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I will be playing with a player in a few days and his level (1400ish) is slightly lower than mine (1500ish). However, he is very familiar with dubious gambits and opening traps and I can easily lose the game in the first 10 moves if I am not careful. On the other hand, if I can survive the opening stage and enter a quiet and equal position, then I have good chances to win the game.

I am planning to play the London system (if I play white) and have studied some possible gambits (traps) that he may play, including the Englund gambit and Old Benoni Defense. But there are so many traps to avoid and I am not sure if I can study all of them. I have even considered starting the game with the very rare Saragossa Opening if I am planning to enter the London system anyway. Here I am asking general principles when facing unfamiliar gambits/traps.

  1. What should I do if my opponent plays a seemingly unreasonable gambit if I am unfamiliar with this position? Is it generally safer to decline the gambit and solidify one's own position instead?

  2. In general, how to avoid being a victim of opening traps?

  3. What are some opening options that are relatively "safer" that one is less likely to face ambitious gambits?

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    If you're going to play a bad move to avoid "traps", then the trap has succeeded before it even appeared on the board. The way to avoid traps is playing good, sound chess. – David Apr 13 at 18:41
  • In particular in case of e.g. rapid chess, there is also always the problem for yo to decide whether it is a gambit or a blunder ... – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 14 at 6:12
  • @HagenvonEitzen, usually if it is within the first five moves, I would consider it as a trap. – Zuriel Apr 14 at 17:45
  • though if you play the saragossa, how will you respond to e5? – CognisMantis Apr 15 at 9:46
  • @CognisMantis, black has 20 legal moves after 1. c3 and for each move, black always responds with 2. d4. After all, 1. c3 e5 2. d4, this is Caro Kann with reversed colours and I have one extra tempo. – Zuriel Apr 15 at 14:06
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Study Opening principles. At least get the basic foundation (first 5 moves ) of common openings. The biggest problem with opening tricks is that if you know how to counter them, you will have a decisive advantage.

At the 1400 level, players will seldom do random gambits and openings. The most common you will see from white is Queen or King's gambit, evans gambit/smith morra gambit are not as common but still there. Here's a list of common opening gambits https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambit

If by chance your opponent plays a random gambit, it depends on the position. You have to find the right time to win it, or return it for counterattack. You want to try to counter gambits by playing aggressively, as giving a pawn away just gives central space.

To avoid an opening trap, the opponent will deviate from the "main or accepted line" This will give you an advantage, as long as you visualize the board and make sure you watch for the minor piece, common pieces used in traps. Common opening traps to study. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chess_traps

For common openings, there are so many and not a really "safe" opening. Check out this useful article for how to avoid opening mistakes https://www.chess.com/article/view/opening-failures-and-how-to-avoid-them

here is a forum for some "safe" openings to play https://www.chess.com/forum/view/chess-openings/safest-chess-opening

Good Luck!

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  • Bonus: Iguana's advice generalizes to any opening, not only gambits and traps. There aren't that many "you are dead, you just don't know it yet" opening positions in chess, so common sense usually helps. – Hauke Reddmann Apr 13 at 7:30
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As a practical matter, if you're playing to win, and you encounter a gambit you haven't seen before, don't take the material. Play defensively. This will be sub-optimal by engine standards, but will usually lead to a position that is easier to play. This is particularly true in your case, where you expect to outplay your lower rated opponent given enough time on the board.

That said, personally, at ~2100 Lichess Rapid, I almost always accept gambits, even if I'm unfamiliar with them, because it gives me good experience trying to stubbornly hang onto the material or punish my opponent's shaky position, And then, when I inevitably lose to some silly line that I never studied, I analyze it after the game, and try to remember the refutation next time. This is how I've treated the King's Gambit, and I'm slowly getting better at refuting it. I don't care much about winning or losing a single game, if I can learn from it and improve.

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Well, study your opening more. At this level, your opponent isn't capable of creatively playing a new gambit. It's not hard to find some material of known gambits of your particular opening.

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If you want to play a London System and avoid the Elephant gambit then start with 1. Nf3, and after 1... d5 2. d4 gets you into familiar lines.

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  • 1...c5 is an option though – David Apr 13 at 18:42
  • @David, I also like English and do not mind playing 2... c4. – Zuriel Apr 13 at 20:54
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From your post, I get the idea you might feel uncomfortable playing wild gambit positions. I would say: try to get a position you feel comfortable in. I feel most gambits your opponent will play, will be unsound, but then you will have to know some theory for that.

Old benoni: just play 2.d5 and play on from there. The position will be quite closed and white generally has a bit more space and better chances.

Englund: I would take the pawn and after 2...Nc6, in your case play 3.e4. This way you sidestep some of the wild activity you might not feel comfortable in. Although from a theoretical standpoint, I would accept the gambit and play from there. The Englund is considered overall unsound, given you know the theory.

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