Material Imbalances

Material Imbalances‎

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
25 | Middlegame

From the very first steps in chess we learn the average value of the pieces. A queen is worth about two rooks, bishop and knight – about 3 pawns. Of course, it is an approximation. Chess is a very complex game, so quite often imbalances occur. Three pawns may suddenly overcome a rook, two pieces – beat a queen, and so on. One cannot rely on the standard values of the pieces only. The position plays a serious role too. All the above-mentioned refers not to short-terms tactics which lead to winning back the sacrificed material or mate, but to a long-term game with a material imbalance.

The most typical cases of material imbalances are:
1) Sacrificing an exchange. A rook is sacrificed for a knight/bishop with or without a pawn. This can often be seen in closed positions, when the opponent’s rooks have no open files to work on, and the minor pieces feel superior. Tigran Petrosian was famous for his proprietary exchange sacrifices. 
2) A positional sacrifice of a minor piece for one or two pawns. A widespread scenario is sacking a piece for two connected central pawns. For example, you might have seen my game vs Tatiana Kosintseva from the latest Russian Superfinal (included in the short list of best November games at ChessPro).
3) Positional sacrifice of a queen for a rook and bishop (or knight) with/without pawns. For instance, one of the variations in the Dragon is based on sacrificing a queen for a rook and bishop.

When playing a position with a material imbalance, one should be especially careful since even a minor mistake may lead to a quick loss due to lack of material. One needs to approach the game creatively, not the way we look at “normal” positions. To learn how to treat such situations, one has to gain both practical experience and study remarkable games of chess masters. Also, it is important to feel when to go for a material imbalance, and not to be afraid of giving up material.

In the game that I will share with you today my opponent, IM Anastasia Bodnaruk, has positionally sacrificed an exchange.

The game was a roller-coaster. First I let the advantage slip away, then it was Nastya’s turn to act likewise. Black had a comfortable and risk-free position after the sacrifice. White didn’t have any open lines for operation, while Black could keep building up pressure. Nonetheless, my opponent lost her sense of the position, missed a draw a few times, and eventually lost. 

P.S. Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year! Kiss

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