Our weekly chess column: opening traps, counter-traps and more
Hungarian grandmaster Richard Rapport rose to eighth in the live world rankings with excellent results in the ongoing Norwegian chess tournament. This took a lot by surprise, mainly because the free-spirited report is generally known more for its style than its substance. After all, he’s a guy who frequently used 1.b3 as his primary opening not that long ago.
World champion Magnus Carlsen, who beat Rapport when they met in the eighth round, said this about a certain move his opponent made in the opener.
“I wouldn’t say it was a bad surprise, I thought about it before the game that he was crazy enough to maybe play that shot so I should check it out, but then I forgot about it”.
So what was this surprising decision? It turns out that it comes from one of the most common open positions.
The match started with the Berlin defense of Ruy Lopez. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3.
Carlsen – Rapport – Can you guess Rapport’s answer?
3… Bc5 is now black’s main move. 3… d6 is also quite common. It was at this point that Rapport made its “movement”. He played the ridiculous 4… Ne7.
After 4… Ne7
In a well-organized tournament in London in 1883, James Mortimer played this move three times (and lost all three!). It doesn’t appear regularly in opening theory books (no wonder), but it’s almost always present in books devoted to opening traps and zaps, because that’s what this movement really is. – a cunning trap.
Most of the traps that open exploit the most basic human vices, greed. But here, there is little more than a simple pawn taking. It’s an opening trap with layers.
It’s tempting to grab a free pawn with 5.Nxe5. The hidden resource of blacks is 5… c6!, threatening 6… Qa5 +. Some white players look further and find 6.Nc4 with the surprising threat of 7.Nd6 #. Unfortunately, black people can just ward off this threat with something like 6… d6 Where 6… Ng6 when 7.Ba4 just lose a piece after 7… b5.
Obviously, Rapport didn’t expect Carlsen to fall for the trap. He just used the funny 4… Ne7 to get Carlsen out of his prep. Carlsen ultimately won the game, but what interests us is the tactical depth behind such traps.
Here’s another one where it’s uncertain who is setting the traps for whom. Consider the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 + Qxf6 6.Nf3 Bd7 7.Bd3.
Black to play
White threatens to trap the queen of black with 8.Bg5. Black thinks they can beat white when playing 7… Bc6, allowing the queen to be trapped. White plays 8.Bg5 anyway and black unleashes his supposedly cunning plan with 8… Bxf3. White comes with the top coat of this pretty battle while playing 9.Qd2!, again trapping the black queen (9… Qxd4 10.Bb5 +).
We conclude today’s column with a famous 1910 miniature played by Richard Reti. Incidentally, Reti was the last “Richard” to enter the world top ten before Rapport. Here, his esteemed opponent Tartakower attempted an unsuccessful liberation maneuver in the opening.
Richard Reti – Savielly Tartakower
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qd3
Black to play
In this innocuous position, Tartakower thought of a “smart” way to equalize. He played 5… e5 and followed him, trying to justify him tactically.
6.dxe5 Qa5 + 7.Bd2 Qxe5. Now the knight is blocked and the pawn on b2 is attacked. Reti turned the tables with 8.OOO!
Black played 8… Nxe4 here
Now 8… Qxe4 obviously doesn’t work because of 9.Re1. Tartakower played 8… Nxe4 instead and I walked straight into the shine 9.Qd8 + Kxd8 10.Bg5 + Kc7 (10… Ke8 11.Td8 #) 11.Bd8 #