Mastering The Queen Sacrifice
"A queen sacrifice, even when fairly obvious, always rejoices the heart of the chess-lover." -- Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956).
Even the most technical, positional-minded player cannot dispute the accuracy of Tartakower's remark. No matter how straightforward or prosaic, a queen sacrifice is chess beauty incarnate. Modern chess is all about positional finesse and technical precision, but the aesthetic side of our game is still very much alive and well!
My love for queen sacrifices was ignited more than 10 years ago, when my coach showed me an unforgettable tactical display by GM Emil Sutovsky.
In my humble opinion, the final position should be displayed at the Louvre, possibly replacing the Mona Lisa.
I showed this game to everyone I knew, including my brother. Three years later, this happened:
A well-seasoned tactician would find 29...Qxg2+ in an instant, but as Da Vinci observed, "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
To be sure, queen sacrifices are not always based on perfectly calculated tactical sequences. Indeed, even if the sacrifice is not objectively sound, repelling a long-term attack over the board can be a next to impossible task.
While not as eye-catching as the previous two, this game is both aesthetically brilliant and tremendously instructive. It was impossible to accurately calculate the ramifications of Black's 16th move, and the computer -- at least initially -- is less than impressed. Nonetheless, Black's incredibly well-placed minor pieces, coupled with long-term pressure along the g-file, were very compelling reasons to part with the lady.
Of course, seeing a move and playing it are two different kettles of fish. A queen sacrifice might appear so brazen, the tactical complications so byzantine, that a player might be tempted to choose a safer route. But a truly elite tactician will always trust his instinct and never shirk from risk. The following recent brilliancy is a case in point.
14.Be8 is an amazing move in and of itself, but to follow it up with a queen sacrifice? Now that is what I call a combination!
Like it or not, Australian IM Cecil Purdy is right: "You aren't playing in a tournament to paint pictures, but to score points."
But beauty and objectivity are not mutually exclusive. Even an objectively unsound sacrifice can have a tremendous psychological effect on your opponent, throwing him off track and rendering computer evaluations irrelevant.
In chess, as in life, risk often pays off. Sacrifice on, my friends!
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read GM Naroditsky's last article: Magnus Carlsen's Best Endgame Wins.
- Watch FM Mike Klein's video: World Championship Queen Sacs.
- Take a lesson on sacs in the Chess Mentor.
- Practice your tactics in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.