Checkmate – Its Origins and Meaning

Checkmate is a popular word across various countries, and across different languages – in large part to the game of chess. But few people know its significance and the true meaning behind it.

The world ‘checkmate’ originates from Old French. This ancestor of modern day French was used until the 1400s. The term is actually made up of two distinct words – ‘eschec’ and ‘mat’. These are in turn derived from the Arabic phrase ‘Shah Mat’ which means ‘the king is dead’. There are some chess players who dispense with the word ‘checkmate’ altogether, choosing to rather use the original phrase ‘Shah Mat’.images-47

‘Checkmate’ – like many words in the English language – has undergone a shortening. ‘Mate’ is now used as a more casual abbreviated form for the same expression.

Having looked at the definition and etymology of the term, let us look at the meaning of the word. Checkmate refers to a position in a game of chess, whereby a player’s king piece is put in ‘check’ – meaning he has to move or will be captured. The player can eliminate the ‘check’ either by blocking the attack with another piece or moving the king piece out of the attack itself. If there are no moves to make then the king cannot move out of harm’s way and it follows that it is checkmate – that the king is dead. Checkmate does not mean that the player creating the checkmate can ‘capture’ the king piece (as is the case when attacking the other piece): the game is simply over.

Another related and important term to understand is ‘stalemate’. Stalemate refers to the situation where one player has no possible moves to make without being put in check or checkmate. The situation cannot change, so the game ends right there and then. The player who puts the other in stalemate is the winner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *