Who's Afraid of the Four-Move Checkmate?

Who's Afraid of the Four-Move Checkmate?

Mar 14, 2016, 9:09 PM |

Hi There!
Every beginning chess player goes through a phase when they try to checkmate their opponents as quickly as possible, using the Scholar's Mate Attack (also known as the "Four-Move Checkmate"). A kid who knows how to do this has a huge advantage over a kid who does not know it; so it is important for your students to be able to defend against this method. So, this lesson actually consists of two parts:

1) How to try for a four-move checkmate.

2) How to defend against the four-move checkmate, and why it is bad to try for it in the first place! If you look at the starting position:


You might be able to see that the square f7, which is right next to the king and only defended by the king, is the most vulnerable point. Countless games have been won (or lost, depending on your point of view) due to the weakness of f7. Once Black castles, this weakness goes away, but in the first few moves of the game, you need to be careful!

So the Scholar's Mate Attack is a way of attacking f7 as quickly as possible. The two pieces which can attack it the quickest are the queen and the bishop from f1. So, the basic plan of the Scholar's Mate is 1) Moving the e-pawn 2) Bringing out the bishop to c4 3) Bringing the queen to f3 or h5 4) Taking the f7 pawn with the queen and checkmating Black. Steps 2 and three could also be reversed (the queen could come out first).

In a game, it will look something like this:

What a success for the four-move checkmate! A win in only four moves!

But not all that glitters is gold...if Black knows how to stop the checkmate, White's pieces will be driven back and he will end up in the worse position. Good players never try for the four move checkmate, other than as a joke.

How does Black defend? There is almost an infinite number of ways. But let's allow White to get to the point where he is almost checkmating Black, and see how Black defends.
The way to teach the Four-Move Checkmate is first to demonstrate how it is done. Usually this can take the form of a game against the kid. Then you can let them try to checkmate you, and you play along (allow them to succeed). But then you can explain to them that it does not always work, and show the above game. Ask them, "why did White get in so much trouble?" They will see that White did nothing but move his queen over and over again.

After they have learned this, play several games against them in which you try to checkmate them in four moves, to check that they know how to stop the attack.

Basically the Four-Move Checkmate is an elaborate trap. But like many traps, if the opponent does not fall for it, it will backfire on the one trying it. It is important to always expect your opponents to play the best moves!