Day 24: Fool’s Mate – And No, I Don’t Mean My Wife

originally published January 24, 2012

Many of you probably looked at the animated gif that represents today’s topic and thought, “Oh. It’s about chess. I’ll check back tomorrow and see if he’s writing about another wacked-out cult/church/school/type of folding chair.” I don’t blame you. I don’t play chess. I know how to move the little horsey within the confines of the game’s rules, but I don’t know how to out-strategize my opponent. I could try to fake it, but once you refer to “the little horsey”, no one is going to take chess advice from you.

I came across this little move: the Fool’s mate. The idea behind this is, if you play against someone as clueless about the nuances of the game as I, and they happen to start their game in just the right manner of carelessness, you can win the game in two moves.

Two stinking moves. This is why I’m scared to play chess against someone who knows the game. I’ll end up doing this.

I tend to rely on the Oops-I-Fell-Onto-The-Board gambit.

I’ll try to explain. This is a standard chess board, before the blood has started spilling:

Chessboard with chess figures and marking, vector illustration.

The little puffy-hat guy in the E1 box is my king. He gets knocked off, I lose and am forced to spend my life instead pursuing mastery of Jenga. Let’s say I start off with an opening move, shoving the pawn above the bishop (in the F2 square) forward. My opponent moves the pawn in front of his king (E7) two spaces. “AHA!” I exclaim, remembering that a pawn’s first move can be two spaces. I decide to launch my attack from the right. I move the next pawn over (the one in G2) up two spaces.

My opponent’s next move glides his queen (who can move pretty much anywhere that isn’t blocked) in a diagonal to the edge of the board, landing in H4. Here’s what the board looks like:

That is what checkmate in two moves looks like. My king can only move closer to the queen’s wrath, and none of my other pieces can throw a protective block. That is what they call ‘Fool’s Mate’, because if you can pull it off, you are playing a fool. Not only will that fool most likely immediately give up chess, but should you point out the name of the quick-win manoeuvre you just pulled off, he may strike you. That’s a different game altogether.

It’s the name of the move that really intrigues me. Chess may be too monstrously dull for television, but the creativity in some of their terminology can’t be denied.

A Prophylaxis sounds like something players should wear to ensure that no one becomes pregnant throughout the course of the game. Actually, it’s a move (really called a ‘prophylactic move’, I swear) that stops your opponent from taking action in a certain area of the board (its groin, I assume).

Chess Blindness sounds like something that would occur after you gloat about having bested your opponent with a Fool’s Mate, only to have them come at you with a castle, gouging out your eyes. Actually, it’s simply the act of missing a painfully obvious good move, or a stupidly blatant danger by the other player.

The Kotov Syndrome is not a psychological condition in which you feel incessantly compelled to remove your jacket (“Kotov”… “Coat-off”… anyone?). This is a scenario where a player will analyze numerous situations, looking all pensive and such, only to make a spontaneous move that they haven’t analyzed at all. Usually this move is a blunder.

If you say “I’ve made a huge mistake” immediately afterward, that’s known as the GOB Bluth Syndrome.

A Hippogonal move has nothing to do with hippos, hungry-hungry or otherwise. It refers to the way a knight moves – that’s the little horsey piece. See? I know some of this stuff. You move the piece two squares in one direction and one in another, leaping over anything in the way. It’s the only chess piece that moves hippogonally, unless you count the camel from Fairy Chess, which moves three-and-one. What is Fairy Chess, you ask? Please don’t – I’m running out of room.

The Tarrasch Rule is named for this hilarious specimen:

I don’t fully understand this rule. It has to do with rooks (that’s the castle-y things, also called castles) being placed behind passed pawns. Speaking of which…

Passed Pawns are not, as you may have surmised, chess pieces that have witnessed the entirety of someone’s digestive tract. They’re simply pawns with a clear, bad-guy-pawn-less view of the other end of the board. Why rooks should be placed behind them I don’t understand. Maybe I need to pull the arms off my glasses and buy some moustache wax… I mean come on! In which twisted era did that guy not look dweebish?

Alekhine’s Gun sounds like an effort to make chess way more action-packed than it really is. It’s actually just a move some guy pulled in 1930, stacking his two rooks above his queen in a formation that looks nothing at all like a gun.

The Elephant Gambit is an opening counter-attack which sacrifices a pawn in hopes of some exquisite retaliation, like your opponent choking on some Cheez-Its or something. Actually, that might be the lesser-used Nabisco Gambit.

A Fried Liver Attack is an opening sequence of moves that sacrifices a knight in order to make an aggressive play on the other king. Also, you throw liver in your opponent’s face, hoping either to confuse him or give him a crippling case of Chess Blindness, prompting a forfeit.

A Smothered Mate is either when your opponent’s king is enclosed by his own pieces and your knight is ready to leap in for the checkmate, or it’s when you give up and asphyxiate your opponent with a pillow because dammit, you hate playing chess.

Lastly there’s Permanent Brain, which is simply the act of perpetually thinking about the game during your opponent’s move. This seems like a rather arbitrary thing to assign a name to. It’s just… thinking. Thinking should be called ‘thinking’, it doesn’t need a cute (and let’s face it, illogically bizarre) nickname.

Chess is a game for strategic minds, people who can wrap their heads around dozens of theoretical future moves. I am not one of those minds, and should probably avoid accepting any taunting challenges from anyone who’s familiar with any of these terms. Not that I’m scared or anything.

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