Can You Checkmate With Two Knights? Full Explanation


Two chess knights

Some of the most basic yet useful things you can do in chess is to learn how to checkmate with specific combinations of pieces, there would be many times in a game where you have to deliver a checkmate in the endgame. So many resources are available on the internet on some of the most basic combinations, winning with a king and a queen for example.

One thing that I have noticed is that not many are talking about winning with two knights, and I think that it would be a good topic to cover for those who are wondering about this. This is an interesting piece combination which everyone should explore at some point, keep on reading if you are interested

Two knights and a king can cause a checkmate if you have at least a pawn

Here is the thing, two knights and a king can actually deliver a checkmate if the opponent has at least a pawn. This is because the king + knight + knight can drive the enemy king into the corner, this will cause the enemy king to be trapped.

However if there are beginners here it is important to note that you can also deliver a checkmate if you have a pawn, you can just push it to victory. Take note that if you have a pawn, you cannot checkmate with only a knight + knight and a king without doing a promotion, the best that this can do is stalemate.

If you ever end up in a position where you have to win with king + knight + knight + pawn, you should just push the pawn and bring out a queen. If you continue to play with a pawn and two knights it will be a stalemate at best, it is theoretically impossible to get a checkmate then.

But if we are talking about two knights only, the opponent having a pawn is the only way to win, this is also true if the opponent has other pieces that it can move. It doesn’t matter if it’s a knight, bishop, or  rook, as long as the opponent can move other pieces / pawns you can win with two knights.

A checkmate is theoretically impossible with only two knights and a king

It is impossible to win with two knights (get a checkmate) since the king will either have some way to escape or it is a stalemate, the knight just doesn’t have as much range as the two bishops. If we are talking about two bishops then yes, there are many ways to win with that combination, but checkmating with two knights is a different thing.

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No matter how much you frame it, the king + knight + knight combination on their own cannot deliver a checkmate, even Magnus Carlsen would never be able to accomplish this. This is because it is literally impossible to deliver a checkmate in this condition (if the enemy king doesn’t have another pawn / piece), it has been well analyzed already.

Theoretically speaking, the only way to checkmate with two knights is to drive the enemy king to the corner and trap it, such in a way where it cannot move so the other knight can deliver a checkmate. However since stalemate exists it really wouldn’t result in a win, which is why it is impossible to checkmate since the best is only stalemate.

In order to win, the losing side that only has a king has to have some way of moving that it wouldn’t cause a stalemate, and the only way this is happening is if there is another pawn or pieces left. That is the best position that two knights can get, where the enemy king is trapped and it would cause a stalemate, if the losing side has at least a pawn that can move, then it is a checkmate.

The two knights and a king can cause a stalemate at best

A checkmate is made when a piece / pawn is attacking a player and the enemy king has no tile left to move, this means that the king will be captured no matter what. Stalemate is different from a checkmate, in a stalemate the king has nowhere left to go but is still in check, the result would be a draw.

This would mean that a stalemate is a less desirable outcome if you are winning, therefore you want to avoid it in order to get the win. In a situation where the winning side has only two knights the only outcome would be a stalemate, the knights are not powerful enough to have the setup of an actual checkmate.

Stalemate is the only result if one player only has the king + knight + knight and the other side has only the king, this is because the finishing blow still has to be delivered. The two knights and the king can pin the enemy king and prevent it from moving, however one knight still has to actually deliver the checkmate, this means that the other side still has to move.

In a position where one’s king cannot move but the player has to finish their turn, it will be considered a stalemate, this means that it would be a draw and unfavorable for the winning player. This would be exactly the case in the scenario of king + knight + knight vs. a king, the most that the two knights can do is a stalemate since they don’t have as much of a powerful range.

Two knights and king can cause a checkmate if the enemy king have an extra pawn

Now it is already given that you can deliver a checkmate with two knights if you have a pawn (since you can just push it to promotion), but this is aso true if the opponent has as little as a pawn. This is also applicable if the enemy king has a piece, the point is that you need to have the opponent moving another pawn / piece but the king.

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It is important to understand however that it is still risky to win a game with two knights, one wrong move and the extra pawn can be of use to the opponent. However, it is theoretically possible to win the game this way, that is if the losing side gas the pawn that can be pushed when the king is trapped.

The two knights combination can only give a stalemate at best, however if the opponent has as much as a single pawn then it would not be considered a stalemate. The opponent can still move the extra pawn, therefore giving a chance for the winning side to deliver the final blow, this is the only way to win with the two knights advantage.

The two knights on their own cannot deliver a checkmate

If you have noticed from the answer above, the king + knight + knight combo is only really useful if the opponent has a pawn, but this is not the case if they are on their own. This is because the result can only be stalemate at best, the enemy king has to have a pawn to move to avoid stalemate and deliver a checkmate.

Even if let’s say that the losing side still has other pieces to move, in this example a bishop, the winning side can only really win if their opponent makes a mistake. The losing side can always draw against the two knights if it has other pieces, the two knights just cannot make a checkmate on their own.

You see it will be a stretch to say that magnus carlsen for example cannot win with two knights against a king and bishop, however he will need the opponent to make a mistake. The ideal scenario is when the losing side only has a pawn, this way it is not a threat until it can get promoted, which is preventable with accurate play.

It is difficult to give a checkmate with two knights and a king even if it is possible

We have already established that it is possible to checkmate with two knights if the opponent has a pawn, what we haven’t discussed is the possibility of the player not following through or even worse, losing in the end. In these kinds of fickle checkmates where every individual moves matter, a chance for a comeback will always be possible, especially in this case.

If you miscalculate even a bit and actually didn’t deliver the checkmate, it can result in your opponent getting a promotion from his/her pawn in which case you will be in trouble. This way (the opponent getting a pawn promotion) the best option for the one with two knights is to just hope for a draw, otherwise this is a hopeless situation.

Now the question of probability has nothing to do with the difficulty of actually executing it, even if it is possible it will still be difficult to deliver a checkmate with two knights. The exception of course is when you have a pawn yourself (since you can just defend it and push it to victory), but if the enemy has the pawn / pieces it will be challenging.

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To checkmate with two knights and king one has to corner the opposing king to the corner

The key thing to executing a checkmate with two knights is to somehow trap the enemy king in one of the four corners, in a way where it cannot move from its tile. Doing this would be difficult and almost impossible for beginners who barely know chess, but this is the only way to checkmate with two knights.

If you are trying to checkmate with two knights it is imperative that you drive the enemy king right onto the corner, this way you can have the other knight deliver the checkmate. Unlike the queen, the knights are not powerful enough to deliver the checkmate in one blow, you have to pin the enemy king in place before delivering the checkmate.

What I am saying is that you cannot checkmate an enemy king unless you drive it into the corner, this takes a little more finesse than it looks. This should be the first objective in trying to checkmate with two knights, if you cannot do this then a checkmate would be impossible.

The losing side cannot lead itself into a checkmate even with two knights

Here is the thing with trying to get a checkmate with two knights, even if the opponent plays the worst moves possible it will still be hard to deliver the actual checkmate. It will still take a lot of calculation in order to ensure that the promoted pawn won’t be a problem, this demonstrates the difficulty of achieving this kind of checkmate.

In other checkmate combinations other than the two knights, the opponent can blunder badly, the losing side in this case cannot lend itself to a checkmate since you have to deal the finishing blow. This is why it is so hard, even if you drive the losing king in the corner you have to still put up a blockade, and make sure that you have enough moves before the pawn promotion.

What I mean is that it would take some effort once you get to a position where you have to win with two knights, you still cannot take it easy even when you are up on material. Even if the opponent plays not so decent moves there will be a challenge, take note that it is possible but also remember that it will take some skill to properly do.

The meaning of this article is that you can checkmate with the two knights but it has to follow a specific condition, mainly that the opponent has an extra pawn / piece as to prevent stalemate. If this is not the case then a stalemate is the only possible conclusion, the two nights on their own cannot deliver a checkmate since their range is much shorter.

We have also learned that it is difficult to execute a checkmate with two knights even if it is possible, there is a little margin of error and you can actually lose the game. Which means that you actually have to study in order to convert this endgame, thank you for reading.

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