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According to the Wikipedia article on the Légal trap, in the match after which the trap is named, Légal employed a psychological trick to encourage his opponent to capture the queen, blundering mate:

It is reported that Légal disguised his trap with a psychological trick: he first touched the knight on f3 and then retreated his hand as if realizing only now that the knight was pinned. Then, after his opponent reminded him of the touch-move rule, he played Nxe5, and the opponent grabbed the queen without thinking twice.

Would the use of such a trick in a sanctioned chess game today be considered fair play or unacceptable conduct under FIDE rules?

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    I don't see why it is cheating? The opponent should evaluate the position instead of relying on stuff like touched pieces. Commented Jun 28 at 11:01
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    This is a really interesting story, feel free to add it as an answer to this question: chess.stackexchange.com/questions/1567/…
    – Akavall
    Commented Jun 28 at 16:05
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    The answer to the original question is yes, it is considered poor sportsmanship. Any kind of deception that isn't done only by making moves is. The milder version of pretending to be annoyed is sometimes seen, but this is really bad.
    – Stefan
    Commented Jun 28 at 23:12
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica I was intending to ask neither two questions, nor a dichotomy. I referred to “FIDE rules” to avoid the question being opinion based, and most sports governing bodies I’m aware of have rules that cover “unsporting conduct” or something similar.
    – DavidH
    Commented Jul 1 at 7:23
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    Hm... Was the opponent allowed to remind him of the touch-rule? Clearly the opponent should do it after the possible non-move of the Knight, but couldn't it be seen as distracting to remind him before that? Commented Jul 1 at 15:13

4 Answers 4

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Is Légal’s reported “psychological trick” considered fair play or unacceptable conduct under FIDE rules?

Everything Légal did was legal (pun intended) and acceptable conduct under FIDE rules, both then and now.

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The British player Gerald Abrahams in 1959 wrote of a similar situation. (Taken from "Chess Treasury of the Air", 1966, Editor: Terence Tiller) [minor edits made to match Abraham's "Not Only Chess" 1974.]

At my first British Championship effort, in 1929, a friend of mine, who is a magnificent analyst, found himself in a very bad position. But there was a way out. Given that his opponent (a very strong player) did not see the threat, it was possible, with a series of sacrifices, to achieve stalemate. But he had to start with a [clearly inadequate] move, which would inevitably warn his opponent. After all, one plays chess on the assumption that the opponent sees everything - that is why the word 'trap' is not a good chess term. But my friend devised a psychological trap. He sat and looked at the board with a despairing face until he was well and truly in time trouble. Then he fumblingly made the crucial [bishop] move. His opponent, tempted to a little gamesmanship himself, played very quickly. Even quicker came the series of sacrifices, and while the flag was tottering, stalemate supervened. Now, could he have improved on things in the following way: [touched the piece, taken his hand away, and let himself be compelled to move the piece at random]? No, he had thought of that, but dismissed it as sharp practice.

As far as the rules are concerned, this is a similar situation of touch-move, but the player concerned made a different choice of personal ethics. I would certainly like to know who the player was, but at this distance in time, it may be hard to determine.

And as for me, I'm just happy that fifty years after reading this page, it floated back into my mind in sufficient detail for me to find it.

UPDATE: the Littlewood gang in Facebook & Stephen G. Morgan here in chess.se have located the actual game I referred to:

[Title "W.A.Fairhurst vs T.H.Tylor, 22nd British Chess Championship, 29-Jul-1929"]
[FEN "5R2/1pr3kp/3p2p1/3Pb3/4P3/1r6/8/2B2RK1 w - - 0 1"]

1. Bg5 Rg3+ 2. Kh1 Rxg5? 3. R1f7+= Rxf7 4. Rxf7+ Kh6 5. Rxh7+ Kxh7= stalemate
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    What is the strange king move in question? Kh1 looks best on account of Kf2 Kxf8 and Kh3 Rf3+ K-any Rxf8.
    – user134593
    Commented Jul 1 at 15:34
  • @user134593 I think Gerald Abrahams remembered it wrong in Treasury of the Air. The text in the 1974 volume is different. Well spotted. Have you any idea how to resolve this?
    – Laska
    Commented Jul 1 at 15:53
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    Probably add in square brackets that he actually means a bishop move
    – user134593
    Commented Jul 2 at 9:22
  • @user134593 Yes I've done that, and a couple of other changes so it hangs together. Bottom line: Bg5 is the sus move.
    – Laska
    Commented Jul 2 at 10:55
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No, the use of such a trick would not be considered unacceptable conduct.  This type of stratagem has a long history in chess and is seen over and over again. For example:

Source: Glasgow Herald, 13 Aug 1929. Contributed by Gerard Killoran, 26 Feb 2016 (The Abrahams story inserted by JS). Also, Glasgow Herald, 24 Aug 1929

... Cold-blooded gamesman-planning is rare. But I have one pretty example. At my first British Championship, [at Ramsgate] in 1929, a friend of mine – who is a magnificent analyst and celebrated in the chess world – found himself in a very bad position. But there was a way out. Given that his opponent (a very strong player) did not see the threat, it was possible, with a series of sacrifices, to achieve stalemate. But he had to include in his play a clearly inadequate move, which would inevitably warn his opponent. After all, one plays chess on the assumption that the opponent sees everything. (That is why the word 'trap' is not a good chess term.) But my friend devised a psychological trap. He sat and looked at the board with a despairing face until he was well and truly in time trouble. Then he fumblingly made the crucial moves. His opponent, tempted to a little gamesmanship himself, was playing very quickly. Quick came the erroneous capture. Even quicker came the series of sacrifices and, while the flag was tottering, stalemate supervened. Now could he have improved on things in the following way: touched the piece, taken his hand away, and let himself be compelled to move the piece at random? No, he had thought of that, but dismissed it as sharp practice." (Not Only Chess by Gerald Abrahams (London, 1974)... Time control at move 36. At move 31 Black has played Rb3, a good move, because, if either rook guards the bishop, Rxe3 wins.

[Title "Fairhurst, William Albert vs Tylor, Theodore Henry, BCF Ramsgate 1929"]
[fen ""]
[Startply "63"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nc3 d6 6. e4 Nc6 7. Nge2 Bg4 8. h3 Bxe2 9. Nxe2 e5 10. O-O Re8 11. d5 Nd4 12. Be3 Qe7 13. Nxd4 exd4 14. Bxd4 Qf8 15. Qc2 Re7 16. c5 Rae8 17. f3 Nh5 18. Bf2 f5 19. Rad1 fxe4 20. fxe4 Be5 21. cxd6 cxd6 22. Bxa7 Qh6 23. g4 Nf4 24. Rf3 Ra8 25. Be3 Rxa2 26. g5 Qxg5 27. Rdf1 Qxg2+ 28. Qxg2 Nxg2 29. Kxg2 Rxb2+ 30. Kg1 Kg7 31. Rf8 Rb3  32. Bd2 Rg3+ 33. Kh1 Rxh3+ 34. Kg1 Rd3 35. Bc1 {'Leaving himself less than half a minute on his clock.'} Rc7 36. Bg5 Rg3+ 37. Kh1 Rxg5 38. R1f7+ 1/2-1/2

https://saund.co.uk/britbase/brit20.htm#1929

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    It is sad that Fairhurst had not (yet) found the trick 35.Bg5!?, which would have looked like a much more natural blunder than 36.Bg5. Well, the opponent fell for it anyway, so...
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jul 1 at 12:01
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It is cheating if e tried to move another piece, regardless of the trick intention.

Eg

Légal would often disguise his trap with a psychological trick: he would first touch the knight on f3 and then retreat his hand as if realizing only now that the knight was pinned. Then, he would touch another piece hoping to 'get away' with touch move. But finally, after his opponent would remind him of the touch-move rule or call an arbiter, he would play Nxe5, and then the opponent would grab the queen without thinking twice.

This would be like when (Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Hikaru Nakamura) cheated (Alexandra Kosteniuk in 2009 blitz WCC & Ian Nepomniachtchi in 2021 classical WCC, Judit Polgar in 1994 Linares, Levon Aronian in 2016 Candidates).

Otherwise, all good.

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