When is it worth trying for a cheap shot? I found myself asking this question in a recent Team 4545 game. I had the opportunity to lay a superficially inviting trap that would win a queen for a bishop if my opponent fell for it, and would lose a tempo in a closed position if they didn’t fall for it.
I went for it, and moved 21. Bd3 as white:
Before this move, the d4 pawn had two attackers and two defenders. I’ve blocked my queen’s defense of the pawn, superficially hanging the pawn. The hope is that black captures:
21. … Nxd4?? 22. Nxd4 Qxd4 23. Bxh7+! Kxh7 (or any other move) and 24. Qxd4 wins the queen.
It wasn’t strictly the best chess move I saw, assuming perfect play for my opposition. But in this situation I couldn’t see any winning responses for black to use the tempo, other than to get a start on the lengthy process of unwinding the traffic jam on the black queenside, and thought the possible reward was worth the risk. I was also influenced by my opponent making many moves very quickly, and thought he might not see the whole sequence.
I know that the ‘official’ guidance is to not attack or offer a trap that will leave you worse off if your opponent plays perfectly, but there’s the trick: how much worse off is too much? In the game black played Kh8, showing that they saw through my cunning plan but not giving me any big reason to regret the lost tempo.
Post Script: Entertainingly enough, when going through the game afterwards with the computer, it turns out that 21. Bd3 was a great move. Not for anything I saw, but because it set up a removal of the guard tactic by taking the knight on f5. The e6 pawn is overworked defending both the f5 knight and the d5 pawn. After 22. Bxf5 exf5 23. Nxd5 it looks like I’ve forked the black queen and rook, but black can weasel out with Rxc2 threatening my queen, and we either trade queens or not after that. Another entry for my tactics training!