How To Play Positional Sacrifices

How To Play Positional Sacrifices

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Se-Brain asked:

I am currently boggled by positional sacrifices. First off, what are possible motifs for sacrifices, and second, how do you find out if your sac’s compensation is worth it or not?

JS: I pretty much answered this in my article, To Sacrifice Or Not To Sacrifice, That Is The Question.” If anyone hasn’t looked at that article, please do so.

In that article, I said that you will have to calculate the line as best you can. If it’s a do-or-die mating attack, then calculation is very important. However, if the sacrifice is about gaining an initiative, creating a slow but steady attack or sacrificing material so you can create positional gains, then you need to be able to list what you’re getting for the material.

This applies for attacks AND positional compensation. As for possible (positional) motifs, it’s business as usual: Weak pawns, holes, super minor piece, etc.

Since seeing is believing, let’s look at some examples!


THE POINT OF THE SACRIFICE: Black sacrifices a pawn so the c5-square would be available for a knight, which in turn would create more pressure against the b3-target than White could handle.

All in all, the creation of the pawn sacrifice wasn’t about calculation at all. Instead, it was about finding a way to put more pressure on White’s queenside. At its best, this idea would regain the pawn and burst through on the queenside (leading to glorious victory!). But even if the breakthrough was somehow prevented, White would have to give up his or her central and kingside ideas and accept a long, miserable game of painful defense.


Our next example is a simple pawn sacrifice.

THE POINT OF THE SACRIFICE: White offered a pawn sacrifice (which Black refused) so Black’s doubled d-pawns would be long-term targets.



THE POINT OF THE SACRIFICE: Black sacrifices a pawn to turn his or her passive pieces into dynamic pieces.


THE POINT OF THE SACRIFICE: Instead of regaining his pawn (which would allow Black to equalize due to the time/moves White would give to his or her opponent), White decided to sacrifice it to pieces on ideal squares, while Black’s pieces will clearly be inferior to the White army.


THE POINT OF THE SACRIFICE: Black has a weak c-pawn and White is taking aim at c5 with everything he or she has. By sacrificing the c5-pawn and trading the d-pawn, Black’s weaknesses vanish while White is left with a weak e-pawn.


Of course, positional sacrifices aren’t just about giving up a pawn. There are a lot of games where one side gives up a piece for positional plusses. A case in point is a game of David Bronstein’s (Mr. Kamalakanta kindly pointed this game out in the comments to my previous article).

THE POINT OF THE SACRIFICE: White sacrifices a piece for two pawns. The compensation? A massive pawn center and extra space.

Is 8.dxe4 sound? If you are facing a grandmaster, then probably not (and if you’re facing a computer, then forget about it!). But in amateur chess it should do quite well.

You calculate and list all the juicy things you will get for a sacrifice — if you discover that you don’t have any juicy bits of compensation, then don’t sacrifice! Just like tactical sacrifices, you need to know exactly what you are getting for a positional sacrifice.

Of course, your sacrifice won’t always be successful. When you play a chess game, there are no guarantees, which is one of the reasons why the game is so compelling!

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