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The definition of the back rank mate is:

A Back-Rank Mate is a checkmate delivered by a rook or queen along the back rank in which the mated king is unable to move up the board because the king is blocked by friendly pieces (usually pawns) on the second rank.

For example white to move in this position

 [fen "6k1/5pp1/8/8/8/3B4/5PPP/4R1K1 w - - 0 1"] 

King can't escape second rank, is this back rank mate?

What about this:

[fen "6k1/5bpp/8/8/2Q5/8/5PPP/4R1K1 w - - 0 1"]

What about this interesting black to move situation (its mate), is there a name for this mate?

[fen "6kr/5ppp/7N/2B5/8/6R1/8/1K6 w - - 0 1"]
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    According to the definition you've quoted, clearly not! Since there aren't friendly pieces blocking the king's escape to the 7th rank (g7,f7), but it's another enemy rook cutting off the 7th rank. – Phonon Aug 6 at 8:38
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    I don't know about should, but as I said according your provided definition the first one doesn't seem to qualify whereas your 2nd example (that you newly edited) is a proper back-rank mate as own pieces are blocking the king's path to 7th rank. – Phonon Aug 6 at 10:30
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    Please try not to change the question so many times while removing and adding new and completely different positions. In the first place try not to post hastily and take your time in formulating what you really mean to ask. My earlier comments were in regard to your original position which you have no removed. – Phonon Aug 6 at 11:09
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    Well, there are no clear-cut definitions on these things, so different authors may disagree, mainly because it's not that relevant after all! – David Aug 6 at 11:52
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    Informal distinction: a back-rank mate is an embarrassing mate, sort of like being killed by friendly fire. On the other hand, if it takes the coordinated work of two or more pieces (one to deliver the mate, others to cut off your escape), that is merely unfortunate. – John Coleman Aug 6 at 12:01
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First ask yourself why the differentiation of a 'back-rank mate' is meaningful.

Generalized patterns that we call 'tactics' have names because it helps us to learn from them and respond to them. For example, I personally find the distinction between 'pin' and 'skewer' meaningful because it helps to separate the concepts of attacking 'through' either a less valuable enemy piece or a more valuable enemy piece. Likewise, understanding that pins with enemy kings on the other side are 'hard', and pins with enemy knights on the other side are 'soft' helps to make you wary of 'desperado' attacks that might help break your pin.

Really a back-rank mate could be seen as just a partially smothered mate. But it's important to see the distinction because of how common it is, so you can be aware of preparing for it. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that at the start of the game, your king only has 6 possible moves (being on the 1st rank), of which 3 are taken up by pawns, leaving you with just 2 open squares if your other pieces have developed already. Even after you castle, your king can remain vulnerable because it has only 2 squares of freedom, and both of those are on the same rank - meaning 3 of the opponent's pieces can checkmate your king with no support!

So, is it helpful to consider your examples above 'back rank mates'? I would argue yes. To me, being wary of back rank mates simply means I need to make sure my king has an 'escape path' when necessary; it is not so critical for me to say "back-rank pawn only" mate vs "back-rank my pieces only" mate vs "back-rank-2-of-my-pawns-and-by-the-way-a-bishop-is-attacking-h7" mate. In all 3 of those 'back-rank sub-types', I have failed to provide my king with enough mobility to avoid a common mating pattern.

Edit to consider your new example of mate with a knight, on the back rank. I would say that is not a 'back rank mate', because it does not involve an attack along the back rank, by the queen or a rook. Without that key element, the mating pattern is simply very different.

  • to be back rank mate, king has to be edge of the board, that is three of escape squares are cut off by the edge, the opposite escape squares are either blocked by friendly pieces or supposedly cut off by opponent attacks. – eguneys Aug 6 at 17:54
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    @eguneys Well it's all relative - for example, a white king on A1, with black rooks on H1 and G2, I would say is probably not a 'back rank mate', in the common understanding. To me, the term implies that the mate only happened because of lack of planning for king safety, so probably if there wasn't a couple of your own pieces blocking your escape, I wouldn't call it a back rank mate. To me, that is the element that is valuable to keep in mind. – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Aug 6 at 19:11
  • A bishop attacks two protected pawns simultaneously, or attacks two unprotected poisoned pawns, or a poisoned queen, where it leads to getting mated. Are these considered to be fork tactics? – eguneys Aug 6 at 23:27
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    @eguneys You should bring up new questions as new questions, if you have them - this site is not a discussion board, and is not well-suited to 'conversational' back-and-forth. – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Aug 7 at 12:48

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