Here is another mate-in-one of my own i.e. a not quite usual one...

    [title "Mate in one"]
    [FEN "3b4/R3P3/2kPR1n1/P1p1n3/4K1p1/2Nr4/5p2/1b6 w KQkq - 0 1"] 

Imagine, you walk into a chess club, an abandoned chessboard hangs out on a table. You take a look at the position. You don't know where white or black is, who to play, yet one thing is certain: there is checkmate in one move...

  • 3
    Nice, very original :-) Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 10:45
  • 2
    Enjoyed it! Very ingenious. Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 12:43
  • 1
    @RemcoGerlich and James. Tks ! Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 15:12

5 Answers 5


There are two checkmates per orientation:

    [title "Mate in one"]
    [FEN "3b4/R3P3/2kPR1n1/P1p1n3/4K1p1/2Nr4/5p2/1b6 w KQkq - 0 1"] 

1. exd8=N#


    [title "Mate in one"]
    [FEN "3b4/R3P3/2kPR1n1/P1p1n3/4K1p1/2Nr4/5p2/1b6 b KQkq - 0 1"] 

1... Rxc3#


    [title "Mate in one"]
    [FEN "6b1/2p5/4rN2/1p1K4/3n1p1P/1n1RPk2/3P3R/4b3 b KQkq - 0 1"] 



    [title "Mate in one"]
    [FEN "6b1/2p5/4rN2/1p1K4/3n1p1P/1n1RPk2/3P3R/4b3 w KQkq - 0 1"] 

1. e4#
  • 2
    Thank you for the boards! Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 18:05
  • Also e8=B# or e8=Q# as well as exd8=N#?
    – studog
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 21:30

It looks like

e7xd8=N (by White)

is checkmate, but so is

Rd3xc3 (by Black)

So perhaps there's more to this puzzle than meets the eye ...

  • 3
    Nearly... two more left... Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 18:06

That's a nice archaeological find. However, I'm not so sure there is in fact a checkmate in just one "move". Of course, there is a (unique!) checkmate for both colors in all orientations considered by @Brian Towers, which makes this a very nice problem indeed. But what about the other orientations?

You may protest that there's a rule that the bottom right corner must be a light square, but I think you're going to have to consult a historian to determine whether this rule was in effect in this particular late 19th century London chess club, and in particular whether the game could have continued without rotating the board if the players noticed their error during the game. You likely also need to consult a medium in order to determine whether one of the players noticed it. So, I think this rule doesn't mean we can exclude other orientations.

You may argue that the other orientations are excluded because there's a pawn on the side of the board. Not quite. First, a pawn can never legally be put on the first rank, so that excludes one orientation (white being to the left of our current view). But this is not true for the eighth rank. Promotion of a pawn is done by first moving the pawn to the promotion square on the eighth rank, and then replacing it with another piece. So, it is possible for a pawn to be on the eighth rank in a legal game. Of course, in the current state of the board the move is not yet completed, but that doesn't matter. We already know that in the other orientations the game was ended before the checkmate (as we still have to make one move), so the same could happen in the middle of the promotion move. I certainly have seen the board being left abandoned in such a state at my own chess club.

It could be possible that we can show the position is unreachable via retrograde analysis, but that seems very difficult, so I'm just going to leave that to others and just say that I don't know how to prove this one way or the other.

Ok. So, let's assume the pawn on the side from our orientation is mid-promotion. Now suppose white wanted to promote into a knight. This is check, but not checkmate, as black can take the knight with the bishop. However, black cannot give mate here while getting out of check at the same time. So, neither player can give checkmate in one move. (technically, I have shown this is not possible in one half-move, but I believe the technical term "Mate in one" is generally understood to refer to one half-move)

In conclusion, I believe I have made a decent argument for why there exists a scenario where this position has been reached from a perfectly legal game (under the rules in this particular chess club), yet there exists no mate in one. Hence, however unlikely my scenario may be, I must conclude that I cannot be certain that there is checkmate in one move.

That said, I don't think my problem hurts the essence of your archaeological find clever composition. As long as the promoted piece can deliver checkmate as well, we can be certain that there is a mate within one move.

I think just placing a pawn between the bishop and the pedantic promotion square would do:

    [title "Mate in one"]
    [FEN "3b4/R3P3/1pkPR1n1/P1p1n3/4K1p1/2Nr4/5p2/1b6 w - - 0 1"] 

I believe this does not change the checkmate moves in the other orientations, or even their uniqueness. It does make the checkmate for white easier to find in the other orientations, but I think the new orientation you get in return is more than worth it. Maybe there are retrograde arguments against this position, I'm not sure.

  • Interesting argument... Why "archeological find" ? tks. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 11:59
  • Or add another useless pawn (for either colour) that would be on row 1 or 8 with the wrong-coloured orientations Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 12:46
  • 1
    @XavierLabouze Well, the 19th century was a while ago. I'd guess that you weren't there personally over 120 years ago, so you somehow learnt about an abandoned chessboard from a long time ago. Perhaps it is more likely that a historian told you. In any case, you made a good puzzle, I just thought it would be even better with a minor alteration. I do admit that the argument for why I think this alteration leads to a better puzzle is rather complicated, and may be of little interest of others. Still, I enjoyed your puzzle, although perhaps in a strange way. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 14:23
  • 1
    @HagenvonEitzen That removes the extra orientations from the puzzle. There are ways to do that without changing the position, such as remarking that you actually saw how the players had their chairs arranged during the game, but did not manage to speak the players, somehow. My goal here was to add the orientation to the puzzle, mostly because I expected more than 2 orientations to be relevant. Perhaps I should design a puzzle myself where multiple orientations are relevant... Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 14:24
  • 2
    @XavierLabouze Yes, I understand that is your intention. However, for my interpretation of your puzzle, it becomes relevant. One of the hardest parts of making a puzzle is often making sure there is only one interpretation that leads to a meaningful solution. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 16:22

If we assume that the players were not bad at chess, then the move before this move, that player had to have something more important to do than checkmate their opponent.

If we take the board orientation as black moving upwards, with the white king at e5 and black rook at (e.g.) a6, then black moves rook to e6, check, white moves king to d5, black moves pawn to c6, mate.

If it was white's turn, for either orientation, there is no move that black would have made on the previous turn besides checkmate. Likewise if black is moving down, white would have mated black on the previous turn.

I think the only solution is black moving up, pawn to c6.

  • Interesting comment. But if White is at the bottom, White to move, black king could have come from d7 with white rook at a6 (e.g.). no Mate in 1 for White. So Ra7+, ...Kc6, exd8=N# Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 17:53

Looks more like black plays rd4++ and mates white.

  • Ke3 or K x R (depends on where is white). Thanks for your answer anyway. Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 17:48

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