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Artfulness and Subtleties of Legal's Mate

Updated on November 30, 2012

Textbook Legal's Mate

Final mating position of Legal's mate
Final mating position of Legal's mate | Source


In my previous two hubs I looked at two different types of knight checkmates:

This article will look at a special case of the Checkmate with 2 Knights called Legal's Mate that comes up so often that it deserves its own article.

One of the most important things to learn when studying this tactical motif, is to learn the subtle positional differences when it works, and when it doesn't work.

While looking several a bunch of games in my Tactics Time database where the white side performed a Legal's mate, black could have punished black by not taking the Queen on d1, and often could have won a piece.

Lets look at some examples!

Legal moves

White to Play
White to Play | Source

Legal Eagles

This is probably the most famous 2 knight checkmate.

It is so famous, it even has it's own name - Legal's mate.

This is a great trap to know.

We will look at several examples to help DRILL this pattern into your brain.

Here in the game black played 5. ..Bxd1 grabbing the white queen, thinking he achieved a huge material advantage.

Black was following Gordon Gecko's famous advice from the movie Wall Street that "Greed is good", but just like Gecko, he will be punished.

In the above diagram white played 7. Nd5# sending Gordon Gecko to jail for his white collar crimes.

Here is the complete game. There are lots of similar variations, and this is a very important pattern to know.

[Event "December 2008 Hardcore Grand IV"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2008.12.19"]
[Round "1"]
[White "British Telecom"]
[Black "SurroundedByCats"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B50"]
[WhiteElo "1115"]
[BlackElo "686"]
[PlyCount "13"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 Bg4 4. Bc4 e5 5. Nxe5 Bxd1 6. Bxf7+ Ke7 7. Nd5# 1-0

Black should put down the kitty num nums and spend less time being "SurroundedByCats" and join me at my chess website Tactics Time for some chess puzzles :-)

Let's look at another example:

It's a Trap!

White to Move
White to Move | Source

King's Gambit variation

Here is another similar game:

Here the main questions is: Can white try to do a Legal's Mate here?

The answer is YES!

7. Nxe5 plants the seeds for the trap.

Note that black does not automatically get checkmated. They only get in trouble if they fail to see the threat to their king.

In this position black can actually get out of this position unharmed with 7...dxe5 8. Qxg4 Qd4+ 9. Kh1 Qxc4 keeping the material even.

Here is the actual game:

[Event "Challenge"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2009.01.10"]
[Round "?"]
[White "konhen"]
[Black "gulenz"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C34"]
[WhiteElo "1463"]
[BlackElo "1185"]
[PlyCount "17"]
[EventDate "2009.??.??"]

1. e4 e5 2. f4 Nc6 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 exf4 5. O-O Bg4 6. Nc3 Ne5 7. Nxe5 Bxd1 8.
Bxf7+ Ke7 9. Nd5# 1-0

The first game came out of a Sicilian opening, the second out of a King's Gambit. So the exact move order is not important - it is the PATTERN.

The important parts are:

  • White Bishop that can check on f7
  • White Knight that can jump to e5
  • White Knight that can jump to d5
  • No Black Knight on f6 (which would stop Nd5#)
  • No Black Knight on c6 or d7 (which would prevent Nxe5)
  • Black doesn't have a Queen check with Qh4+ if white hasn't castled

Even if black doesn't grab the queen, white can still win a pawn in a lot of variations.

In the examples below where the Legal's mate does not work, it is because of one of the above reasons.

Also note, that this is not a forced mating pattern, but it can lead to mate if black plays incorrectly. Some people call it Legal's Pseudo Sacrifice for this reason.

Oops, I did it again

White to Play
White to Play | Source

Barely Legal

You have to be careful. In this game white got away with it, but it was unsound

[Event "Open invite"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2007.02.28"]
[White "O Artem, O."]
[Black "Amsterdamn"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C50"]
[WhiteElo "1172"]
[BlackElo "1475"]
[PlyCount "15"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 d6 4. Bc4 h6 5. g4 Bxg4 6. Nxe5 Bxd1 7. Bxf7+ Ke7 8. Nd5# 1-0

In the above position, after 6. Nxe5, black could have played 6. ..Nxe5 just winning the knight on e5, and still protecting the bishop on g4.

This wasn't sound because of the above rule where black has a knight on c6.

Instead black fell for the trick, grabbed the queen on d1, and was promptly checkmated.

Poker Face

Black to Move
Black to Move | Source

The Bluff

Here is one where white again got away with the Legal's Mate, but it was not sound.

In the above position white has just played 12. Nxe5??

Here black should just play 12. ..Nxe5 winning a piece (grabbing the knight, and protecting the Bishop on g4 at the same time).

Instead black got greedy, wanting to be a whole queen up, and was promptly mated with the Legal's Mate pattern.

One time a chess player at the US Chess Center in Washington DC, told me "Chess isn't Poker" after I tried a cheap opening trap against him, that didn't work. In this case white was playing like it was poker, and this time the bluff worked!

Don't try this at home!

[Event "Open invite"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2008.08.11"]
[White "strokem1"]
[Black "ram2rose"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C30"]
[WhiteElo "1286"]
[BlackElo "1305"]
[PlyCount "27"]

1. e4 e5 2. f4 f6 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 f5 5. d3 fxe4 6. dxe4 Bg4 7. f5 Nf6 8. Nc3 a6 9. a3 Nc6 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Nxe5 Bxd1 13. Bf7+ Ke7 14. Nd5# 1-0


Black to play
Black to play | Source

Another unsound Legal's Attack

Here is another game where white got away with it, but should not have.

[Event "Challenge"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2006.05.28"]
[Round "?"]
[White "ETR"]
[Black "angree pirate"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C50"]
[WhiteElo "1460"]
[BlackElo "1186"]
[PlyCount "15"]
[EventDate "2006.??.??"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 Bg4 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. O-O Na5 6. Nxe5 Bxd1 7. Bxf7+ Ke7
8. Nd5# 1-0

On move 6, instead of 6. ..Bxd1 for black 6. ..dxe5 wins a piece for a pawn after 7. Qxg4 Nxc4

ilLegal's mate

White to Move
White to Move | Source

somewhat Legal

OK, technically this is not a Legal's mate. But it is pretty similar - the two knights and bishop tag teaming the Black King.

This is also a pure mate, since each piece is only covering one square!


Here 19. Ng6# is the winning move.

[Event "Washington Class Ch - C Section"]
[Site "Redmond, WA"]
[Date "2009.11.27"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Grabar, Anatoly"]
[Black "Hu, Jiayi"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C06"]
[WhiteElo "1589"]
[BlackElo "1507"]
[PlyCount "37"]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 Qb6 8. Nf3 Be7 9. O-O O-O 10. Nf4 cxd4 11. cxd4 Nb4 12. Bb1 f6 13. exf6 Nxf6 14. a3 Nc6 15. Qd3 Qc7 16. Ng5 Re8 17. Qxh7+ Nxh7 18. Bxh7+ Kf8 19. Ng6# 1-0

Black to Move
Black to Move | Source

The ends justify the means

White got away with an unsound move here. White just played 6. Nxe5. What should black do?

[Event "Open invite"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2008.03.10"]
[Round "?"]
[White "griffpusher"]
[Black "munk"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C46"]
[WhiteElo "1288"]
[BlackElo "1212"]
[PlyCount "15"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Bg4 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Bc4 Nxd4 6. Nxe5 Bxd1 7. Bxf7+ Ke7 8. Nd5# 1-0

Here after 6. Nxe5 dxe5 would win. If 7. Qxg4 Nxc2+ forks the king and rook.

Instead black took the queen, and was checkmated two moves later.

Can white do Legal's here?

White to Play
White to Play | Source

Pop quiz!

Can white do Legal's Mate here?

[Event "Challenge"]
[Site ""]
[Date "2005.08.28"]
[Round "?"]
[White "zwu"]
[Black "themole"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C50"]
[WhiteElo "1295"]
[BlackElo "1330"]
[PlyCount "13"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 d6 4. Nc3 Bg4 5. Nxe5 Bxd1 6. Bxf7+ Ke7 7. Nd5# 1-0

Answer: NO!

If black has a knight on c6, then the trick doesn't work, because black can play Nxe5, and protect the bishop on g4 at the same time. Again instead of 5. ..Bxd1??, play 5. ..Nxe5!

In the above game, white did play 5. Nxe5, and got away with it, because "TheMole" didn't see so well.


I hope that you enjoyed these examples of Legal's Mate.

Remember that it is really more of a "pseudo sacrifice" because it is more of an attacking maneuver than an actual mate. But if the defending player plays it wrong, they will be mated!

Play through the examples to get a better idea of when it works and when it does not. This is a great pattern to know, and can lead to lots of QUICK KILLS.

Also remember that just because you have knights on c3 and f3, and a bishop on c4 doesn't mean that Legal's mate is going to work.  In most of the games I looked at, black could have completely refuted the move Nxe5.

If you liked these positions, check out my website at - I have hundreds of fun problems like these, which can get your chess game on the fast track!

Happy Tactics!

Your Friend,



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