Checkmate was written at the request of the Sadler's Wells Ballet for their visit to Paris in 1937. Bliss chose the game of Chess as the subject for his ballet and wrote his own scenario. It was choreographed by Dame Ninette de Valois who knew nothing about chess so Bliss had to explain the rules and show the characteristic moves of the pieces. In the original castlist it is interesting to note such names as Frederick Ashton, Robert Helpmann and Margot Fonteyn. The conductor was Constant Lambert.
The mood of the ballet is set by its sombre Prelude. As the curtain rises we see two players sitting motionless on a raised dais with a chessboard between them. The Golden Player removes his visor disclosing the features of Love. The Black Player slowly strips his gauntlet disclosing the skeleton arm of Death. They turn the board three times to see who makes the first move; Love wins and raises a red pawn to his heart. The lights dim and the curtains slowly close.