B+N (a minor endgame question)

A master-level player recently said: “I probably shouldn’t admit this but I don’t want to have to mate somebody with bishop and knight!” He wasn’t sure he could do it.

I replied that I also don’t want to play either side of R+B v. R , or R+N v. R . The most likely result is that I’m going to embarass myself.

Now the interesting thing about this is the “I shouldn’t admit this” part. Checkmate with B+N  – so elementary! Shouldn’t any decent player be able to do this “by hand” as blogger DK Transformation would say? (p.s. where are ya, DK?!)

You’d think so. But

A) I wonder if there are actually more people like this master and me – self-taught players who never bothered with some allegedly important fundamentals. And

B) I started playing in 1982 and in tens of thousands of tournament and blitz games since, I don’t recall EVER having to mate with B+N. EVER. So even if it arises once or twice before I kick the bucket, would it be worth the time investment to study?


7 thoughts on “B+N (a minor endgame question)

  1. If they are going to invest the time/effort, I’d hope people would study B+N more as a training exercise in efficient piece maneuvering than anything else. The ending is (as you can tell from your experience) of limited practical value.

    I’ve looked at it a couple times. There was a decent Chess Life article on the ending sometime back in the 80’s or 90’s. It’s not complex. You force the king to the edge, then you push the king towards the corner where the bishop checks, and then at the very end you have to work out a mate in 3. Doing it all within 50 moves isn’t easy, but my bet is if you moved carefully you could do it without knowing anything other than that the opposing king has to be in the corner where a bishop checks.

    There are likely better exercises to improve piece maneuvering skill…of course, I don’t do those either…

  2. I learned to mate with B+N ages ago. In fact, I’ve probably learned it five times… and forgotten it just as many.

    I know the basic principles, and I’m sure I could do it with 30 minutes on my clock, spending some time to rederive it as I went, but I’m equally sure I couldn’t with just a couple of minutes and a 5-second delay, which is what it would probably come down to in an actual game.

  3. I taught myself the B+N mate about a year ago just because I felt it was something a supposed “expert” should just know.

    I agree with Pete’s first paragraph — it is a good exercise in efficient piece maneuvering and cooperation, even if of limited practical value.

    However, I disagree with Pete’s second paragraph. Without the time I spent practicing the mate, there’s no way I could ever figure out how to execute it over the board. In particular, there is a very counter-intuitive piece of the mate where you must allow the king to temporarily escape from the 8th rank as you are driving it to the “correct” corner. This is the major complexity of the mating sequence and one that is best navigated through practice and not otb.

    Bottom line in my opinion. Minimal practical value, but an interesting exercise that is well worth mastering. Derek: just learn how to do it already. It’s time.

  4. It’s not like it will take you months of study – maybe an hour or two of looking at the patterns involved.

    You don’t want to be *that* player when it does show up (and I think it will at some point – especially now that you’ve highlighted it).

    Just learn it and move on.

  5. LEP – Love it – “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards” (- Tommy Boy)

    I guess I kinda mis-stated this – like dfan, I have gone over it at some point in the distant past, but remember almost nothing. I thought you had to drive the king to the wrong corner first and then work him across the back rank.

    At any rate, fair advice all – of course I wouldn’t have put this card on the table if I weren’t going to run back home and study it again :)

  6. It took me about four hours initially to really get it down. Now I review it periodically. In practice, I have never had to use it, but it sure is nice to know I can (I have seen others go to crazy extremes to make sure they don’t lose pawns because they are faced with N/B v K).

    On the other hand, that is four hours that maybe would have been better spent on something else.

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