Material Imbalances, Opening Ideas, and Hanging Stuff

  • IM Silman
  • | Aug 8, 2012


HiddenDeath said: “After reading your HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS 4th Edition and going over the examples where a player sacrificed his queen for two pieces, a pawn, and some positive imbalances, I decided to give this ‘sacrifice material for other imbalances’ a try. However, as in the following game, I always lose miserably...

“This example, taken from the team4545 final u2000 board 1, is just one of many losses which I suffered because I was more inclined to sacrifice material for imbalances. Another trainer (Dan Heisman) says that material is almost always the most important. 

“With mixed results (as board 1 in team4545 U2200 I won against an IM and performed ok, but for some reason my performance in the U2000 section was the worst of all times) and mixed recommendations, I am more confused than ever. Your help is needed!”

In the diagram, how should Black recapture on f6?

I won’t discuss the opening, but I think it’s here, on move 14, that the most can be learned. Let’s look at all three recaptures:

First on our agenda is 14…Rxf6

14...Qxf6 is black’s most natural move:

Finally, let's take a look at 14...gxf6:

I think it’s great to explore material vs. other imbalances. Yes, you’ll have lots of mixed results, but the whole process should be exciting, and over time this skill-set will be honed into a serious weapon. One thing you need to realize is that, in my book, I was talking about giving up material for (mainly) dynamic and/or positional compensation. In other words, trading one imbalance (material) for any number of others (space, squares, superior piece activity, targets, etc.). If you think that it’s all about going after the opponent’s King, then your sacrifice will, more often than not, fail. That doesn’t mean that an attack against the enemy King isn’t “on”, it just means that you need to make use of all your plusses and not become snow-blind when the enemy King tosses you a smile. 


In the game Eimad (1378) – Pauix (1307), knockouts 2011, the common opening sequence 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 occurred. Most popular is 6.a3, making sure that none of black’s pieces will ever leap to b4 (after …cxd4 cxd4), and also intending queenside expansion by b2-b4. Next in line (as far as popularity goes) is 6.Be2, and then 6.Bd3 (which usually leads to the Milner Barry Gambit). In our game between 1300 rated opponents, White gave 6.Na3 a try. Does this move make any sense? Explain why it does or doesn’t. 

ANSWER: Though very rare among titled players, the move does indeed make sense. The idea is similar to the old main line: 6.Be2 Nge7 7.Na3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Nc2 Be7 10.0-0, etc. As you can see, Black intends to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the d4-pawn, and White uses his queenside Knight as a major defender of d4 via Nb1-a3-c2. Thus, 6.Na3 is a faster version of this same concept. After 6.Na3, White hopes that in some lines he can save time and not develop the light-squared Bishop on e2 at all.

Answering this question in a proper way has nothing to do with tactics or heavy book knowledge. It had everything to do with understanding the position after 5…Qb6, and the resulting importance of the d4-pawn for both sides. You need to understand the basic ideas of all the openings you play in the same manner!

Here are some examples of White making use of 6.Na3: 


In our amateur game Eimad (1378) – Pauix (1307), knockouts 2011, Black ignored all the strategic implications of 6.Na3 and instead did a seek-and-destroy mission against d4:


* Exploring the world of material imbalances (e.g., Rook, Bishop, and pawn vs. Queen; Knight and pawn vs. Rook; a pawn sacrifice for positional compensation) is a rich and highly instructive adventure. Toss away your fear and leap right in!

* Keep in mind that sacrificing material isn’t always about attack. Often one gets serious positional compensation for the material deficit.

* You have to know the ideas behind your opening. If you don’t, you will misplay it every time.

* The ideas behind your openings is far more important than memorizing moves.

* All the skills in the world won’t help you if you hang your pieces. If you suffer from “hangurpiecesmortuus” then you need to train yourself to be aware of every piece, and make sure they are always protected or, at the very least, completely safe from the enemy units.


If you want me to look over your game, send it to

I need your name (real or handle), your OPPONENT’S name (real or handle), both players’ ratings, where the game was played, and date. If you don’t give me this information, I won’t use your game! BTW: I’ve noticed that many people are reluctant to give me their opponent’s name. This is very strange! Showing the names of both players is the way chess games are presented in databases, books, magazines… everywhere! Permission from the opponent isn’t necessary. If permission was necessary, everyone who ever lost a game wouldn’t allow their name to be on it!


  • 4 years ago


    Please be relevant, helpful & nice!

  • 4 years ago


    he he he

  • 4 years ago


    Excellent stuff.. vital piece of information with examples and moves.. Loving it.. you rock

  • 4 years ago


    Excelent approach. Gave me something to think about.

  • 4 years ago


    wow !

  • 4 years ago

    IM Silman

    corph said: "Forget winning the pawn on d4.  After 6...cxd4 7.cxd4, doesn't Bxa3 do enough damage to white's pawns?"

    I don't have time to fully explain why this isn't the case (perhaps in another article), but think about this: In the game I gave (which had several other games in the notes) grandmasters played Na3 and their grandmaster opponents didn't follow your recommendation and chop on a3. That should clue you in to the fact that there's more here than you understand.

    Personally, I wouldn't think my doubled pawns are weak (They aren't on an open file, so black will have trouble attacking them.). Instead, I would see (as White, after I played Be2 and 0-0) my two Bishops, eventual play down the b-file via Rb1, and after a3-a4 followed by Ba3, a monster that dominates the a3-f8 diagonal. In other words, white's dynamic potential far outweighs black's slight static plus. There's much more to say, but for the moment, that should be enough.

  • 4 years ago


    Forget winning the pawn on d4.  After 6. ...cxd4 7.cxd4, doesn't Bxa3 do enough damage to white's pawns?  The center is closed enough that I can't see white's bishop pair making up for double isolated pawns.

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for this article. As chance would have it, the computer instantly gave me the chance to test out the Na3 move!

  • 4 years ago


    There seem to be very few books that really talk about the specific ideas in an opening (at least in plain English) - most just throw variations at it that are hard for an amateur like me to truly understand.  Or they mention a bit here and there but it's scattered like a shotgun blast.

    For instance, talking about the importance of d4 in this french advance makes a lot of sense to me and was plainly stated.

    Anyone have recommendations on books with more "plain english" on the ideas or common goals in certain openings?  Having a good coach always helps, but is not always realistic.

  • 4 years ago


    Good stuff as usual!

  • 4 years ago


    jeremy I love you too

  • 4 years ago


    Would Bobby Fischer's "game of the century" be a good example for this article? 

  • 4 years ago


    I like it.not bad!!!

  • 4 years ago


    Where exactly is the material imbalance??? The position is perfectly balanced!

  • 4 years ago


    Nice article! Very interesting.

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