The Good the Bad and the Ugly

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

| 42 | Tactics

Hello everyone!  First, let me thank all readers of my column for their feedback.  It gives me a lot of food for thought and also allows me to address your questions and concerns.

Here I would like to answer a very simple and yet a very important question from one of my readers.

When I discussed the 3… Nd4? trap (see my March 1stcolumn), one of the questions in the comment section was:

I don't see the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit as a terrible opening choice so I'd remove the ?-mark from the move 3... Nd4(?). If white plays 4. Nxe5 black gets a satisfying game. If 4. Nxd4, then I find black in little worse position than white but absolutely not lost.

Here I feel like I’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

First of all, a question mark after a move merely indicates that the evaluation of the position changes for the worse, but doesn’t mean that the move loses the game.  The simplest example is the opening 1e4 h5?  Lets compare the position before and after the 1…h5? move.


Before 1...h5? it is just a regular opening position where White has just a slight advantage due to the fact that he starts the game first.


This is the position after 1…h5?  It is easy to see that White’s advantage got bigger because not only does Black basically lose a tempo that he could use to develop his pieces, but also he has created a potential weakness on the King’s side which pretty much rules out kingside castling in the future.  Does 1… h5? lose? Of course not! But it makes Black position worse than it was before!

Let’s get back to the 3…Nd4? trap. In the above mentioned March 1st column I explained that White “can play 4 Nxd4 exd4 5 c3 and since 5… Bc5 loses to 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7 Qh5+ and 8.Qxc5 follows, Black's only option is 5… dxc3 6 Nxc3 and you can see that Black’s Nd4 idea has failed, since now it looks like White played three moves in a row (e4, Bc4, Nc3) and Black hasn’t started the game yet.”





Compare the two positions before and after 3…Nd4?  Which position would you prefer for Black?

The obvious answer forces me to put a question mark to the 3…Nd4 move.  (Gosh, I have to consider selling some weight loss pills with this 'before and after' thingy!)
Even though the evaluation of 3…Nd4 is clear to me, it is not that easy to answer a simple question, “Can this 3...Nd4 line be played for Black or not?”  Before answering with a resounding “No!” I have to take into account two considerations. First of all, some of you  might say “ If Nakamura can play 1e4 e5 2 Qh5??!, why can’t I play the 3…Nd4 line?” This one is really simple. I could borrow a line from Yogi Berra “"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."” Or I could just point out that Hikaru stopped playing this weird move after he realised that it had brought him more pain than happiness.  But there is another side to this problem.  One of my students told me once: “ you know, Greg, you want me to become a master, but I am pretty happy with my current level of play. Chess for me is just a hobby, so I don’t really care if I win or lose, but there is no bigger joy for me than catching my club mate with a devilish opening trap even if the trap is not sound”.  What can I say? This is a valid opinion. Kinda reminds me of the words of our pediatrician.  We complained that our 4 months old refused to take her formula and that an advice of our experienced friends was 'add some sugar, but don’t tell your pediatrician'. Our pediatrician, being a very smart man, just said : “ I know that no matter what I say you’ll try it anyway, and I am not happy about that, but at least make sure that you don’t add more than a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar.”

The same is true here.  I am not happy about traps that make your position worse, but if you still want to play a trap that can backfire, at least make sure that you don’t lose at once.  Therefore, I would divide all traps into three broad categories.

The first (the Good!) category is useful traps . We discussed an example of this kind of trap just last week.

The second category (the Bad) is traps like 3…Nd4?  If your opponents manage to avoid them, then this kind of trap does some serious disservice to your position, but the damage is limited. Here is one more example of this kind of trap:



And the last (the Ugly!) kind of trap is the one that can absolutely ruin your game if your opponent doesn’t fall for it.

Here is a good example:



When I found this (and some other similar variations) I couldn't wait to trap my next opponent who is foolish enough to play the incorrect opening (that is Two N's Defense!). I had an opportunity pretty soon, and so the game began:

So, what’s my answer to the question if you should use these kinds of traps?

The Good traps are highly recommended and can be used in any kind of chess competition.

The Bad traps can be used in club tournaments (because in master tournaments you will be punished mercilessly) and friendly games.  You just need to know the dark side of those traps and be prepared for the consequences.

The Ugly traps should be generally avoided and you can use them only in blitz games where your opponent has no time to notice a trap and even in the case he does see it , the couple of minutes he spent to avoid the trap could be more valuable than the piece you just lost because your trap backfired.

As you can see, every gun makes its own tune, so choose your weapon wisely!

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