The Magnus Smith Trap

| 23 | Opening Theory

If you're like me, you don't read much opening theory. You play Chess, enjoy it, but don't know many of the nuanced trap lines that have been developed over the years. You probably, like me up until this evening, have never even heard of the Magnus Smith Trap. So what is it?

Simply put, the Magnus Smith Trap is a sequence of moves, shown below, that is found in the Sicilian Defence. It's named after a three-time Canadian Chess champion, Magnus Smith (1869-1934). The trap occurs in the Sozin Variation of the Sicilian, and begins with the moves:

1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 Nc6
6. Bc4

Up till now, things seem to be going pretty well for Black. If Black is a player like me, who is fond of fianchettoing the Bishop, the next logical move would appear to be 6. ... g6. Let's consider this position for a second:

You might be thinking, "Hey wait a second! Why not just take the pawn?". The answer is simple, taking the pawn is disasterous for Black. The line follows like this:

After 8. ... dxe5, 9. Bxf7+!... the King's only option is to take the Bishop. And that leads to the loss of the Queen after 9. ... Kxf7, 10. Qxd8.... Black might as well resign at this point.

The problem for Black, there aren't any really good lines here. For example, consider the alternative; Nh5 leads itself to g4!, which forces Black to play the misreable Ng7... Black is really cramped. 

  Even more alarmingly, after Qf3 e6, Ne5 Qa5+, Bd7 Qxe6, Bc6 .... Black's queen is lost. It all seemed so sensible too at the time. Black really doesn't want to play Nh5. That leaves the moves Nd2 or Ng5; both of which pose their own problems. After h3, Ng5 is forced to retreat, probably to the awkward Nh4 position, protected only by the over-extended bishop; while Ng2 opens the door for an ugly pawn center.

This trap creates many dangerous lines for White, and Black should avoid it. There's a couple ways to do this. First, the trap cannot be sprung so long as Black maintains the Knight on c6. It's not possible to always keep the Knight, but it's a useful thing to keep in mind when (or if) you lose the Knight. Second, if you DO lose the Knight on c6, realize that Nf6 is asking for trouble. The most obvious way to prevent this trap, is actually simply play e6, instead of Nf6. This prevents the Bxf7 line, which is really, the main danger of the trap. The other obvious thing is, be aware of the fact that the Queen can be trapped if you play the appealing, but hopeless, Qa5+.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the trap: You can transpose to situations where you can play it in other Sicilian variations. The fundamental keys to this trap being present:
Black having played: Nf6 and d6; while missing the Knight on c6 and not having moved the Queen or King.
White having played: Nxc6 at some point (or the Nc6 never having been played), Bc4 and e4 being played.

Now you've heard of it. :).

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