A coffeehouse style is what players who work hard to improve their skill at finding the objectively strongest moves in a position, having taken account of the objectively strongest moves available to the opponent, often disdain. Used by hustlers, by some recreational club players, and by many who play friendly blitz games, it is about playing what works in practice, in games with short or no time controls and which may be but are not necessarily played for money.

It includes playing moves that set traps that for some reason the opponent is likely to fall into. For example a classic example of a coffeehouse opening by Black is the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, 1 e4 e5, 2 Nf3 Nc6, 3 Bc4 Nd4. If White plays 4 0-0, 4 c3, 4 Nc3, or 4 Nxd4, he can get an advantage, whereas Black hopes that he will play 4 Nxe5, grabbing the pawn, after which he gets walloped by 4 ... Qg5, perhaps in the line 5 Nxf7 Qxg2, 6 Rf1 Qxe4+, 7 Be2 Nf3 mate.

But coffeehouse is not reducible to tactically trappy play and can be more subtle psychologically. For example if facing the line in the Alekhine Defence 1 e4 Nf6, 2 e5 Nd5, 3 c4 Nb6 White plays 4 a4, that move is not objectively weak but if it is played with a view to influencing Black to believe that White is weaker than he actually is, as if he were prone to lashing out aggressively with lots of pawn advances even when objectively unsound, it would be coffeehouse.

I would appreciate recommendations of titles not just on trappy coffeehouse openings, but on any aspect of how to play strong coffeehouse.

One book on coffeehouse is John Healy's Coffeehouse Chess Tactics (2010) and there is also John Emms's The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess (2005). What other titles are there?

  • What's coffeehouse? Sep 23, 2017 at 14:29
  • Sorry - give me a few minutes and I will edit to define the term.
    – user14380
    Sep 23, 2017 at 14:30
  • Why is this question getting downvoted?
    – user14380
    Sep 23, 2017 at 15:04
  • Authors don't write books aimed at coffeehouse players. There's little to no no market for them.
    – Herb
    Sep 23, 2017 at 15:14
  • 1
    Some do - see the titles I've edited to mention.
    – user14380
    Sep 23, 2017 at 15:18

3 Answers 3


Maybe it's not exactly "coffeehouse" but Simon Webb's excellent Chess for Tigers is all about finding what works rather than looking for objectively best moves. From page 2 of the 2nd edition:

Next time you sit down to play a match, ask yourself what is your aim in playing. Are you aiming to play the best moves? Or are you playing to win? There is a difference. Many players aim merely to play the best moves, objectively speaking. They never succeed, of course, but that doesn't stop them trying. But chess is not a science — it's a game, a struggle between two mortals who make mistakes, deceive themselves and each other, get tired, allow themselves to be distracted, and altogether have no hope of attaining perfection at the chess-board. If you want to become a Tiger, you must forget about playing the best moves and concentrate on winning.


Hikaru Nakamura wrote Bullet Chess; One Minute to Mate, perhaps not entirely what you had in mind. Ive not read it. Apparently, from Amazon reviews, some people liked it.


Any of the SOS books (Secrets of Opening Surprises) can be useful guides to lines effective in coffeehouse play.

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