The Power of Exchange Sacrifices Part 2

The Power of Exchange Sacrifices Part 2‎

WIM energia
26 | Middlegame

After Part 1 on The Power of Exchange Sacrifices I got a couple of responses where readers asked me to give examples of unsuccessful exchange sacrifices. Over the past few years, since I discovered the power of giving up a rook for a light piece, I had a few unsuccessful attempts but they were greatly overshadowed by the ones that worked very well. Positional exchange sacrifices are the most interesting, and at the same time the ones that bear the most complexity. The positional advantage usually consists of controlling either the set of black or white squares (when we eliminate an opponent’s bishop), opening the opponent’s king, getting a passed pawn, getting two bishops or some kind of strong square in the center. I came up with this list from personal experience. One must get something in return, whether it is enough or not one should judge based on personal experience and objective positional evaluation.

I would like to present the first example from very recent play when sacrificing the exchange was a dubious decision. Sometimes outside factors influence your over board decisions. I played this game in a round robin and had 4 out of 5 points, in my next 4 games I had to score 3 points to get IM norm, or 2.5 points to get WGM norm. Considering that I had three IMs ahead, I thought I must win this game to have a shot at the norm. While in a normal swiss tournament I have nothing against draws, here it was not an option. Early in the game black sacrificed a pawn by playing d5-d4 to free the diagonal for the bishop and queen battery. As you know, when there are opposite color bishops on the board, one should not count pawns. Ok, so black is down a pawn but one cannot feel it, because of the doubled pawns on the c-file. White has a clear plan of f5, then maybe f6-Qg5 with advantage. With the last move a3 white frees Ra1 from pawn defense. Black has a not so obvious solution to the following position; unfortunately I did not find it during the game.



The previous example featured an exchange sacrifice that was definitely bad. More often, I get sacrifices that are not bad but questionable. The following game is rather short but features one such example.



These were two examples where the exchange sacrifice was either wrong or questionable. I would like to finish this topic on a more positive note, since there are many more in my practice correct sacrifices, from a practical point of view than those that are unsuccessful. The next example shows that sometimes our bishop can be more efficient than a rook. With the last move Emory Tate defended the d6 pawn at the expense of losing the a5 pawn. White is clearly better but what is the way to get the maximum advantage?


The next example combines the advantages of open king and a passed pawn. Black’s position is worse; he needs to consolidate with f6, Rd8, Rb5 etc. With f6 black closes his bishop but cuts off my Bg3 as well. Bg7 can be eventually transferred to f8-d6. Instead, black loosens up his position.


I would like to quote T. Petrosian (the translation from Russian is mine): “The first main hardship in positional exchange sacrifices is purely psychological, because we give up rook for a light piece. The second hardship is that we give up exchange when it is not mandatory to do so”. I think once you overcome the psychological obstacle to giving up material for nothing specific tactically but rather long-term positional advantage, you would consider sacrificing exchanges more often in your games. One has to be careful though and evaluate the advantages one gets. Like in the first example, the open king turned out to be white’s advantage and black got no compensation. I recommend studying Petrosian’s games for those who want to further explore this topic. I hope more chess players will pick up this powerful positional weapon and be creative in chess!


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