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Openings - Traps! (Part 1)
The trapped player didn't notice anything special, but the position is suddenly, completely, irrevocably lost.

What exactly is a 'chess trap'? First lets look at the various meanings of the word 'trap', as defined by The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

trap n.
  1. : a device for catching animals
  2. : something by which one is caught unawares
  3. : a machine for throwing objects into the air to be targets for shooters; also : a hazard on a golf course consisting of a depression containing sand
  4. : a light 2-wheeled or 4-wheeled one-horse carriage on springs
  5. : a device to allow some one thing to pass through while keeping other things out <a ~ in a drainpipe>
  6. pl : a group of percussion instruments used in a jazz or dance orchestra

The Oxford Companion to Chess says

trap, generally an attractive line of play that is less advantageous than it appears and which may have been deliberately set as a temptation by the opponent. As much could be said of many possibilities in a game, and there is no precise definition of a trap, nor is the element of temptation essential.

When one of the great contemporary authorities on chess says, 'there is no precise definition of a trap', we have no choice but to return to Merriam-Webster. Since 'a device for catching animals' isn't at all flattering, we move to 'something by which one is caught unawares'. Yes, that's it. A chess trap has a large element of surprise; the trapped player didn't notice anything special, but the position is suddenly, completely, irrevocably lost.

Getting caught in a chess trap on a chess board is about as much fun as getting caught in a sand trap on a golf course, so we also like that third dictionary definition. As for the other definitions, they have no relation to a chess trap and stand as testimony to the flexibility of the English language.

Chess traps are a special branch of opening theory, even though they can be set at any time in the game. When they occur in the middle or end game, we usually call them swindles. A trap is almost always the result of a bad move, or blunder, and when a game ends abruptly in the opening, it's known as a miniature. Enough definitions : let's have some traps!


We collected 12 chess books dedicated to the art of the trap, compared the traps across the books, and found many that appeared in more than two books. Those best-loved traps are the basis for the About Chess traps series, which we're developing for our next series of opening articles.

Each quiz has seven traps with solutions. A few of the solutions are particularly complicated, with many variations, so you may need to follow them on a chess board. They are not organized in any particular order, although the first quiz contains the most popular traps in our 12 sources.

Good trapping!

 More of this Feature
• Chess Traps Index
 Related Resources
• Part 1 - Avoid losing in the opening
• Part 2 - Select one move per position
• Part 3 - Practical considerations
• Part 4 - Unusual First Moves
• Part 5 - Introduction to 1.e4
• Part 6 - Introduction to 1.d4
• Traps! - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3