The Wolf vs. Three (Two) Little Pigs

The Wolf vs. Three (Two) Little Pigs‎

WIM energia
17 | Middlegame


I would like to talk about positions when one side gives away a piece and in return gets a couple of pawns. It is a great advantage if those pawns are passed pawns, because their strength is twice regular pawns. It is not easy to take into account all the advantages and disadvantages of the resulting positions. One has to look at kings, at how far the pawns are advanced, if these pawns are in the center (which is better for the middlegame), how active the opponent’s pieces are, etc. Usually, one gets full or more compensation with having three pawns for a piece. With two pawns it still should be enough if the pawns are advanced and the opponent’s pieces are undeveloped or misplaced. If the pawns are central then they might take away all the good squares from the opponent’s pieces. If the pawns are outside passed pawns then they might be stronger in an endgame. There is no simple recipe for which side should go to the endgame. If the pawns are not connected and not advanced then the side with the extra piece should favor endings.  

Once again, I took examples to show from recent play. There are three examples of Kramnik’s play. He has a good feel for the dynamics of positions where he is down a piece but has a couple of passed pawns. The last example was taken from the practice of current the World Champion.

This position came from the nowadays popular Anti-Moscow variation in the Slav. Usually white sacrifices a pawn or two but gets active piece play and black has problems finishing development. Now e6 is a threat, taking on c3 after e6 would lead black into trouble. Black cannot castle either. What to do?





While in the previous example a knight sacrifice for a pawn was objectively the strongest decision in the position, our next example features a rather questionable exchange. The game was played in a rapid game, thus in practice it is harder to defend for the side without the initiative. We are not computers, psychological elements play an important role in the game too. It turned out to be a good practical decision to sacrifice a piece for a few pawns in the following game. Black’s king is stuck in the center. As compensation black has the open a-file and strong knight on e4. A normal continuation for white would be B:e4 and Nc3 with a better game.




In the next example white is down a pawn, and with the last move f6 black chases away Ne5. Black’s queenside is underdeveloped and white uses it to his advantage.

The next game was a rapid game. That is why white could afford to go for a line that does not have a great reputation.




As you can see, most of the games became very complicated after one side sacrificed a piece for pawns. In the first example even though black got a massive pawn centre, it was not enough for a piece because his king was too open. The second game featured a piece sacrifice for only two pawns but white hoped to get the edge due to black’s underdevelopment. In the end, black consolidated but due to lack of time lost. By sacrificing a piece one can get extremely complex middlegames, this is what happened in the third analyzed example. There were so many different pawn captures in the centre that one can spend a week trying to figure out the position and still not find the right solution to it. After massive exchanges white got a strong pawn, but on the way both sides made lots of mistakes, thus the result could have gone either way. Even though sometimes it seems that a piece sac for three pawns is not enough, one has to look for the psychological effect too on the opponent. Unbalanced positions are not easy to play and your opponent might not be ready for such of a turn of events. Overall, sacrificing a piece for three or two pawns should be an option to consider when one plays the game of chess.


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