The Whitaker Trap
by Neil Brennen
(posted 2 August 2004)
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
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
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
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.
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.
appears in Shady Side as Game Number 160, but without
notes. The annotations below are by Globe-Times columnist
Norman Tweed Whitaker - E. S.
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
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
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
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
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.