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A quaint question I had lately: what is the earliest known appearance of the “Fool’s Mate”? I refer to both the name and the move sequence.

A quick search with Google Books revealed a reference dated to 1672 in The famous game of chesse-play by Arthur Saul and John Barbier.

Here is an image of the relevant text portion.

Screenshot of facsimile reproduction of book

Transcript:

Of a Mate to bee given at two Draughts.

CHAP. XX.

Meeting with an eaſie Gameſter, thou mightſt likewiſe give him a Mate at two draughts, if he ſhould chance to play thus: Firſt, to remove his Kings Biſhops Pawne, a ſingle draught (which I told thee before, was ill to play for the firſt draught) thou thy Kings Pawne, a ſingle remove: he for his ſecond draught, his Kings knights pawn, advanced a double remove: thou bringing forth thy Queene, into the Fifth Houſe of thy Kings Rooks file, giveſt him Mate at thy ſecond draught: which Mate for him that hath it given him, may well (if the ſchollers Mate, be cal’d the peſants Mate) be termed the fools Mate.

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  • 4
    Just a related tidbit: The shepherd's mate (that's the same as scholar/peasant, right?!) is an important plot point already in one chivalric romances, which were hip centuries earlier. (Don't recall the exact source, though.) Obviously, in both cases we can set a lower limit to the date the queen was upgraded. Mar 21, 2021 at 8:03

4 Answers 4

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In reference @Rewan Demontay's answer, I know that Augustus, Duke of Brunswick published Das Schach- oder Königsspiel under the pseudonym Gustavus Selenus in 1616. I can't confirm that this work actually mentions Fool's Mate (I don't speak German, and I can't find the full text in online references) or that there is no earlier reference.

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  • in Antonius van der Linde's book "DAS SCHACHSPIEL DES XVI. JAHRHUNDERTS:" I find a reference to Arthur Saul's book on chess from 1617, in which the Fools Mate is mentioned as one of several mates with their own names, some of which are praisworthy, and other are shameful. Selenus is mentioned as an older source. The term seems fairly well established, so this may suggest that there may be further material to be found in still older Italian sources.
    – user30536
    May 13, 2023 at 18:04
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By a stroke of luck, Tim Krabbe mentioned an earlier occurrence on his site. It is in his AD Magazine issue #135 entitled "LOYDS MOOISTE VERGISSING,", meaning "LOYDS MOST BEAUTIFUL MISTAKE."

In Dutch: "Wit en Zwart helpen elkaar daarin om tot een mat te komen, zoals in het snelst mogelijke mat vanuit de beginstelling, het Narrenmat (1.f3 e5 2.g4 Dh4 mat). Al in 1616 noemde Gustavus Selenus dit mat, dat in een normale partij nauwelijks kan voorkomen."

In English, this means " White and Black help each other to arrive at a mate, as in the fastest possible mate from the starting position, the Jester mat ( 1.f3 e5 2.g4 Dh4 mate). Gustavus Selenus called this mat as early as 1616, which can hardly occur in a normal game."

Now we have a reference to 1616 and the name Gustavus Selenus, although I am unable to trace it.

Addendum 11/8/2021: In an earlier comment, @Hauke Reddmann issued a Google Books link to "Schachkompositionen: Die besten Aufgaben und Komponisten der Schachgeschichte. Mit über 500 Rätseln und Lösungen". On page 25 information is given that makes the book an additional source.

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The names and the moves of both Fool's Mate and Scholar's Mate appear in Francis Beale, The Royall Game of Chesse-Play (1656). Aside from these two, the book contains games of Greco from a manuscript now lost.

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Not an answer, but too long for a comment:

Bingo! Just found the reference in Werner Lauterbach "Faszinierendes Unsterbliches Spiel": It's related to the Arthur cycle, named "Auf der Suche nach der Fee Floribelle", has a chess-related plot, and googling that I found this: German link. This explicitely mentions the Shepherds mate (Schäfermatt). (Note this is not the Fools Mate, but 4.Qxf7!)

But, but, but: (I spare you the details) This note also claims most probably the "medieval source" is a fake and Wieland, who "reported" it, did a great imitation himself, thus locating the work ~1800.

Sorry my super-memory mislead you.

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  • Er so, what are you saying? Might be my wake up brain, but I am not understanding what you are trying to convey with this new answer. May 13, 2023 at 21:30
  • It's explicitely a non-answer, see disclaimer :-) (I.e. before I got the new info, I thought I had a source for an answer, now I know I haven't, and the other stuff I dug up is totally unrelated to the source.) May 14, 2023 at 7:27

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