How to trap Heffalumps

Stronger opponents are not infallible. Stronger players can be a bit too sure of themselves, and they can underestimate their opponents. That is their weakness. One thing I’ve learnt from analysing my own games is that no one plays perfect chess, not even titled players, they just tend to make fewer serious errors, that’s all.

To give yourself as good a chance as possible when playing a stronger player, one approach is to take some risks instead of playing it safe and solid. As Simon Webb said in his book Chess for Tigers, in the How to trap Heffalumps chapter:

“The basic principle is to head for a complicated or unclear position such that neither of you has much idea what to do, and hope that he makes a serious mistake before you do.”

This approach is unlikely to improve your standard of play or help you learn much, but it should make your opponent sweat a bit and not give him/her the satisfaction of a smooth technical win. In the case of the following game, I am the weaker player with little expectation of a draw let alone a win. I started out carefully in the opening, aiming for just simple development and a playable (but unusual) middle game rather than trying to outplay him in the opening. However, this solid start quickly gave way to more basic slightly dubious attacking instincts. Perhaps surprised by my impertinence, the stronger player blundered under pressure. As the position was quite critical, there was no coming back from that one mistake and it wasn’t too difficult to convert even in time trouble. 

Angus James