We human tend to get obsessed with the superlatives in any field of human activity.
We are constantly trying to determine who is the biggest, the strongest, the most intelligent, the greatest ever, etc..
Heck, our obsession went so far that a separate body was created that publishes an annual book which documents all the unnecessary achievements of the humanity.
Chess players are not an exception. For instance, when we are playing the game, we are searching for the best move; we are willingly entering lengthy discussions about the comparative greatness of Fischer and Kasparov, etc.
However, I would like to focus on answering one particular question that often fascinates the minds of beginners and novice players.
That question regards the least amounts of moves required to checkmate the adversary King right out of the opening.
Therefore, fast checkmates are the main theme of this article. And we are going to start with the fastest of them all - The two move checkmate or the Fool's mate.
The two move checkmate - The Fool's mate
Only the player playing the White pieces can become a victim of the two move checkmate.
Considering that such a checkmate arises only after a terrible play on White's part, this checkmate is also known as the Fool's mate.
An example game featuring the Fool's mate is shown below.
We can observe that there are several conditions that need to be for the Fool's mate to happen:
- White's g pawn has to be on g4, in order not to be able to block the check of the Black Queen.
- White's f pawn has to be on f3 or f4, in order for the e1-h4 diagonal to be clear.
- White's king has to be hemmed in by his own pieces. For instance, if there was no queen or d1 or pawn d2, there would be no checkmate as the king would be able to flee via one of those squares.
Naturally, White's moves with the f and the g pawn are both terrible.
Therefore, it is fully justified to start singing to your opponent in the style of Amy Lee if you ever deliver the Fool's mate over the board.
The three move checkmate - The Fool's mate reversed
Compared to the two move checkmate, that is unique, there are multiple ways of checkmating the enemy king in three moves.
In this part of the article, we will focus on the basic instance, which is basically the Fool's mate reversed.
(Other types of various three move checkmates are covered in a later part of this article)
An example game featuring the three move checkmate is shown below.
Similarities between the two move checkmate and the three move checkmate are quite obvious.
The only main difference is that White has to lose a tempo and wait for Black to weaken himself along the e8-h5 diagonal.
But if you allow yourself to be checkmated in this fashion, you still deserve to be called a Fool!
We have already pointed out that only complete beginners will move their f and g pawns early in the opening.
Considering that there is a very low probability of encountering the Fool's mate over the board, one might wonder if there is any point of getting familiar with it, whatsoever.
Well, if there is one thing one should remember from the example games above, that is the danger of weakening the h4-e1 (h5-e8) diagonal too early in the game.
Whenever you are contemplating about pushing your g and f pawns, you should make sure that your king isn't going to suffer as a consequence.
Because even if punishment doesn't come as quickly as in the Fool's mate, you still might fall into a tactical trap and lose the game relatively quickly.
The following game should illustrate my point.
The four move checkmate - The Scholar's mate
Another fast checkmate that is encountered rather often in the practice is the four move checkmate.
The f7(f2) is generally recognised as the weakest point in the pawn structure in the opening because the King is the only piece defending it.
Four move checkmate occurs when the White Queen, supported by the light squared bishop, checkmates the Black king precisely on the f7 square.
Due to its educational value (this pattern is often used to teach the beginners the basic combination elements) the four move checkmate is also widely known as the Scholar's mate.
An example game featuring the Scholar's mate is given below.
Compared to the Fool's mate, the Scholar's mate is more often encountered in practice. Many beginners are attracted to the idea of a quick win and they try to catch their opponent of the guard with the Parham opening.
And not only beginners. The 2 Qh5!? was tried against arguably the greatest player ever, Garry Kasparov.
Apart from that, a top 10 player Hikaru Nakamura also played the White side of that opening.
These two games, however, demonstrate the drawbacks of the early queen sortie.
Once Black has defended against the immediate threats, he can gain time by harassing the White lady and end up in a superior position.
For this reason, a word of caution is required. Although you might win some games with the help of the Scholar's mate, you are relying on a mistake by your opponent, which is hard an advisable strategy in chess.
Therefore, don't become fixated on the Scholar's mate. Any experienced player will be glad to take advantage of your suboptimal opening play.
A personal note
I would like to conclude this article with two anecdotes connected with fast checkmates.
I have been a victim of a couple of three move checkmates myself. However, as will soon become apparent, it was never my fault (I am pretty good in excuses, aren't I?).
The first instance it happened was a friendly game against a family member, who tried the above-mentioned Parham attack against me:
After this debacle, one would expect that I have learnt the lesson and that I would never fall for something similar.
However, many years after the game above, I was playing in the Split open 2013 tournament.
There I have spent quite some time playing blitz against IM Leon Livaić (who was "only" a 2050 Candidate Master at a time).
However, already then I got crushed in blitz quite badly. Out of desperation, I started playing some nonsense openings and simply hope for the miracle.
Then the following game happened:
" Don't trust International Masters even when they are suggesting the theory."