The ‘Magnus Smith Trap’

Edward Winter

(2013, with updates)

Stephen Wright (Vancouver, Canada) asks why the moves 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bc4 g6 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 e5 (8...dxe5 9 Bxf7+) are regularly referred to as the ‘Magnus Smith Trap’. He has been unable to find any game or analysis by Smith with that line.


We believe that ‘Magnus Smith Trap’ is a misnomer, although in the Sicilian Defence there is a ‘Magnus Smith Variation’ (a very rare instance of a player’s forename and surname being used jointly in openings terminology).

The bare score of his game against A. Kreymborg in round six of the New York, 1911 tournament, a win in 49 moves, was published on page 59 of the March 1911 American Chess Bulletin, and on pages 62-63 of the same issue he contributed an article entitled ‘An Innovation Against the Sicilian Defense’:



Although the line 8...dxe5 9 Bxf7+ was mentioned, in note (d), Magnus Smith’s innovation was 9 Bf4, proposed as an improvement over 9 e6, which Schlechter had played in his seventh match-game against Lasker the previous year.

The above analysis by Smith was also published on page 6 of the Philadelphia Inquirer (magazine section), 26 February 1911:


Annotating the game Lawrence v Fox in the United States v Great Britain cable match, Hermann Helms wrote on page 1 of the sports section of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 May 1911 and on page 129 of the June 1911 American Chess Bulletin:

‘Evidently leading up to the Magnus Smith variation, which continues as follows: 6 B-QB4 P-KKt3 7 KtxKt PxKt 8 P-K5 Kt-Kt5 9 B-B4 P-Q4 10 KtxQP PxKt 11 BxP, etc. The subsequent play, which yields a win for White, was analyzed exhaustively by Mr Smith in the March number of the American Chess Bulletin.’

Magnus Smith was mentioned for 9 Bf4 on page 167 of Modern Chess Openings by R.C. Griffith and J.H. White (London, 1913):


The term ‘Magnus-Smith variation’ for lines beginning with 9 Bf4 was used on, for instance, page 168 of the April 1927 BCM, as well as by W. Winter on page 76 of Kings of Chess (London, 1954) in his notes to the above-mentioned Schlechter v Lasker game.

A photograph of Magnus Smith, from page 251 of the December 1906 American Chess Bulletin is given in The Capablanca-Pokorny Fiasco. The portrait below comes from page 514 of the June 1899 American Chess Magazine:


Magnus Smith

The possibility of 8 e5 dxe5 9 Bxf7+ had been referred to in print when Magnus Smith was 12 years old, on page 175 of La Stratégie, 15 June 1882, in a note to Blackburne v Paulsen, Vienna, 1882 (where the moves 8 e5 Ng4 were played).

A game in which 8 e5 dxe5 occurred, and which predates Magnus Smith’s article, is K. Moll v W. Therkatz, Düsseldorf, 1908, as published on pages 150-151 of the tournament book:



To quote one later case, Mitchell v Feldman, Brighton, 1938 was published on page 85 of the July-August 1938 American Chess Bulletin:


W.M.P. Mitchell and S. Feldman were participants in the First Class B tournament of the British Chess Federation Congress in Brighton (BCM, September 1938, page 418). As demonstrated in the present item, it would not be justified to describe their game as featuring the ‘Magnus Smith Trap’, but when was that term first used in print? All bids will be welcome.


Further to the final paragraph of C.N. 8303, it is not easy to find the term ‘Magnus Smith trap’ in books, whereas it is frequently seen on webpages. Below is an entry on page 176 of An illustrated Dictionary of Chess by Edward R. Brace (London, 1977):



A number of interesting photographs, including one featuring Magnus Smith, can be viewed at the Libraries and Archives Canada website.


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Latest update: 5 May 2022.

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