I remember many games in which I had a good position but I lost those because I failed to spot some small traps set by my opponent. If you study the games played by players 2000 or lower you will find very few games which are won strategically, but often they end with mistakes. What kind of mistakes are there? Well you set a trap and your opponent falls for it. The trap could be anything from a mate threat to trapping the queen (I did this a lot while playing against French defence two knight variation) or even drawing traps in worse conditions. I believe that you should not play opening traps as most of them are having decent solutions, though they can be played against weaker opponents with caution. But I do believe that in general in makes sense to play for some traps; it can offer hope even in some hopeless situations.
There are a number of situations in which playing for traps can be particularly effective. Here are some that I’ve noticed:
When your opponent is in serious time trouble:
This is the most obvious one; without adequate thinking time it’s easy to make an oversight. I have read many annotated games with a note that says ‘a mistake in time trouble’
When your opponent has various options to deal with the situation, there are more chances they will fall into it:
It is something like when you enter a Chinese restaurant for the first time and you have been offered menu with many choices. Overwhelmed by the different options there are more chances that you will not choose something you like. With a much simpler menu, on the other hand, you will not suffer from such confusion.
When your opponent is winning:
It is easy to overlook your opponent’s tricks in winning positions. This is because you’re already counting on the full point and lose a certain amount of vigilance.
Everyone has fallen for a trap but few give much respect to this skill. But it should be remembered that chess is battle where everything that is legal is fair, and playing for traps can be very effective!