A positional sacrifice implies giving away material for long-term positional advantages. Such exchange operations don’t lead to a straightforward win of the game or material. While any piece can be positionally sacrificed, the most common victims are pawns and exchanges (i.e. rooks). There are all sorts of advantages one can gain by performing a positional sacrifice: control over key squares/files/ranks, rapid development, spoiling the placement of the opponent’s pieces and his pawn structure and so on.
As you might be guessing, positional sacrifices are risky. If the advantages gained don’t compensate for the invested material, your plan will fail. Therefore, before sacrificing you have to:
1. Carefully evaluate the position, including: decide whether the sacrifice is a must-play one, or you have other options; how significant are the benefits? ; what is your plan after the sacrifice?; calculate variations. The more experience and positional understanding you have, the quicker this procedure can be performed. Some sacrifices can be made “with your hand”, i.e. in blitz mode. Nonetheless, don’t be in a rush to play such a flashy move.
2. Check your psychological state. Any positional sacrifice involves taking risks, and you must make sure you are not afraid of that. If you don’t feel confident enough, it is better to avoid sacrificing. Otherwise even a correct sacrifice may lead you to a loss.
Also, you must be prepared for the possible changes in the course of the game. For example, if previously the position was quiet, after the sacrifice things can become complicated, and you will have to play very precisely and consistently, without making a single mistake. However, in some positions the pattern of the game remains the same even though a sacrifice has been made.
Today I will share with you one more game from the European Team Chess Championship’11. Two positional sacrifices took place there. In the first place a pawn was offered for a few positional pluses: space advantage, bad bishop on c8, blocked pawn on d7 and some weak dark squares. Then an exchange was given up for the opportunity of placing the knight on d6, thus cutting Black’s position into two virtually unconnected parts. In both cases the sacrifices were justified, as the advantages gained were substantial enough.