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The "Sneaky Scholar's Mate" and How to Stop It

Lesson from the December Knights Quest

By Jeff Caveney

Many beginning chess players lose a game to Scholar's Mate in their first or second tournament, and then learn how to stop it. But at the December Knights Quest tournament, I saw a game in the Under 600 section where one player found a way to keep trying to get Scholar's Mate even after his opponent stopped it in the first 4 moves. I want to share this example with Renaissance Knights players, parents, and readers, so everyone can learn how to defend against this trick too.


The game began 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Bc5 3.Bc4. With the good move Nf3, you think White doesn't have to worry about Black playing for Scholar's Mate! 


But Black found a sneaky way to try. He played 3...g5. The idea is to play the pawn to g4 next to attack the knight on f3, make it move, then play the Black queen to f6 or h4 to go for Scholar's Mate with Qxf2.


White did not realize Black's plan, and made a developing move that is usually good, but doesn't defend against Scholar's Mate: 4.Nc3 g4 5.Nxe5 Qh4.


Here White did see the threat of Qxf2 Scholar's Mate, and played 6.g3. But Black still did not give up on Scholar's Mate, and played 6...Qh3.


White made another developing move that is usually good but doesn't defend against Scholar's Mate: 7.d3.


Now Black played 7...Qg2 threatening Qxf2 Scholar's Mate and also threatening to capture the unprotected rook on h1.


White tried to run away with his king and protect his rook with his queen: he played 8.Ke2. Unfortunately for him, now 8...Qxf2 was still checkmate because White's pawn on d3 and queen on d1 block his king's escape.


This is a good learning experience for everyone to pay attention to. White was not a bad player, he is a good player who has won trophies in the Under 600 section before. He just didn't know how to defend against this sneaky version of Scholar's Mate. Let's take a look at what White should play instead to defend himself and stop this trick:


First, right away after 3...g5, White can simply castle! 4.O-O is an excellent move. Now the rook on f1 is defending the pawn on f2, and there will be no Scholar's Mate. Black cannot threaten checkmate on h2 so quickly or easily, and if he tries with moves like 4...g4 5.Nxe5 Bd6 6.Nxf7 Qh4, White can defend safely and easily with 7.g3. So, this is yet another good reason to castle early in the game!


Next, after 4.Nc3 g4 5.Nxe5 Qh4, White can play 6.d4 to block the Black bishop from f2. With no bishop protection, there is no Scholar's Mate by the queen. Now White has both center pawns, both knights, and a bishop developed, while Black's bishop has to move away from the pawn attack and the Black queen has no support from other pieces. White has excellent chances to win the game now, and Black is in big trouble. This idea of pawn to d4 to block the bishop on c5 is also a good idea to know for many different situations in the opening -- as long as you have enough protection for the d4 square, which White does here: If the Black bishop takes the pawn, the White queen takes the bishop back safely.


Finally, after 6.g3 Qh3 7.d3 Qg2, this is White's last chance to defend. White needs to play 8.Rf1 to stop the checkmate on f2 and save his rook at the same time. It's too bad that White can't castle on the kingside now, but he can still develop his queenside pieces and then castle on the queenside to be safer. This is not quite as good as the first two ways to defend, but it is still a good position for White, and remember: Any position is better than getting checkmated!


You may wonder what happens if White tries this trick against Black. Let's take a look:


1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qf3 Nf6 4.g4.


Once again, castling is the best defense! 4...O-O. After 5.g5, Black's knight has to retreat with 5...Ne8, but he is safe because his castled rook on f8 defends f7.


Another example is 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.g4 Bc5 4.g5 Nxe4 5.Qf3. Now castling is not a good defense because the White queen can take the unprotected Black knight on e4. Black could play 5...Nxg5, which defends f7 for the moment and attacks the White queen too. But I prefer to push the d-pawn into the center to block the White bishop: 5...d5. Now White only has one little trick: 6.Bxd5 Qxd5 7.d3 and Black has to watch out for the pin: Don't play 7...Nxf2 and lose your queen to 8.Qxd5! As long as Black doesn't lose his queen like this, he will be ok. There may be some wild and crazy back-and-forth piece captures for the next few moves, but Black won't have a bad position as long as he or she keeps the queen or trades it for the White queen. For example 7...Bxf2+ 8.Ke2 Bxg1 9.dxe4 Qc4+! and next move Black can retreat the bishop on g1 to safety and have an extra bishop. Add extra protection to f7 on the move after that with castling or Be6, and Black will have a great position and White will be in big trouble.


The good part is, once you learn these ways to defend yourself, you will start winning all the games against the players who try tricks like pawn to g4 or g5, because you will get to the positions where THEY, not you, are in big trouble. You will more than make up for the one or two games you lost to a sneaky Scholar's Mate the first one or two times somebody tried it against you.


I wish everyone the best of luck that plays chess the right way and develops their pieces and learns how to stop all the Scholar's Mate tricks and punishes their sneaky opponents who try them!


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