The scholar’s mate is a commonly attempted 4 move checkmate trap for white that you’ll encounter mainly at the beginning and intermediate levels.
My first chess teacher who happened to be a grandmaster said that a GM from Hungary once lost to scholars mate in the 1900’s, but it could be a false memory as I can’t seem to find any record of such a game.
At master level, the sequence is not considered the most accurate play as it can be repelled and lead to an awkward position for white. It’s a useful trick for faster paced games for beginners to try to get a quick win, but by no means make it your main repertoire. It’s an important pattern to be able to recognize in game to ensure you don’t fall into it. I think that’s true of many traps in chess as you can only really learn to deal with those through experience (in terms of recognizing the threats) and a working knowledge of what the ideas are.
How to scholar’s mate
View the player below to see how the scholar’s mate works. It targets the f7 pawn, which if captured by the queen leads to checkmate as there are no escape squares for the king. It does require black to blunder (make a big error) in order to be successful. Moving the queen to h5 can make it hard to visualize defense and lead to confusion for less experienced players. In the example the knight is erroneously developed, but could give the impression the position is safe to the untrained eye.
An alternate move for the white scholar could be Queen to f3 instead of h5 but it does block the knight from developing to that square (developing a piece means moving it off the back rank into play in a more effective position).
Plus this can be defended easily with the natural looking knight to f6 (which did not work in the previous example.
How to defend with black
Black either needs to add another defender to the f7 pawn, or block the line of sight of either the queen or bishop.
Playing pawn to g6 to kick the queen away works well because it’s solid and creates a nice outpost for the bishop to slide into- called a fianchetto.
Alternate responses could be
- develop their own queen either to e7 with ideas of attacking white’s queen with knight to f6
- putting the queen itself on f6 and aiming to follow up with bishop to c5 on the counter attack.
- These ideas can lead to very sharp positions with a lot of shots fired at the two queens.