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The Greek Gift Sacrifice Lives On!

  • GM DanielNaroditsky
  • | Apr 2, 2014
  • | 11671 views
  • | 32 comments

As beginners, we are taught a surprising amount of various tricks, sacrifices, and mates that rarely occur in serious tournament practice. Scholar's Mate, Fool's Mate, Legal's Mate - all of these are aesthetically pleasing to an amateur, but require an outrageous amount of cooperation to actually occur in a serious game. At first sight, The Greek Gift Sacrifice (exact definition provided below) appears to feature prominently in this aforementioned category of useless tricks. Here is an example of the Greek Gift Sacrifice (also called the Classic Bishop Sacrifice and the Trojan Horse Sacrifice) in its purest form, taken from IM Vladimir Vuckovic's Art of Attack in Chess

This sacrifice is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but it is so well-known, so familiar to chess players of all levels, that we rarely bat an eye at it. In fact, it is tempting to assume that the Greek Gift Sacrifice (henceforth abbreviated as GGS) has disappeared from tournament play because of its banality. 

In fact, the opposite is true! While the GGS in its purest form is relatively easy to see, it can be modified and concealed in a countless number of ways. This might seem vague to you at first (how can a sacrifice on h7 be concealed?), but hopefully, the following games will prove my point. 

GM Odysseus' GGS in Illium Tournament 1135 BC | Image Wikipedia

We will divide this article into four types of "camouflage" (it just dawned on me that if a non-chessplayer were to read this sentence, he would assume that it is an essay on chameleons): 

  1. Impossibility: The sacrifice appears impossible due to the specific circumstances of the position. 
  2. Piece Placement: Either the knight or the queen cannot reach attacking squares through conventional means.
  3. Defensive Ability: The sacrifice does not seem to work because the king can escape or be defended by other pieces.
  4. Transformation: The sacrifice is a prelude to a different type of attack.

My article on positional sacrifices had a similar structure (a list followed by example(s) illustrating each point), and once again, I should make clear that this list is not all-encompassing. Your opponent may well miss a pure GGS sacrifice, or you might find another way to disguise it.

1. Impossibility is by far the leading cause of tactical blindness. The GGS is rather unique in that it frequently succeeds even when all precautions have been taken to prevent it. The following game is a memorable illustration: 

Some claim that our brain is an "intelligent computer," automatically eliminating moves that are clearly not playable, but this intuition can very well backfire. 

2. You might think that a knight has to be located on f3 for the GGS to work, but this is certainly not the case! In the following recent game, GM Gata Kamsky uncorks one of the most beautiful Trojan Horse sacrifices I have ever seen. 

3. At its core, the GGS seeks to expose the opponent's king to attack by the strongest tandem in all of chess: the queen and knight. As such, even the presence of multiple defensive opportunities do not deter this formidable pair from storming the royal castle. The following brilliant game, also drawn from Art of Attack in Chess (note: in general, I try to select games that have not been hitherto examined in chess literature. However, the probability that most readers have read Art of Attack in Chess and vividly remember this example is quite low - I quote Vuckovic's analysis on a few occasions, but otherwise, all annotations are my own).

4. Admittedly, GGS sacrifices that do not lead to a mating attack with the queen and knight are rare, but far easier to miss. In the following game, a prominent twentieth-century player fell prey to a devastating attack out of thin air (perhaps a punishment for excessive rumor spreading :D ?). 

Of course, this article is merely a sampling - my primary intention is to demonstrate that modern tactics do not imply complexity; even combinations that are very tough to spot might be based on simple tactical themes. Hopefully, you also extracted at least some pleasure from these devilish combinations. Hasta el viernes! 


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Comments


  • 4 months ago

    faust1828

    Marvelous article and interesting way of writing it, may I just say that the surname of IM Vladimir is Vuković, not Vucković :) ty for posting it, keep up the excellent work!

  • 4 months ago

    tpe09222012

    The example of the first recorded use in 1135 BC had me chortling for a good while. Great examples. I agree that the Kamsky game was especially striking.

  • 4 months ago

    JMTG

    I read this article yesterday, and got the pleasure of using some of the principles in one of my games today. 

  • 4 months ago

    LaserZorin

    @bagpiper123456

    You are correct about the name, but wrong about the opening's peak popularity.  The Vienna Gambit's heyday was the 19th century, as Kolisch, Blackburne, Zukertort, and a young Steinitz all used it regularly from 1860-1885 in leading international tournaments

    And while Spielmann played the opening on a number of occasions against serious competition, it's a bit misleading to call Alekhine a "main proponent".  

    Alekhine played the Vienna very early in his career, and practically stopped after 1913, when he became a leading master.  Afterwards, he would only use the Vienna during simuls, blindfold games, consultations, and various other exhibits against vastly inferior opposition.  

    He almost never played it against a solid master at a serious tournament.  

  • 4 months ago

    Zeitgeist_Kaal

    "A quiet London System, two strong grandmasters - the precursors to a boring 20 move draw, you would think... " - amazing writing man! Keep your river of creativity perennial foverver.

  • 4 months ago

    bagpiper123456

    the "souped up king's gambit" is called the vienna gambit, since it arises in the vienna game. It did not become super popular in the 19th century, as it's main proponents were spielmann and alekhine

  • 4 months ago

    yogiOK

    Nice throwback to the Romantic Era of Blood-and-Guts Chess! I taught myself to play chess in 1991 from an old Encyclopedia Britannica, as a way to exercise the mind without elements of chance. The advent of the computer and those programs have changed a great deal of this type of tactical chess, but among the majority of players these possibilities are alive and well.

  • 4 months ago

    noanero

    The article was very well written and the material is extremely usefull as well

  • 4 months ago

    kcsmith169

    Read further...you addressed my comment in notes I missed the first time

  • 4 months ago

    Newba

    This is awesome.
    I will keep that in mind and try to see those variations. 

  • 4 months ago

    NotAfraid

    i'm enjoying your articlesSmile

  • 4 months ago

    yenyyenyen

    Very well written once again. Great article

  • 4 months ago

    danno1800

    Great examples! Thank you for this article

  • 4 months ago

    pm11081994

    Thumbs up!

  • 4 months ago

    Rise_Of_Nations

    I played the Greek's gift today, the game is anything but perfect, but still I like it a lot, here is the link :

    http://www.chess.com/livechess/game?id=789834067

  • 4 months ago

    StevieBlues

    Love the concept and article Dan, keep em comin!!

  • 4 months ago

    DGice

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 4 months ago

    LaserZorin

    Daniel, your writing continues to improve.  Very good article, with a great range of examples.  

    However, I will note one small point; George Gossip was actually a horrendous chessplayer, widely considered one of the worst participants in any international tournament in chess history.  

    Considering that GM John Nunn's fantastic subsection "The Test of Time" in "John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book" generously estimated (not even taking into account opening deficiencies or positional errors) the mean strength of the Karslbad 1911 event to be 2139 Elo, and every single participant there was significantly stronger than Gossip, we are talking about a player who was likely the equivalent of a modern 1700-1800.

    Playing through his games on a database, that estimate seems highly accurate. 

    Again, a minor quibble, but as someone who briefly crossed paths with you (when you were 9 and I was 16), and enjoys chess history, I had to point it out.  

    Oh, and congrats on your acceptance to Stanford and the Stamford Fellowship!  

  • 4 months ago

    weisson

    Nice articles! This really helps me a lot

  • 4 months ago

    Talonflame_Fan

    Epic, I like the way you seperated the articles :D

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