Friday, June 16, 2017

Scholar's mate

There exist no shortcuts to play better chess. I can give advise to my students how to make (much) quicker progress but without spending a lot of time at chess, you won't see much improvement. However most players are very lazy and don't like to work hard so very few reach master-hood.

At short term it is of course possible to make some small gains. Many like to play lines of which they hope their opponents will fall into a trap. Books like 1000 Miniature Chess TrapsChess Openings Traps and Zaps101 Chess Opening Traps ... are therefore quite popular among average amateurs. The most known and probably easiest trap is likely scholar's mate which is very effective against absolute beginners. I always advise my son against playing for such easy points at youth-tournaments but he sometimes ignores this when I don't look at his games.

In the long run playing for such traps won't teach you anything. You don't develop your chess-knowledge. Besides the success-rate depends very much of the surprise-element and the strength of the opponent. As a consequence you won't see many experienced players willing to try the scholar's mate. The American top-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura is for a reason considered an outsider as he is the only +2600 player having tried this scholar's mate with rather disappointing results.

It is obviously strange to play for scholar's mate when you know in advance for sure that the opponent won't be fooled. On the other hand I do empathize with the at that time 18 years old Hikara. Fooling around as teenager is something very natural and makes part of growing up. You often only realize years later how arrogant and impudent such choices were.

Besides technically playing for scholar's mate isn't so bad after all. Many gambits are much more dubious. My analyses don't find any advantage for black so it is playable. It is not stupid to use it once as a surprise-weapon to avoid somebodies superior opening-knowledge. The Belgian expert Marc Ghysels proofed this a couple of years ago by making a sensational draw against the German IM Hans-Hubert Sonntag. In the game a variation of the scholar's mate was played with the queen immediately at f3 instead of h5. This has the advantage that black does not get an extra tempo with g6. On the other hand black gets the extra interesting alternative to develop the bishop of the black squares differently. Both lines look playable to me.

Recently this line also occurred in my game of the Belgian interclub when playing the expert David Roos from Zottegem. He told me after the game that he doesn't spend time anymore at studying theory to find some small advantage for white. He chose the scholar's mate because he was pretty sure that I never studied it deeply before.
David at the Flemish championship of 2015
There was a lot of unbelief when I demonstrated in the post-mortem which lines of the scholar's mate I had analysed during my preparation of the game. People often question my work-ethic of preparing a game for several players. However this time nobody could deny that I was right to prepare also against David's teammates. Earlier I wrote in this article about Marc and he is accidentally a teammate of David, playing on top a board higher. In my article openingchoices I wrote for a reason that players of the same club often play the same openings. The intended surprise-element failed and I quickly got the better position.

Although scholar's mate looks objectively ok, it is not an opening easy to play for white. Bringing the queen early into play is a violation of a basic-rule for which a certain price must be paid. If players really want to avoid main-lines then better alternatives exist. I wrote about this in the comments upon my article playing the person. Especially with white it is rather easy to choose something solid like 1.a3. I once lost a game childishly against this move see universal systems.


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