One of the most common questions asked by chess beginners is, “What is the fastest possible way to checkmate the enemy king?”
The answer to this question, is one that excites most new chess players. It’s possible in chess to win in only two moves, by executing a two move checkmate or “Fool’s Mate”.
The Two Move Checkmate
The two move checkmate generally refers to the position in which Black mates White right out of the opening.
Although there are virtually infinite ways of playing the opening moves, it is somewhat surprising that only a series of specific moves leads to the two move checkmate.
Let’s look at an example game in which the Fool’s Mate occurs.
White typically opens the game with his f pawn:
Black replies by moving his e-pawn. It is important to note that this opens the d8-h4 diagonal for Black queen:
After moving his f-pawn, White moves the g pawn as well:
White's last move has weakened fatally the e1-h4 diagonal. Black is now in position to deliver the mate with his queen:
2... Qd8-h4 mate
We can see that White's king is hemmed by his own pieces and has nowhere to go. Thus, Black has successfully delivered a two move checkmate.
After observing the mating mechanism, we can conclude the following:
- It is not important how many squares White's f pawn or Black's e pawn advance. For instance, White could have played 1 f2-f4 and checkmate would still happen after two moves.
- On the other hand, White's g pawn has to advance two squares in order for checkmate to happen, because by standing on g3 it would block the check of the Black's queen.
- Beginners are often taught to develop the center pawns first. The two move checkmate is one illustration of what can happen if that principle is ignored.
It has to be said that the two move checkmate almost never happens in actual chess games. Only a player totally unfamiliar with chess will allow it.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that the two move checkmate is also known as the Fool's mate.
Variation of the Fool's mate
Considering that the two move checkmate is rarely encountered in practice, the reader might wonder what is the point of studying it.
Well, it is true that the actual mate is not particularly worth remembering. However, the very principle of weakening the e1-h4 diagonal (e8-h5 for Black) which allows the checkmate is much more likely to be met in practice.
Consider for instance the following game played by Gioachino Greco (the 17th century Italian player that discovered many basic attacking principles) in 1625.
1 e2-e4 b7-b6
2 d2-d4 Bc8-Bb7
3 Bf1 – Bd3 f7-f5?
Black's last move has the idea of going after the pawn on g2 and the rook on h1 afterwards. However, it is actually a mistake, because White can ignore the threat to his rook and simply take the pawn:
We can already see that Black has trouble along his e8-h5 diagonal and simply doesn't have time to capture the rook on h1. His king has no escape squares, so he is forced to defend with his g pawn:
6 fxg6 Nf6?
Black attacks the White queen hoping he will gain some time after White moves her. But the queen is not forced to go back, because White can force a checkmate in two moves from the diagram position:
White leaves his queen hanging. Black has to take her:
We can see that Black is a full queen up. But the weakness of the e8-h5 diagonal overweighs his material advantage, because White can simply mate with his bishop:
Apart from this famous game I would like to share a personal experience connected with the Fool's mate.
Once I played some blitz chess against Leon Livaic, who is now Croatia's youngest international master.
The blitz lasted for a couple of hours, and the score was getting progressively worse for me.
In one of the games, Leon used the famous From's gambit against my Bird's opening. After the initial moves:
1 f2-f4 e7-e5!?
2 f4xe5 d7-d6
3 e5xd6 Bf8xd6
4 Ng1-Nf3 g7-g5
The diagram position was reached:
At this point I was slightly hesitant and Leon, sensing my desperation, amicably explained to me that White most often prevents g5-g4 by moving his pawn to h3:
Naturally, you can imagine the look on my face when he took his bishop and landed it on g3:
To paraphrase Homer:
“Don't believe International Masters even when they are suggesting the moves“
With this anecdote from my personal experience, I would like to conclude this article. There are infinite variations of the Fool's mate that can occur on the board, but as long as the principle of not weakening the key diagonal is remembered, there is no point in studying every single one by heart.
Hopefully, after reading this article you will be able to avoid traps connected with the two move checkmate and potentially even deliver one if you ever get the opportunity.
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