Last week, we started our examination of tricks and traps during the opening. While, you’ll rarely face a trick or trap when playing a strong. experienced player, you’re likely to encounter one when facing off against a crafty beginner. While you shouldn’t play every game worrying that your opponent may try to employ a trick or trap, you should be always be prepared, should your opponent be a trickster. This means being able to spot a potential trick or trap, which is relatively easy. While I explained how to spot a trick or trap last week, let’s go over it again.
We know that good opening play requires the use of the game’s opening principles. In fact, all good openings follow those principles to the letter. When you face off against an opponent, you should expect, during the games initial phase, that your opponent will control the center of the board with a pawn on move one and then develop their minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) toward the board’s four center squares, d4, d5, e4 and e5. In last week’s example, we saw White control the center of the board by playing 1. e4. However, rather than follow principle two on move two, developing the minor pieces towards the center, White moved the Queen to h5, with 2. Qh5. This was an indicator of a potential trick or trap being played. Bringing the Queen out early is a sure sign of a possible trap (sometimes bringing the Queen out early is merely a serious blunder made by a beginner) Had White played 2. Nf3 in last week’s game, the game would go along and you wouldn’t have to worry about any tricky play, or would you?
Generally, 2. Nf3 signals that the game is being played according to the opening principles. However, the other indicator of a potential trick or trap is moving the same piece twice during the opening. Sometimes, you’re forced to move the same piece twice during the opening if that piece comes under attack. However, there are traps in which one player will move the same piece twice. Let’s take a look at just such a trap:
Both players start the game by employing opening principle one with 1. e4…e5 (controlling the board’s center with a pawn). On move two, White plays 2. Nf3, attacking the Black pawn on e5. Black protects the pawn by playing 2…Nc6. Then, White develops another minor piece with 3. Bc4. Thus far, both players are following the opening principles to the letter. If you were to contemplate Black’s next move, you might consider 3…Nf6, allowing Black to control all four center squares. However, Black plays 3…Nd4. Beginners playing White in this position suddenly have to make some serious decisions! I should note that there are plenty of opening tricks and traps for both Black and White, and this position can be very dangerous for White. Let’s dig into this further.
Playing the White side of this position, you really need to employ board-vision which means looking at the entire board and the relationship between every pawn and piece, no matter if they’re in the game or on their starting squares. Take a good, long look at the position, viewing it as if you’re playing White. Black’s Knight on d4 is centralized, which is normally great (for Black) later in the game when there are fewer pawns and pieces still on their starting squares. Should you chase the pawn away by playing a move like 4. c3, Black might then play 4…Nxf3 and you would play 5. Qxf3 (using the g2 pawn to capture back would leave a hole in your King-side pawn structure). Yes this is bringing your Queen out into the game but it’s a completely reasonable response because the White Queen is safe after the capture. You could consider trading the White Knight on f3 for Black’s Knight on d4 with 4. Nxd4. However, Black would capture back with the e5 pawn with 4…exd4 and then you wouldn’t be able to move the White Queen-side Knight to c3. You could castle and ignore Black’s centralized Knight in favor of King safety, Sadly, most beginners settle for another option based on greed and a potential tactic (a fork, which we’ll look at later in this series of articles).
In the game above, White sees that the Black pawn on e5 is hanging and can be captured free of charge. Further more, White reasons that if the e5 pawn is captured with the Knight on f3, the White Knight, now on e5 after 4. Nxe5, will be part of a coordinated attack on Black’s f7 pawn, the White Bishop on c4 being the other attacker. In this game, White does just that with 4. Nxe5. Beginners will look at this capture as a way to gain material, centralize their Knight and make a tactical threat. However, White is doing something you want to avoid during the opening, moving the same piece twice. Two wrongs don’t make a right in life and in chess! Black’s fourth move springs the trap. Black plays 4…Qg5 and White’s world is full of threats. Take a good, long look at the position after Black’s fourth move.
Black’s Queen on g5 is making two threats, one of which is more problematic for White, and dangerous threats can be difficult to see for beginners. The Black Queen is threatening the White Knight on e5 and the White pawn on g2. Beginners learn the relative value of the pawns and pieces and know that the Knight is more valuable than the pawn. After all, the Knight is worth three points while a pawn is worth one point. One of the things that makes chess so challenging is that things sometimes are not what they seem! Yes the Knight is worth more than the pawn. However, the White pawn on g2 is critical to King safely should White castle on the King-side (if White even gets a chance to castle). In the case of the beginner playing the position above, the g2 pawn is ignored and White plays for a tactic called a fork (when a single pawn or piece attacks more than one piece (or pawn) simultaneously). White plays 5. Nxf7 which simultaneously attacks the Black Rook on h8 and the Black Queen on g5.
This seems fine since the beginner will at least win the trapped Black Rook on h8. However, White will never have a chance to do so after Black plays 5…Qxg2. Now, White’s Rook on h1 is in danger of being captured and once that happens, White’s King will be attacked. Therefore, White plays 6. Rf1, moving the Rook next to the White King where it can be protected. White can no longer castle on the King-side and believe it or not, is facing an unstoppable checkmate by Black. Here’s how that plays out.
Black delivers check with 6…Qxe5+, forcing White to block the check since the Black Queen can’t be captured and White’s King can’t escape to another square. White plays 7. Be2. If White had played 7. Qe2, the result would be the same. Black ends the game with 7…Nf3#, checkmate. Wait a minute, can’t White’s Bishop simply capture the Black Queen with 8. Bxf3? Absolutely not! The White Bishop on e2 is pinned to that square. If the White Bishop moves, the Black Queen would be directly attacking White’s King. The rules of the game state that you cannot make a move that exposes your King to check (an attack), which that move would do.
We’ll look at forks and pins in detail when we examine tactics in the middle-game section of this series. In conclusion, you can spot a trap by looking for moves that go against the game’s opening principles. However, don’t always expect those moves to be blatant in nature, as in Scholar’s Mate. They can be trickier such as in the Costage Trap. Use the opening principles to guide you! Next week we’ll put everything learned thus far together and tackle a complete opening. Your homework: Play through this example and see if you can come up with a way to stop the checkmate. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!