As Carnivorous as a Plant
Although the Venus flytrap is native to only a very limited area of the Carolina coastal plain in the United States, it is a well-known plant in my home state of North Carolina. This plant has delighted school children for generations because it is carnivorous as its name implies. The name is also applicable to a very deadly trap in chess.
First, to understand the plant is to understand the marvels of nature. The history of the Carolinas as a colony of Britain shows an early fascination with the plant. Arthur Dobbs, a colonial governor, described in 1760 the plant as the “greatest wonder of the vegetable kingdom.” How its leaves closed “like a spring trap” when they are touched fascinated him immensely.
The Venus flytrap survives by luring insects with nectar and trapping them with a pair of leaves with trigger hairs on their surface. When a fly or another insect brushes more than one time against these hairs, the leaves close instantaneously trapping it, and then it is dissolved by digestive enzymes of the plant. (This picture that I took in a state park clearly shows the trigger hairs on the edges of several plants’ leaves.)
The diet of the flytrap includes ants, spiders, beetles, and grasshoppers. However, in chess, the target of the Venus flytrap mate is an unsuspecting opponent king that is trapped and smothered to end the game. This pattern typically involves a discovered double check that leads to a smothered mate, where the king is attacked and cannot flee for safety like an insect trapped by the plant.
On a board cleared to show the basics with only the pieces needed to illustrate the pattern, White is in position to win with a Venus flytrap mate by moving the knight to h6, which creates a discovered double check. The king is forced to h6, and then White moves the queen to g8 to put the Black king in check again. Because the Queen is protected by the knight, the king cannot capture the queen. If Black is not ready to resign, the only move is to capture the queen with the rook.
Now the trap is set, and the king cannot move because it is blocked by its pieces. The game is won when White moves the knight to f7 and checkmating Black with a Venus flytrap mate. The mate can occur with other attacking pieces in other patterns – the key concept is to enclose the enemy king and trap it like the plant does to its prey.