Is there anything sweeter than winning a chess game in the first ten moves? Nothing shows your superiority more than finishing a game before it even starts. That leads some players to spend a lot of time learning various opening traps. After all, the easiest way to win a game is to have your opponent fall into a trap and lose instantly.
That said, there are two types of traps, good ones and bad ones. If you set a good trap and your opponent doesn’t fall for it, you are still fine. Your position is normal. With bad traps, if your opponent doesn’t fall for it then you are in a worse position. A bad trap is the equivalent of gambling that your opponent won’t see something.
I don’t recommend you play chess that way. I never go out of my way to set traps, but I do play some openings that have trapish tendencies. That is, if my opponent plays normally, it’s a normal game, but if my opponent makes a misstep then he loses. In what follows are some of my main trap lines, though I can’t possibly list them all. First, though, a warning.
Why You Shouldn’t Play Bad Traps
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4?!
This is the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit. It’s bad, in the sense that White gets a great game … as long as he doesn’t fall for 4.Nxe5?, which loses immediately to Qg5! Many beginners have lost to the following trap.
If White avoids this, though, he gets a great game. I managed to do this. Note: at the time, I didn’t even realize I could win the pawn, so I lucked out big time!
4.0-0! Nxf3 5.Qxf3 Qf6 6.Qg3 d6 7.Nc3 c6 8.f4 exf4?!
I’ve gained a big lead in development, and now Black gets greedy and tries to win some pawns. That doesn’t go well for him.
9.d4! Qxd4+ 10.Kh1 Nh6 11.Bxf4 Be7 12.Bxh6 gxh6 13.Bxf7+
Black’s opening strategy has been a disaster. White wins back his material and Black is in deep trouble. He makes an inaccurate move and loses instantly in fact.
13… Kd8 14.Be6 Bxe6 15.Qxe6 Bg5 16.Rf7 1-0
Black is getting mated. He never recovered after he wasted time in the opening setting his trap. Hopefully everything is clear: don’t set bad opening traps!
Some Good Traps
Cambridge Springs Variation
I won several games with the following Cambridge Springs trap, but my record with this opening when White doesn’t fall for this was very low, which is why I dropped it.
Four Knights Caro-Kann
I’ve won with the following trap FOUR times. Unfortunately, if Black plays 3… Bg4 followed by exchanging and playing e6, the position becomes pretty unfun. If Black doesn’t know that, though, then he can get in trouble playing natural Caro-Kann moves.
Winning a Pawn in the Ruy Lopez
I have several games against 1400-1600 rated players that fall for some variation of the following ‘trap’. When I watch lower-rated players play, I see it fairly often as well. I think Black gets worried that his Knight is pinned and will be hit by d5, but still, losing a pawn this way is pretty basic.
It’s often games like the above where Black things “I lost because I don’t know openings.” Of course, that’s not true. He lost because he blundered. When you play a6, what do you think will happen? Either exd4 or Bd7, two logical moves, and Black is fine.
Bg4 in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted
This is very common amongst those under 1300-rating and have never seen the Queen’s Gambit before.
That was my favourite variation of the attack, and one of the rare times I’ve gotten to sacrifice my Queen. More common, though, is something like the following.
Obviously if Black doesn’t play such useless moves as a6 or h6 then these traps don’t work … but these aren’t really traps. White is playing completely normal moves, and if Black is careless he can fall for some standard tactical motifs.
Danger in the Philidor
Lower-rated players often play the Philidor, often not by some conscious choice but simple lack of opening knowledge. I’ve feasted on the Philidor during my lower-rated days, and the following is probably the best trap in the Philidor.
The Sozin Bishop and Sicilian Move Order
Let’s end up with perhaps the worst opening trap I’ve fallen for (or at least remember falling for!). I liked playing the Dragon Sicilian, or at least liked the idea of playing such a dangerous opening. I never studied it, so I wasn’t very good at it… and then I fell for traps like this.
Notice the tricky move order, which caused me to play an early Nc6, and when I later played g6 without thinking, the trap was sprung. This is an excellent trap, as White makes normal moves and Black may make moves he didn’t mean to. One careless move later and it’s over before it even started.
There are literally hundreds of different traps. Some win a pawn, some win a piece, some win the King. You might object that some of my traps here aren’t very good, as they require the other side to make a bad move … but that’s every trap. A trap, by definition, is your opponent missing your threat. Some traps are more subtle than others, but they all require blindness by your opponent.
Regardless, the point isn’t for you to memorize reams of traps. Notice that I didn’t so much set traps as simply played good moves (except in the game I lost!), natural moves that obeyed the opening principles. If you do that and your opponent doesn’t, you are giving him the rope to hang himself.
Also, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve won less than 5% of all my games from opening traps. It makes no sense to intently study traps when they occur so seldom. They are fun to know and even more fun to play, but spend an appropriate amount of time on them and you’ll be fine.