Tricky Traps!

It’s hard to overstate how important Fred Waitzkin’s Searching for Bobby Fischer (the book, not the movie) was in forming my early understanding of the chess world. From it I learned about the mid 1980s scholastic chess scene, the realities of living under Soviet rule, and an abiding respect for the teachings of Bruce Pandolfini. It also introduced me to the idea of the “opening trap.” Waitzkin’s book is haunted by traps – those that the young Josh didn’t know, those that the blitz players in the park sprung on unwary opponents – and I distinctly recall how impressed I was by this. Could it be possible that games could be won simply with an opening trick? My copy of Modern Chess Openings (13th edition!) became my bible, and I dutifully scoured those pages for sure-fire wins… with, alas, very little to show for my effort. Today I know that my juvenile obsession was somewhat misguided. There are, in reality, very few traps that will win games on the spot. Nevertheless, it remains the case that within most major opening systems, there are small tricks or nuances that players must attend to, lest they be set with a serious disadvantage. I helped collect six such ‘tricky traps’ for the infographic (page 12) in the October issue of Chess Life. In this web companion, I give some details on each of the six positions discussed there, and talk a bit about how I came to settle on each of them.
[pgn]

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.09.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Diagram 1"]
[Black "CK 2.Nc3 4...Bf5"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "B11"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pp2pppp/2p5/8/4N3/5N2/PPPP1PPP/R1BQKB1R b KQkq - 0 4"]
[PlyCount "10"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.09.04"]

4... Bf5 $6 5. Ng3 Bg6 (5... Bg4 6. Bc4 $5) 6. h4 h6 7. Ne5 Bh7 $2 (7...
Qd6 8. d4 $16) 8. Qh5 g6 9. Qf3 $18 {1-0 (32) Lasker,E-Mueller,H Zuerich 1934}
*

[/pgn]
The first thing that came to mind was a tricky line in the Caro-Kann that a local chess friend has recently shown me. I will not reveal his identity here, lest I ruin his opening surprise, but this friend has been playing 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 when Black can (and has!) go wrong with 4…Bf5?! 5.Ng3 Bg6 (5...Bg4 6.Bc4!?) 6.h4 h6 7.Ne5 Bh7? (7...Qd6 8.d4 +/-) 8.Qh5 g6 9.Qf3 and White has a significant edge. The most famous game using this variation is Lasker-Mueller from Zurich 1934.
[pgn]

[Event "Zuerich International and SWZ-ch37"]
[Site "Zuerich"]
[Date "1934.07.26"]
[Round "13"]
[White "Lasker, Emanuel"]
[Black "Mueller, Hans A"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B11"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "1934.07.14"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "15"]
[EventCountry "SUI"]
[SourceTitle "EXT 2017"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2016.10.25"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2016.10.25"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Ne5 Bh7 8.
Qh5 g6 9. Qf3 Nf6 10. Qb3 (10. Bc4 Bg8 $2 11. Qb3 e6 12. Qxb7 Nbd7 13. Nxc6 Qc8
14. Ba6 Qxb7 15. Bxb7 {1-0 (44) Hero-Villain, Omaha City Ch 2017}) 10... Qd5
11. Qxb7 Qxe5+ 12. Be2 Qd6 13. Qxa8 Qc7 14. a4 Bg7 15. Ra3 O-O 16. Rb3 g5 17.
hxg5 hxg5 18. Qb7 Qf4 19. Rb4 Qd6 20. d3 Nbd7 21. c3 Nc5 22. Qxa7 Nd5 23. Rxh7
Kxh7 24. Nf5 Qe5 25. Qxc5 Qxf5 26. Rg4 Qe6 27. Rxg5 f5 28. Qc4 Rf6 29. Qh4+ Rh6
30. Rxg7+ Kxg7 31. Qxh6+ Qxh6 32. Bxh6+ 1-0

[/pgn]
Part of what makes this ‘trap’ so tricky is the slight deviation in move order on move two. By playing 2.Nc3 instead of 2.d4, White gains a tempo in lines where Black exchanges on e4 and plays …Bf5, as in the main line of the Caro-Kann. If Black continues to play in that vein, he runs into serious trouble. The database (as of early September) shows that Black falls into this trap 24% of the time in 6,711 games, and White has a win rate of 66%.
[pgn]

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.09.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Diagram 2"]
[Black "2.Bg5 in Dutch"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "A80"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnbqk1nr/ppppp1b1/7p/5pp1/3PP3/6B1/PPP2PPP/RN1QKBNR b KQkq - 0 5"]
[PlyCount "8"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.09.04"]

5... f4 $2 (5... fxe4) 6. Bxf4 gxf4 7. Qh5+ Kf8 8. Qf5+ Ke8 (8... Nf6 9.
e5 d6 10. Qxf4) 9. Be2 {with initiative} *

[/pgn]
One of the first books I reviewed, way back in 2013, was Richard Pert’s Playing the Trompowsky. As part of his discussion, he analyzes 2.Bg5 against the Dutch, a move that remains troublesome for the unprepared f-pawn pusher, and one that has been part of my opening repertoire ever since. In reading Pert’s book I was impressed with this position, which emerges after 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5 h6 3.Bh4 g5 4.e4!? Bg7 (alternatives: 4...Nf6 5.e5 e6 6.Bg3 f4 7.Bd3; 4...Rh7) 5.Bg3. Black can try to win a piece with 5...f4? (5...fxe4 is better) but White has a surprise up her sleeve: 6.Bxf4! gxf4 7.Qh5+ Kf8 8.Qf5+ Ke8 (if 8...Nf6 9.e5 d6 10.Qxf4) and now White plays 9.Be2! with significant initiative. Here's an example of how White's game almost plays itself.
[pgn]

[Event "Cannes Martinez op"]
[Site "Cannes"]
[Date "1995.??.??"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Dunnington, Angus J"]
[Black "Guillon, Cyril"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A80"]
[WhiteElo "2385"]
[BlackElo "2150"]
[PlyCount "41"]
[EventDate "1995.07.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "FRA"]
[SourceTitle "EXT 1998"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1997.11.17"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "1997.11.17"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. d4 f5 2. Bg5 h6 3. Bh4 g5 4. e4 Bg7 5. Bg3 f4 6. Bxf4 gxf4 7. Qh5+ Kf8 8.
Qf5+ Ke8 9. Be2 h5 10. Bxh5+ Rxh5 11. Qxh5+ Kf8 12. Qf5+ Ke8 13. Nf3 d5 14. Qg5
Kf8 15. Qxf4+ Ke8 16. Qg5 Kf8 17. Qxd5 Qxd5 18. exd5 Nf6 19. Nc3 Na6 20. Ng5
Bf5 21. O-O-O 1-0

[/pgn]
According to the database Black has reached this position 107 times, and played 5...f4? 43 times, when White has a win rate of nearly 70%.
[pgn]

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.09.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Diagram 3"]
[Black "Acc Dragon ...Ng4"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "B38"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/pp2ppbp/2np1np1/8/2PNP3/2N1B3/PP2BPPP/R2Q1RK1 b - - 0 9"]
[PlyCount "8"]
[EventDate "2019.09.04"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.09.04"]

{[#]} 9... Ng4 $4 (9... Bd7) (9... Nxd4 10. Bxd4 Bd7) 10. Bxg4 Bxg4 (10... Nxd4
11. Bxc8 Qxc8 12. Bxd4) 11. Nxc6 Bxd1 12. Nxd8 Bg4 (12... Rfxd8 13. Rfxd1 $18)
(12... Bc2 13. Rac1 (13. Nxb7) 13... Bd3 14. Rfd1 Bxc4 15. Nxb7 $18) 13. Nxb7
$18 *

[/pgn]
I learned about our third  ‘tricky trap’ on Twitter. Or, better put, I was reminded of it when I saw that IM and WGM Ana Matnadze had fallen into it at the 2019 European Women’s Championship. (Yes, titled players fall into traps too!) https://twitter.com/ewicc2019/status/1117067968385617922 Matnadze’s error came in a standard line of the Accelerated Dragon or Symmetrical English: after 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 g6 6.e4 d6 7.Be2 Bg7 8.Be3 0–0 9.0–0 Black almost always plays 9…Bd7 or 9…Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Bd7. Why not the tempting 9…Ng4? Here's how it all shook out in Cramling-Matnadze:
[pgn]

[Event "EU-ch (Women) 20th"]
[Site "Antalya"]
[Date "2019.04.13"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Cramling, Pia"]
[Black "Matnadze, Ana"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B38"]
[WhiteElo "2460"]
[BlackElo "2367"]
[PlyCount "59"]
[EventDate "2019.04.11"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "TUR"]
[SourceTitle "CB17_2019"]
[SourceDate "2019.04.24"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.04.24"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 g6 6. e4 d6 7. Be2 Bg7 8. Be3
O-O 9. O-O Ng4 10. Bxg4 Bxg4 11. Nxc6 Bxd1 12. Nxd8 Bg4 13. Nxb7 a5 14. Nd5
Rfb8 15. Nc7 Bc8 16. Nxa8 Rxa8 17. Nd8 Bd7 18. Bb6 a4 19. c5 dxc5 20. Rfd1 a3
21. Rxd7 axb2 22. Rb1 c4 23. Nc6 c3 24. Nb4 Ra4 25. Rd8+ Bf8 26. Nc2 Rxe4 27.
Be3 Kg7 28. Rc8 g5 29. Rxc3 Kg6 30. Rxb2 1-0

[/pgn]
There are 15,741 games with the key position after 9.0-0 in the database. In just 145 games – less than 1% - does Black play 9…Ng4, but White wins nearly 90% of the games in which it is played. A handy trap to know!
[pgn]

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.09.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Diagram 4"]
[Black "Noah's Ark"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "C71"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[PlyCount "22"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.09.04"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. d4 b5 6. Bb3 Nxd4 7. Nxd4 exd4 {[#]}
8. Qxd4 $4 (8. c3 $11) (8. Bd5 $11) 8... c5 9. Qd5 (9. Qd3 c4) 9... Be6 10.
Qc6+ Bd7 11. Qd5 c4 $19 *

[/pgn]
No discussion of opening traps would be complete without the famous “Noah’s Ark” trap, made famous (or infamous) after a World Champion overlooked it twice in his analysis!
[pgn]

[Event "Budapest Szen Memorial"]
[Site "Budapest"]
[Date "1929.09.12"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Steiner, Endre"]
[Black "Capablanca, Jose Raul"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C71"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[EventDate "1929.09.01"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "HUN"]
[SourceTitle "EXT 2017"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2016.10.25"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2016.10.25"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

{This is perhaps the most famous trap in chess history - the "Noah's Ark" trap.
Its providence is unknown. Some say that it is so-called because the trap is
as old as Noah's Ark, while others say that ...c4 is like shutting the door on
the ark.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. d4 b5 6. Bb3 Nxd4 7. Nxd4
exd4 8. Qxd4 $2 {Alekhine mentions this move in his notes to Yates-Alekhine
(New York, 1924), saying that it leads to an "immediate drawing line."} c5 9.
Qd5 Be6 10. Qc6+ Bd7 11. Qd5 c4 $1 {How could Alekhine have overlooked this
move?!} (11... Be6 {Alekhine's move, which does indeed lead to a repetition.
But of course Black has better!}) 12. Bxc4 bxc4 13. Qxc4 Nf6 14. Nc3 Be7 15.
O-O O-O 16. a4 Be6 17. Qd3 Qa5 18. Bd2 Qh5 19. h3 Rfc8 20. b3 d5 21. exd5 Rd8
22. Qg3 Nxd5 23. Ne4 Bh4 24. Qh2 Nf6 25. Nd6 Qg6 26. Ba5 Rd7 27. c4 Ne4 28. Qf4
Bxf2+ 29. Rxf2 Nxf2 30. Kxf2 Rxd6 31. Qxd6 Qf6+ 32. Kg3 Qxa1 0-1

[/pgn]
The position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.d4 b5 6.Bb3 Nxd4 7.Nxd4 exd4 occurs 934 times in the database. I was shocked to learn that 135 players – nearly 14% -- fell into this ancient pitfall with 8.Qxd4! Naturally Black’s win rate after such an error is a healthy 78%.
[pgn]

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.09.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Diagram 5"]
[Black "Cambridge Springs Bg5"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "D52"]
[Annotator "Hartmann,John"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r1b1kb1r/pp1n1ppp/2p1p3/q2p2B1/2PPn3/2NBPN2/PP3PPP/R2QK2R w KQkq - 0 8"]
[PlyCount "6"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.09.04"]

8. Qc2 $4 ({Relatively best is} 8. Bxe4 dxe4 9. Ne5 (9. Nd2 $4 Qxg5)) (8.
Qa4 $2 Qxa4 9. Nxa4 Bb4+ 10. Ke2 Nxg5 11. Nxg5 $17) (8. cxd5 $6 Nxc3 9. bxc3
Qxc3+ 10. Kf1 $15) 8... Nxg5 9. Nxg5 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Qxg5 $19 *

[/pgn]
The Slav was one of the first openings I played with Black. I tried the Meran and mainline (4…dxc4 and 5…Bf5) but in both cases, I was always concerned with what happened when White played Bg5. I didn’t want to learn all the theory of the Botvinnik Variation, not that I would have understood it anyway, so I turned to the Cambridge Springs defense. It can be reached through a number of move orders, but the main one is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5. Here White’s main moves are 7.Nd2, 7.cxd5, and 7.Bxf6. 7.Bd3 looks logical, but it turns out that after Black’s 7…Ne4 there is a bit of poison.
If 8.Qa4? Qxa4 9.Nxa4 Bb4+ 10.Ke2 Nxg5 11.Nxg5 and Black is much better, while after 8.cxd5?! Nxc3 9.bxc3 Qxc3+ 10.Kf1 Black has an edge. The only move that keeps equality for White is 8.Bxe4 dxe4 9.Ne5 (but not 9.Nd2?? Qxg5). What about 8.Qc2?, which White tried in 19% of games after 7.Bd3 Ne4? Black’s answer is 8...Nxg5 9.Nxg5 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Qxg5 when, per the database, Black wins the vast majority of the games.
Last but not least, the Levenfish Attack has been a personal favorite ever since I first saw it referenced in Walter Tevis’ The Queens Gambit, soon to be serialized in a mini-series on Netflix. The teenaged wunderkind Beth Harmon destroys her training partner (and paramour) Benny Watts with it in a blitz blindfold game. Not many Dragoneers study the Levenfish, as it is not considered critical by today’s theoretical standards. That does not mean that it is without danger, especially if Black develops normally after 6.f4 Bg7?. (Note that both 6...Nc6 and 6...Nbd7 are equal, with White’s best chances to play in a manner akin to the Grand Prix attack.) Now White springs the trap: 7.e5 dxe5 (7...Nh5!?) 8.fxe5 (this is the diagrammed position) and if 8…Ng4? (8...Nfd7 9.e6!) White wins with 9.Bb5+. There’s no way to avoid losing material. Key lines include: 9...Nd7 10.Qxg4 9...Nc6 10.Nxc6 Qxd1+ 11.Nxd1 a6 12.Ba4 b5 13.Bb3 9...Bd7 10.Qxg4 9...Kf8 10.Ne6++- Black falls for 8…Ng4 about 37% of the time according to the online database, after which White wins nearly 90% of the time.
What are your favorite opening traps? Did we miss any big ones? Let us know in the comments to this article!

Comments

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very nice collection! I've won many online games with this line I picked up from the Opening for White According to Kramnik series: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Bg4?! 4.Ne5 Bh5? (4...Bc8 may be necessary) 5.Qb3! and White is already close to winning: 5...Qb6? 6.Qh3! (hitting c8 and the h-file) is nice geometry. NM Frederick Rhine pointed out a cheap trap in the King's Gambit a couple years ago. My memory is not very good, and I've fallen for it more than once online (before and after he told me!): 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.d4 g4 5.Ne5 Qh4+ (Black is better) 6.g3 fxg3 7.Qxg4 and now instead of the good 7...Qxg4!, Black gets greedy/"brilliant" with 7...g2+? 8.Qxh4 g1=Q But now White has 9.Nc3! with excellent compensation for the sacrificed rook.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Or was I mixing up my King's Gambit lines above? There's also 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Nc3 (instead of 4.d4) 4...g4 5.Ne5. Now 5...Nc6 and 5....d5 are moves, but 5...Qh4? is strangely bad because of a similar trick to the previous comment: 6.g3 fxg3 7.Qxg4! g2+? (again, Black should bail out with 7...Qxg4) 8.Qxh4 gxh1=Q and now 9.Qh5! Nh6 10.d4! is a winning attack.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Enjoyed your tricky traps....

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