The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Neil Brennen

Thanks to Neil Brennen for providing another interesting and entertaining article. Besides doing research and writing chess history articles, Neil also serves as editor for The PennsWoodPusher, the quarterly journal of the Pennsylvania State Chess Federation (PSCF), where this article will later be published. Neil has previously written five articles for The Campbell Report, including the excellent The Champion of the North: James Jellett's Adventures in American Chess. I suggested checking it out along with his other articles. See the On the Square article index page.
--- J. Franklin Campbell

The Whitaker Trap
by Neil Brennen
(posted 2 August 2004)

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Chess is full of traps and pitfalls. And just as openings have names, some of the standard opening traps have also been given colorful monikers. Sooner or later every beginner learns the Noah's Ark trap, for instance. And, just to stay with the Spanish opening, there are also traps named for players, such as the Mortimer trap, christened after James Mortimer, and the Tarrasch trap for Siegbert Tarrasch.

One forgotten opening trap in the Spanish deserves to be rediscovered, if only because of the man who used it. Much ink has been spent to capture the chess life of Norman Tweed Whitaker, con man and chessmaster, and it seems a shame that an opening trap that he reportedly used often in his career remains unknown by the books. As it is, the name "Whitaker Gambit", as used in the Whitaker chapter of Arnold Denker and Larry Parr's The Bobby Fischer I Knew and other Stories for the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Be3 has never caught on among chessplayers. So it is only justice to Norman Whitaker that we restore his name to 'his' trap line in the Spanish.

The following 'game' illustrating the Whitaker Trap appeared in Robert S. Goerlich's chess column in the Bethlehem Globe-Times, a daily newspaper published in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The word "game" is in parenthesis because neither Goerlich nor the annotator Stasch Mlotkowski supplied a date or location. Mlotkowski, a noted analyst and annotator, often wrote his annotations in the form of a model game, as he did here. Sometimes this makes it hard to tell if such a 'game' was actually played, although as Mlotkowski states in his annotations Whitaker used this trap often. Perhaps because there is some doubt, however slight, that the game was not played, this Whitaker game is not in John Hilbert's Shady Side: The Life and Crimes of Norman Tweed Whitaker, Chessmaster.

Norman Tweed Whitaker - Amateur [C68]
Annotations by Stasch Mlotkowski
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nc3 Bd6 This is not so good as either 5...f6, 5...Bc5, 5...Bb4, or 5...Qf6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 f6 This seems forced, but a possible alternative is 7...Qf6 8.e5 Qe7 9.0-0 Bc5 8.0-0 Bg4

This permits the Whitaker Trap to develop. It is, at any rate, a natural move, and Whitaker has sprung this trap on quite a number of opponents. 9.e5 Bxf3 10.exd6 Bh5 Less disadvantageous is 10...Bd5 11.Re1+ Kf7

If 11...Kd7 12.dxc7+ Kxc7 13.Bf4+ Kc8 14.Qc5 g6 (14...Bg6 15.Rad1) 15.f3 wins. 12.Qc4+ Kf8 13.Qc5 Obviously Black must lose a piece. 1-0
Bethlehem Globe-Times, January 8, 1932

Attentive readers of the Globe-Times column might have recognized a previous appearance of the Whitaker Trap three years before. Among the "quite a number of opponents" who walked into the Trap was E. S. Jackson, future US Open Champion. Jackson's unfortunate discovery of the Whitaker Trap occurred in the first round of the Pennsylvania State Chess Association Championship tournament. And Whitaker, who would go on to win the event, and with it the title of Champion of Pennsylvania, had his revenge on Jackson for knocking him out of the same tournament in 1925.

Whitaker's revenge appears in Shady Side as Game Number 160, but without notes. The annotations below are by Globe-Times columnist Robert Goerlich.

Norman Tweed Whitaker - E. S. Jackson [C68]
Pennsylvania State Chess Association Tournament, Round One, February 23, 1929
Annotations by Robert Goerlich
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 The Exchange Variation. 4...dxc6 If 4...bxc6 5.d4 exd4 6.Qxd4 d6 7.0-0 Ne7 (7...Nf6 8.e5) 8.Nc3 Ng6 9.Re1 and according to Modern Chess Openings White has the superior position. 5.Nc3 Bd6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 f6 8.0-0 Bg4 9.e5 Bxf3 10.exd6 Bh5 10...Bd5 11.Nxd5 11.Re1+

11... Kf8 If 11...Kd7 12.g4 Bf7 (12...Be8 13.dxc7+ Kxc7 14.Bf4+ Kc8 15.Qxd8+ Kxd8 16.Rad1+ Bd7 17.Na4 b5 18.Rxd7+) 13.dxc7+ Kxc7 14.Bf4+ Kc8 15.Qxd8+ Kxd8 16.Rad1+ Kc8 (16...Bd5 17.Nxd5 cxd5 18.Rxd5+) 17.Na4; or of 11...Kf7 12.Qc4+ etc. 12.Qc5 The Bishop or the Queen? 1-0
Bethlehem Globe-Times, March 26, 1929

Aside from his win over Jackson, there doesn't appear to survive any other examples of Whitaker trying to get a point with his trick line. However, a search of all surviving Whitaker games discloses two occasions in which the Whitaker Trap may have happened if Black hadn't avoided the line. The first game is one of several in Shady Side without a date or occasion. We do know, from Whitaker's scoresheet, that the game was played at the Federal City Chess Club in Washington, DC. In this case, Black plays ...Ne7 and avoids the Whitaker Trap, but doesn't avoid defeat:

Norman Tweed Whitaker - Kelly [C68]
Federal City Chess Club, Date Unknown
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nc3 Bd6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 Ne7 8.Qc4 f6 9.0-0 Ng6 10.Re1 Ne5 11.Nxe5 fxe5 12.f4 exf4 13.e5 Qe7 14.Bxf4 Bc5+ 15.Be3 Bxe3+ 16.Rxe3 Be6 17.Qe2 0-0 18.Ne4 Bd5 19.c4 Bxe4 20.Rxe4 Qe6

21.Re1 c5 22.Qg4 Rae8 23.Qxe6+ Rxe6 24.Rd1 Rfe8 25.Rd7 R8e7 26.Rxe7 Rxe7 27.Kf2 Kf7 28.Ke3 Ke6 29.Rh4 g5 30.Rh5 Kf5 31.h4 Rxe5+ 32.Kf3 Kg6 33.g4 h6 34.b3 b5 35.hxg5 Rxg5 36.Rh2 Re5 37.Rd2 Re1 38.Rd5 bxc4 39.bxc4 Ra1 40.Rxc5 Rxa2 41.Rxc7 a5 42.Kf4 a4 43.Rc6+ Kg7 44.Ra6 a3 45.Ke5 Rg2 46.Rxa3 Rxg4 47.Rc3 h5 48.c5 Kf7 49.c6 Rg8 50.c7 Rc8 51.Kd6 Kg6 52.Kd7 1-0

Two years before his death Whitaker attempted to spring the Whitaker Trap on an unsuspecting opponent. By 1973 it had been more than 40 years since Stasch Mlotkowski discussed the variation Whitaker used so often, and any reference to it had been dropped from the books. Whitaker's opponent, Mike Lucas of Georgia, also played ...Ne7 and thus avoided walking into the line. Despite the use of more than twice as much time as Whitaker, Lucas was defeated by the 83 year old IM.

Norman Tweed Whitaker - Michael Lucas [C68]
Montgomery, Rd.5, 1973
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nc3 Bd6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 f6 8.0-0 Ne7 9.Qc4 b5 10.Qb3 Bg4 11.Ne2 Qd7 12.Bf4 Ng6 13.Rfd1 Nxf4 14.Nxf4 Qe7 15.h3 Bd7 16.Nd3 Be6 17.Qc3 c5 18.e5 fxe5 19.b4 c4 20.Ndxe5 Bxb4 21.Qe3 0-0 22.Nc6 Qf6 23.Nxb4 a5 24.Nc6 Bxh3

25.Ne7+ Kh8 26.Nd5 Qh6 27.Ng5 Bf5 28.Nxc7 Rab8 29.Qe7 Qf6 30.Qxf6 Rxf6 31.Nxb5 Bxc2 32.Rd2 Bd3 33.Nc3 Re8 34.f3 h6 35.Nge4 Rb6 White 50 mins.; Black 2 hrs 1-0

Will the Whitaker Trap resume claiming victims? Probably not. While the Spanish Opening remains popular at club level, this branch of the Exchange Variation is as dead as Whitaker himself. 5. O-O, as popularized by Bobby Fischer, has effectively replaced all other fifth moves for White. Still, while this line may belong to chess history, perhaps we should also allow it to belong to Norman Tweed Whitaker.

© 2004 Neil R. Brennen. All rights reserved.

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