Some opening moves and pawn advances by one of the players may present the opportunity for a rapid checkmate on his or her King. Generally, once a player recognizes these patterns of advancing pawns and moving pieces it is highly unlikely the player will succumb to a devastating crushing rapid checkmate. Of these introductory six pages, this is my personal favorite. It is of some length and will take a bit of time to read through, but the time will be well-spent I guarantee. The rapid checkmates represent the best examples for congealing into focus many aspects of basic principles, rules, and concepts for playing chess.
Below are three diagrams of rapid checkmates. The first one – the two-move checkmate – is called the Fool’s Mate. It is doubtful that anyone other than a complete beginner has ever fallen into this checkmate, and unlikely anyone who has ever done so does it again. The second – a three-move checkmate – has no particular name, but certainly it is comparable to the Fool’s Mate. The third one is a four-move checkmate called Scholar’s Mate.
Two-Move Checkmate-Fool’s Mate
It is important to learn as rapidly as possible the pattern of the Scholar’s Mate. There are four reasons for doing so.
- First, avoiding checkmate is very easy (and rightly should be in the early part of a chess game) and requires the simple application of basic principles. At the same time, though, it requires a somewhat slightly more broad view of the position on the chessboard because Black and White must think along the converging lines on the chessboard (in this case diagonally along the b4 to f7 diagonal, and vertically in the f file from f3 to f7).
- Second, in easily avoiding checkmate Black may be able to begin a hunt to seize and capture White’s Queen, which may become subject to being harried all around the chessboard by Black’s minor pieces and pawns lessening greatly her effectiveness and severely wounding the player’s game. This provides the theoretical basis for one of the fundamental principles: never bring the Queen out into play early in the game.
- Third, while this type of checkmate is easily avoided, the checkmate highlights the inherent structural weakness of the f7 square and the importance to adequately defend and protect it. This provides one of the bases for a basic defensive principle: King safety…guarding the King against attack; check and checkmate. An important adjunct basic principle to both of these is that the most natural defensive home for a King’s Knight is at the King’s Bishop’s third square (f3 for White’s King’s Knight, and f6 for Black’s King’s Knight. If Black had moved his or her King’s Knight to f6, then White could not have effectuated Scholar’s Mate. This brings into focus the importance of the basic principle of development…getting one’s Bishops and Knights into play on the chessboard (off their home squares), but in an effective position. In the Scholar’s Mate, Black’s development of his or her King’s Bishop to b5 or alternatively development of his or her Queen’s Knight to c6, whichever occurred as Black’s third move, was not effective development. Neither one provided any necessary defense, provided no immediate threat of any kind, and simply opened Black to the four-move checkmate. This was a blunder (represented by the symbol: ??), and in fact a most assuredly deadly blunder.
- Fourth, it exhibits what I advocate is the overriding primary principle in chess: combination…using a player’s pieces and/or pawns together, and including where possible and/or necessary also using structural deficiencies and blocks afforded by the positioning of opposing pieces and/or pawns, to relatively increase the power of the player’s pieces and/or pawns when working together toward reaching the goal of checkmating the opposing King.
In the first diagram, Black was able to checkmate White by making just one pawn advance and one piece move (a total of two moves). In the second diagram, White was able to checkmate Black by making just two pawn advances and one piece move (a total of three moves). In the third, White was able to checkmate with just a pawn advance and three moves by two different pieces (one move by the Bishop, and two moves by the Queen). Many beginners, not knowing the basics, often fall prey to rapid checkmates. Doing so is nothing to be ashamed of when just beginning chess. It shows merely the player has not yet learned basic pattern recognition. The player has not, often because of an eagerness to start “playing chess”, taken the time to learn which moves of pieces and which pawn advances made when playing White or Black will subject the player to a devastating loss. Fortunately, most beginners who do fall prey to rapid checkmates learn not to do so again after the first one. However, some take a few more crushing experiences before the point hits home: Certain combinations of moves in the opening are downright foolishly devastating.
Let us further develop the concept of pattern recognition using the two-move (Fool’s Mate) and comparable three-move rapid checkmates above.
In the two-move rapid checkmate (Fool’s Mate), the sole and exclusive important moves made to reach the checkmate are White advancing his or her two pawns on the Kingside in a manner which opens the black diagonal for the Black Queen to move in and attack the White King (check) which cannot be blocked by White and with White’s King not having any place to move out of check (checkmate). Therefore, this checkmate can occur only if the players make the requisite pawn advances and the piece move necessary to result in the checkmate. However, White does not need to advance his or her King’s Bishop pawn (the pawn in front of the Bishop on the Kingside) two squares vertically forward, but instead could have advanced it only one square and the same result would occur. Similarly, Black did not need to advance his or her King’s pawn two squares, but instead could have advanced the pawn only one square and still opened the black diagonal for the Black Queen to move to the necessary square to effectuate the checkmate.
Additionally, the order of advancing the pawns is not important because simply each player must make the requisite pawn advances opening the black diagonal for Black’s Queen to move in and checkmate White’s King, or else the two-move rapid checkmate (Fool’s Mate) cannot occur. It matters not even the slightest tiny bit how they reach doing so. Therefore, the recognizable pattern for the players’ moves is the key; not simply advancing pawns and moving a piece, or the order in which it is done.
If White either advanced any other pawn or moved one of White’s Knights instead of advancing the King’s pawn two squares, or advanced the King’s Knight pawn one square instead of two, Black simply could not effectuate the two-move checkmate no matter what Black did. If White advanced any other pawn or moved one of White’s Knights, White would have the King’s Knight pawn available to advance one square ahead to block check (and checkmate) on the White King if Black moved in to check with Black’s Queen. Alternatively, if White advanced the King’s Knight pawn one square instead of two squares, White would interpose a block of the black diagonal before Black even moves the Black Queen to the requisite square to check (and checkmate) the Black King, defending and protecting the square to which Black’s Queen would need to move to effectuate the checkmate.
Similar application of pattern recognition for the comarable three-move checkmate yields the same understanding that the Black player must make certain pawn advances and White needs to make one pawn advance, in order to open the white diagonal for White’s Queen to move in and checkmate the Black King. However, the complexities for which a player needs to develop pattern recognition for the three-move checkmate increase. Why? As covered in later tutorials, each player can make a total of twenty (20) possible initial moves when opening a game of chess (16 different pawn advances and four (4) different Knight moves).
Avoiding the above two rapid checkmates analyzed above, and indeed any checkmate, lies in being able to observe and counter recognizable patterns of moves by opposing pieces and advances by opposing pawns that are designed to trap the player’s King. This requires a player in essence to develop an ability to “read the mind of the opposing player,” no easy task to be sure. One may readily see that:
- for the two-move checkmate (Fool’s Mate) White must advance two, and only two, pawns…the King’s Bishop pawn and the King’s Knight pawn, and Black must make one and only one pawn advance…with the King’s pawn, or else Black cannot effectuate the two-move checkmate; and
- for the comparable three-move checkmate, Black must advance two, only two, and the exact same two pawns…the King’s Bishop pawn and the King’s Knight pawn, and White must advance the King’s pawn, or else White cannot effectuate the comparable three-move checkmate.
Neither the order of making the pawn advances, nor whether White advances the King’s Bishop pawn one square or two squares for the two-move checkmate (Fool’s Mate), or whether Black advances the King’s pawn one square or two squares in the comparable three-move checkmate, is important. To prevent either checkmate, a player needs simply to make any other pawn advance or Knight move and the rapid checkmate cannot occur. At the same time, either rapid checkmate also is prevented if the opposing player makes any other pawn advance or Knight move or moves his or her Queen in a manner which does not effectuate or blocks the ability to effectuate the rapid checkmate.
For example, in the comparable three-move checkmate situation if White advanced the King’s pawn two squares vertically forward and followed up with moving the King’s Knight to the square located two rows vertically forward from the King’s Bishop, White has blocked his or her ability to do the three-move checkmate because White blocked White’s Queen from moving along the white diagonal in order to checkmate Black’s King. The same would occur if White advanced the King’s Bishop pawn one square vertically forward, it would block White’s Queen from moving along the white diagonal to the necessary square so as to be able to checkmate Black’s King.
A second example is in the two-move checkmate (Fool’s Mate) situation. If on the second move Black instead moved the Queen to the square in front of Black’s King or the square in front of the King’s Bishop pawn, then Black has simply missed the opportunity to effectuate the rapid two-move checkmate (Fool’s Mate)!
Often beginners and even seasoned players fail to spot a checkmate opportunity, and doing so may have later disastrous consequences. Most aspects of learning chess rightly emphasize a focus on forced checkmate patterns, where the opposing player cannot avoid the checkmate no matter what he or she does.
However, during a chess game an opportunistic checkmate may be presented. This is where a checkmate opportunity becomes open to checkmating the opposing player earlier than otherwise would be expected in a forced mating attack pattern. An opportunistic checkmate is opened by the opposing player making a move unexpectedly (by not paying attention to the position on the chessboard), or more often by being too focused on the opposing player’s own plan of attack especially if the opposing player is into his or her own mating net pattern (seeking a forced checkmate), or because the opposing player is time pressured and does not have sufficient time to adequate assess the position on the chessboard.
Usually, not checkmating when one has an opportunity is not a sound way to play chess for obvious reasons. However, sometimes a better player playing a game against lower level player who errs and makes pawn advances opening up a rapid checkmate situation will not take advantage of it, and intentionally makes pawn advances or moves pieces so as to not checkmate. This is done out of courtesy and to allow the lower level player to play out a more prolonged game and not suffer a quicker defeat. Then after the game, often the better player will take the time to show him or her where he or she went wrong and how he or she could have been checkmated earlier. If one is fortunate to encounter this, be grateful for there are chess players who will take the quick checkmate, say “thanks for the game” and be on their merry way, leaving the checkmated player in frustration, humiliation, and bewilderment. I am not a fan of playing this way, yet each chess player has to develop their own sense of chess etiquette.
Now let’s take pattern recognition one step further using the comparable three-move checkmate example. When a White player has an opportunity for a three-move checkmate, what he or she does on the second move except for blocking the diagonal with the King’s Knight or King’s Bishop pawn, is not important. White could make any of the other available pawn advances or Knight moves available on his or her second move, and still gain the comparable three-move rapid checkmate if Black makes the requisite pawn advances. This principle obviously is not true for Black in the two-move checkmate (Fool’s Mate) situation because Black must make the requisite pawn advance using the King’s pawn in order for Black to have any chance to effectuate checkmate with Black’s Queen move on his or her second move.
Hopefully, the above gives a keen insight into the importance of the role which pattern recognition has to do with winning and losing a game of chess. Developing an astute awareness of pattern recognition is not only important for checking and checkmating, but also the alternative objectives of drawing and stalemating. Pattern recognition is the key basic elemental concept for effectively moving pieces and advancing pawns, whether alone or in combinations, to accomplish a player’s intended goals toward reaching one of the objectives (the ultimate goal), e.g. by creating a threat(simply stated…a challenge on the chessboard to do something to gain an advantage). In studying chess, the importance of keeping focused on the Foundation for Playing Chess: Pattern Recognition, Developing a Plan, and Execution of the Plan, can neither be overstated nor overemphasized.