The 4-Move Checkmate (or Scholar’s Mate) is a very common checkmate pattern among beginners. It should not to be confused with the Fool’s Mate (which is the 2-move checkmate).
Bonus: Free Chess Course For Beginners.
4-Move Checkmate Example
Diagram above: Qxf7# is checkmate because the black king can’t move to a safe square. At the same time, the white queen is supported by the bishop on c4. The Scholar’s Mate is often reached by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7#
Important Note on The 4-Move Checkmate
The 4-Move Checkmate pattern is based on the weakness of the f7-square/pawn. Right from the start of the game the f7-square (or f2-square for white) is only defended by the king, which makes this an inviting target to attack, particularly if your opponent is careless with their development. The 4-Move Checkmate is a perfect example of this.
The 4-Move Checkmate Can Happen to Anyone
According to this post on chess.com, the 4-Move Checkmate is the most common finish to a chess game.
Chess corner posted a short game where even Mikhail Tal (who later became world chess champion), succumbed to a variation of the 4-Move Checkmate. He was 9 years old when this happened. The triumphant opponent was his own brother.
Diagram above: This is how Mikhail Tal fell succumbed to the 4-move checkmate (Scholar’s Mate). Clearly the future world champion wasn’t aware of the danger, but he surely learnt his lesson from this game! By the way, the opportunity to play chess often against family-members is a great way for beginners and amateurs to improve their chess!
How to Defend Against the 4-Move Checkmate
It’s pretty embarrassing to get checkmated in just 4 moves. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid the 4-Move Checkmate if you know what to do. The first step is to recognize the danger at the right moment.
Diagram above: This position was reached after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4. This is a critical position for black because white is threatening Qxf7#.
If black is aware of the danger, then it’s not too difficult to find a move that will counter white’s idea.
Diagram above: The simplest way to prevent the 4-Move Checkmate here, is to play 3… Qe7. This move is very effective because it instantly defends the pawn on e5 and also prevents the checkmate by supporting the f7-pawn. Alternatively, instead of 3… Qe7, you could also play 3… g6 4.Qf3 Nf6.
Once you know how to defend against the 4-Move Checkmate, you shouldn’t fear it. In fact, due to her high value, she is vulnerable to tactics and it’s not a good idea for the queen to remain so exposed.
4-Move Checkmate Other Names
In many countries and languages, the 4-move checkmate is known by another name. These include: Scholar’s Mate, Shepherd’s Mate, Children’s Mate, Barber’s Mate, Napoleon’s Plan, Shoemaker’s Mate and School Mate.