Let's say I play only e4/e5 (but this question might also come up on d4/d5). If I was a beginner - unaware of opening theory - but could count at least 3 moves ahead, could I survive (=not be lost at move 15) basically any type of opening by following only the basic "principles" ?

I am asking because if I wanted to teach somebody openings, I should obviously just first teach them principles, but what about these opening traps?

I cannot remember one off the top of my head, but I believe there are some openings which look okay, but it turns out there is a forced loss after 10 moves.

3 Answers 3


I am asking because if I wanted to teach somebody openings, I should obviously just first teach them principles, but what about these opening traps?

Exactly. There are many opening traps and if you don't know them they are very easy to fall into. For instance it is easy for a beginner playing the Ruy Lopez to fall for a trap which is so old it is called the "Noah's Ark" trap:

[fen ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. d4  b5 6. Bb3 Nxd4 7. Nxd4 exd4 8. Qxd4?? c5 9. Qd5 Be6 10. Qc6+ Bd7 11. Qd5 c4

You either learn this stuff or risk becoming a victim.

  • 2
    I'm a complete novice, so excuse my ignorance, but how exactly is this a trap? The most obvious move for me on 8 is for white Bd5, which would prevent the bishop from becoming trapped.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 21:32
  • 4
    @BlackThorn You're probably not a complete novice if your first thought is to "ignore" the "free pawn". While it seems simple/obvious lots and lots of players have trouble forgoing what appears to be free material(or recovering material), especially in the <10 min games. It may be easier for you, but playing position > "basics" typically isn't (spoken as someone who makes silly mistakes all the time)
    – TCooper
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:09
  • 1
    Interesting trap, but white does violate one of the opening principles: Don't bring your queen out early.
    – Akavall
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:40
  • 2
    @Akavall But "take free material" takes precedence over "don't move your queen out early", assuming it actually is free material. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:52
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    Doesn't seem like much of a trap. Black is giving up three pawns for a bishop. Hardly a lost game at low skill levels. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:54

In my first 10 years of playing chess I never studied openings. I studied middle game, positional play, and endings. Falling for traps is a great way to learn about them, very memorable. I did play through many master games and so had a feel of openings from that.

Against strong opposition I often ended up in cramped positions struggling for activity out of the opening. I enjoyed these positions. Korchnoi was my hero :)

Eventually I didn't like those positions and then I learned openings.

I have no regrets.

  • 4
    I've been re-learning for almost a year now (played minimally as a kid), and I've found that playing 5 or 10min games rapidly has been a much more fun way to learn openings/traps than studying a book. I don't know the "proper names" of anything, but fall for opening traps less and less. As you say "Falling for traps is a great way to learn about them, very memorable" - rarely fall for the same twice, where I'm sure that even if I'd read about it 10 times, I'd probably still fall for it once anyway.
    – TCooper
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 15:26
  • @TCooper agree. The only time I play blitz is when I am trying out a new opening. Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 19:29
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    I also find that studying openings is not effective for me actually learning them. I spent ages memorising various lines of the Stafford Gambit, and still couldn't actually put them into practice in a game. It only seems to sink in when I have actually played the lines in a game, and then go back and analyse. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 1:05
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    @SteveBennett agree. And If I am willing to spend the time I also find it useful to pick some practitioners of an opening and play through 100 games to see the ideas Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 3:01

Sometimes violating opening principles is one's best way of playing for an advantage. Even if you are not the one playing for advantage, opponent might be.

The first opening that comes to mind is the Two Knights Defense:

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 {Black's played completely according to principles so far - "develop knights before bishops", etc.} 4. Ng5!? {This is White's best way of playing for an advantage, but it violates the opening principle of not moving the same piece twice.} d5 {It's either this or 4...Bc5 giving up the f7-pawn, which is an even riskier move.} 5. exd5 Nxd5?! {This move is known to be dubious, but the main line 5...Na5 is effectively a pawn sacrifice.} 6. d4

With a powerful initiative. White doesn't have a forced win, but has open lines and is ready to castle, with threats such as Qf3 hitting both the d5-knight and f7-pawn.

A different line of the Giuoco Piano comes to mind as well.

[FEN ""]    
  1. e4             e5            
  2. Nf3            Nc6            
  3. Bc4            Bc5           
  4. c3             Nf6          
  5. d4             exd4
  6. e5

Black's best move is 6...d5 (the alternatives are nearly losing), which is not an obvious move and not something that you can find knowing only opening principles.

  • 4... Bc5 may be risky, but it's also a lot more fun. Especially if White takes with the knight.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 5:31
  • Yeah, in both of these positions, Nf6 and Bc5 seem like normal moves, but can quickly lead to complicated positions.
    – Ferazhu
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 7:21

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