One of my most popular blogs is The Longest Possible Chess Game and I thought it would be interesting to look at the other end of the scale and consider not only the shortest game possible, but also other kinds of chess shorts.
There are eight variants of the so-called Fool’s Mate, which is the shortest game possible, aside from a resignation on move 1. The idea in a Fool’s Mate is that White’s f-pawn must move, his g-pawn must move to g4, and Black’s e-pawn must move. These three tempos allow Black to mate on only the second move. The eight variants of the Fool's Mate are:
1. f3 e6 2. g4 Qh4#
2. f3 e5 2. g4 Qh4#
3. f4 e6 2. g4 Qh4#
4. f4 e5 2. g4 Qh4#
5. g4 e6 2. f3 Qh4#
6. g4 e6 2. f4 Qh4#
7. g4 e5 2. f3 Qh4#
8. g4 e5 2. f4 Qh4#
Here is an occurrence of version 6 that was actually played over-the-board and is sure to become a darling for collectors of odd games:
While it is possible that the participants deliberately staged this short, here is a real game that occurred in a tournament that took place in Kiel, Germany (where I was once offered a job) in 1893. It is not a Fool’s Mate, but Herr Lindemann probably felt like one.
Just as the Fool’s Mate ends in a loss for White, the Scholar’s Mate is a well-known short defeat for Black, though not the shortest possible.
There are significantly more variants of this type of game than there are of the Fool’s Mate, but I am not enough of a scholar to calculate the exact number.
Not surprisingly, the shortest possible game where Black loses is very similar to the Fool’s Mate. However, it requires an extra tempo for Black's embarrassment to occur, as experienced by Trinks in this 1959 game played in Omaha.
Games such as this leave us with an enlightening insight: If the King wants to get mated by the Queen, all he has to do is expose himself in public.
One of the more interesting discoveries I made while researching this blog was that such humiliating losses can be experienced even among the elite of the game. Here is a master-level game played at the Folkestone Olympiad in 1933 where R. F. Combe lost in 4 moves to W. R. Hasenfuss, whose surname is appropriate to the circumstances, given the swiftness of his win. (His name means ‘Rabbitfoot’ in English.)
To be fair, Combe had just completed a 12-hour game and was probably not thinking as clearly as he normally would be. He later redeemed his honor by becoming the British champion.
There is a class of chess puzzles known as the ‘shortest game problem’, whereby the solution is to discover the fewest number of moves to arrive at a given position.
My favorite involves the following diagram, though there are others similar to it. They were originally posed by William (“the Wizard of Grand Rapids”) Shinkman (1847-1933).
Can you find the 16 moves that lead to this position? The solution is given in an earlier blog of mine called Puzzleicious.