Four-Move Checkmate: How to Stop It

Four-Move Checkmate is an Initiation

Four-Move CheckmateWhen chess players find out someone is new to the game, they try to beat them as fast as possible. Scholar’s Mate (the “four-move checkmate”) is a big part of that.

Be that as it may, if someone tells you they’re so gifted they’ve never lost a chess game within ten moves, don’t believe them.

The target of four-move checkmate attempts is the f7-square:

This is the only square in the starting position that is protected by only the king. One defender…if white can hit f7 with two attackers, it might be checkmate. Many new players don’t know how to deal with this assault.

Please note: Since white moves first, tricks against f2 are much easier to prevent. The “extra” move so early in the game is crucial to avoiding immediate danger.


How Scholar’s Mate Works

The two attacking pieces white can quickly bring out to attack f7 are the queen and light-squared bishop, like this:

The white queen will capture on f7, and the white bishop on c4 will protect her from recapture by the black king. Checkmate!

It could happen something like this:

Or this:

Look at the second mini-game. Black moved the knight to f6 to deal with the queen, but it was too late. The key to stopping white’s silliness is to get the knight to f6 before the white queen reaches h5.

You can do this right away if white brings out the bishop first:

Now, if white plays 3.Qh5, the Nf6 can capture her majesty.


What if the Queen goes first?

A common way to cause confusion is to lead with the queen first:

The important thing to remember here: White is not yet threatening mate on f7!

The white queen is one attacker, matched by the black king, one defender. Everything is still okay there.

The real threat is to the e5-pawn:

Many players just hope to scare you so they can steal a center pawn! Surprisingly, I recall a kid with a USCF rating of over 1200 losing his e5-pawn at Nationals this way!

White hopes to win a rook, too, like this:

A classmate in middle school loved to spring this one!


No More Four-Move Checkmate! A Foolproof Recipe

There are a few ways to stop these ideas, but I’ll give you the simplest one, which is just as good as others:

Now black covers the e5-pawn AND the f7-square!

Even if white brings out the bishop as a second attacker against f7, black already has two defenders, king and queen. White’s stunts go nowhere, and next move the queen gets chased away:

Black is doing just fine. Just keep bringing out the pieces and castle.

By the way, white should not insist on capturing the f7-pawn:

Black has won a bishop for only a pawn, and is in no danger. In fact, the second player will win from here if both sides play their best moves.

Once you get comfortable with the material here, smile if someone tries the four-move checkmate against you!

Author: Andre Harding

Since 2003 I've taught chess to thousands of students in public, private, and charter schools in the New York City area, and have given countless private lessons. I also direct USCF- and FIDE-rated chess tournaments.

6 thoughts on “Four-Move Checkmate: How to Stop It”

    1. I used to recommend this also, but I found that many young players are not comfortable with a kingside fianchetto. Of course, some of them would also forget to play 2…Nc6 before 3…g6!

  1. The Scholars Mate is usually tried only against beginners. However it is possible to pull it off against an advanced player if you mask it well and your opponent falls asleep. I know because I did it against a player much better than myself. It took me about 15 moves but I was able to shock the daylights out of him. Given my experience, I find myself wondering if a grandmaster has ever been victimized that way

    1. I think an “advanced” player would REALLY have to fall asleep to allow Scholar’s Mate! The main difficulty to landing this mate against an experienced player is that they are likely to castle early, which pretty much removes the possibility.

      1. You are right that pulling it off against an advanced player is highly unlikely, especially with an early castle. However, the reality is that chess players at all levels do fall asleep (even grandmasters). the reason why it might work against an advanced player is that the possibility seems so remote that he doesn’t even think about it. It certainly would require some skillful masking, and also for the victim to fall asleep. However the fact that I pulled it off against someone much better than myself indicates that such a thing is possible.

        1. Lightning does strike! But I would recommend playing good chess with sound strategies…that will give you better chances of victory, even against a strong opponent 🙂

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