mate is a checkmate where the opponent’s king gets mated by the knight. In this type of checkmate, the king’s own pieces are blocking the route for the king to escape the attack from the knight.

The smothered mate is not a common type of checkmate and is quite fascinating to witness over the board. Smothered mate usually entails a sequence of moves that involves sacrificing the queen along the backrank. When this happens, the king is completely surrounded by it’s own pieces (usually a rook and three pawns). His own pieces are acting against him.

In the image below, the white knight delivers a smothered mate to the black king. See how the black king is trapped by his own pieces.


What Does Smother Mean?

The term “smother” can have different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Here are a couple of common interpretations:

  1. To Suffocate: In a literal sense, “smother” means to deprive someone or something of air or oxygen, often leading to suffocation. For example, if you cover someone’s mouth and nose, you might smother them, making it difficult for them to breathe.
  2. To Cover or Suppress: In a more figurative sense, “smother” can mean to cover or suppress something, such as emotions, a fire, or a sound. For example, if you smother your feelings, you are keeping them hidden or repressed. If you smother a fire with a blanket, you are covering it to extinguish it.
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As it relates to chess, the word smother denotes that the king is being suffocated or surrounded by it’s own pieces.

How To Achieve Smothered Mate?

The smothered mate is often initiated by a knight check. Observe the position carefully and look for ways to force the opponent’s pieces to smother it’s own king. Then use your knight to deliver the final blow.

In the position below, white can give a knight check on d7, forcing the black king to move to c8.

The sequence continues by revealing a double check to the black king. This reveals an attack by the white queen on g4. If the white king now moves to d8, white can play Qd7 checkmate#

Therefore, white is forced to move to b8.

Kd8?? leads to checkmate

Sacrificing The Queen

Sacrificing the queen is the key ingredient to the smothered mate.

The combination of the knight and queen disallows the black king from capturing the queen. It is the rook that black must use in order to remove the queen check along the backrank. But by capturing the white queen with the black rook, the black king is now completely suffocated by it’s own pieces with no escape route.

Rxc8 and the black king is completely locked in by it’s own pieces

White can now deliver the final blow with the move Nd7.

Final Thoughts

Smothered mate is one of the more advanced checkmating sequences. But with enough practice and experience, you can easily spot this pattern over the board.

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The idea is to simply use your queen and knight as a harmonious duo to deliver checks and double threats against the opponent’s king. Once the king is trapped, use your knight to deliver the final blow!