Russians do not Retreat!

  • GM Gserper
  • | Jun 24, 2012

As the old chess legend goes, in one of his games GM Alexander Ivanov played Nf3-g5 and after his opponent answered with h7-h6, Alexander realized that the only reasonable move he had was Ng5-f3. After pondering for a while, GM Ivanov said "Russians do not retreat!" and played Ng5xf7, which was a completely unsound sacrifice.  Unfortunately the legend doesn't reveal the outcome of the game. I am not sure how this legend started, but I am absolutely positive that it never really happened (or at least not in a tournament game).  I know GM Ivanov very well, played him many times and can assure you that he is a perfect example of good sportsmanship and therefore would never talk during a tournament game.  Nevertheless, whenever I see the Nxf7 sacrifice I cannot help but remember this legend.  I even call this sacrifice the "Russians do not retreat" sac! You all probably saw many examples of such a sacrifice. I bet almost every single chess player fell a victim of this sacrifice in the "Fried Liver Attack":

We analyzed this variation here:

The Nxf7 sacrifice in the Fried Liver Attack leads to an unclear position, but in the next famous game of Mikhail Tal, Black immediately found himself in big trouble.

In the following game the best student of Mikhail Tal made his teacher very proud. There is a scary (or funny, depending on your perception) story about this game. I played the same World Junior Championship and remember that very frequently the group of Soviet players (future GMs Shirov, Dreev, Ulibin and myself) walked around the city before our games.  But Alexey Shirov always liked to go his own way, which is something that really helped him in his chess career but could have cost him dearly that particular day.  He went far away from the hotel and in some remote area (and I assume it was a bad neighbourhood) a guy pointed a rifle at him. As it turned out the guy thought that a very tall future super GM  was going to steal something from him and therefore he didn't mean any harm but used the rifle for self defense.  Anyway, the same evening Alexey produced the following gem.  I guess it was easy for him to play because after a near death experience, who cares about a little horsie? Smile

Unlike the original "Russians do not retreat" sacrifice, the Knight can be sacrificed on the 'f7' square even if it is not attacked by a pawn and it can start on a square other than 'g5'.
Finally let me show you a relatively recent game played by two elite GMs. It was revealed that the Nxf7 sac was the fruit of home preparation, but it has all the features of the classical "Russians do not retreat!" sacrifice: it didn't lead to a forced checkmate and yet the Black King was in constant danger throughout the whole game.
According to the reports this novelty was found by Topalov's second GM Ivan Cheparinov.  I don't know how many hours the Bulgarian team and their computers spent on this opening bomb, so I won't even try to determine where Black made the decisive mistake and what was a better way to defend.  Just enjoy an extraordinary chess show:

I hope you'll add the Nxf7 sacrifice to your chess arsenal because you don't need to be Russian to play it! Smile


  • 14 months ago


    i played the russians do not retreat on this poor guy in the grand prix and he got smashed in an hour or less in like, 21 moves. it was a tournament game! :DLaughing

  • 4 years ago


    The name of this article - is "mem" (common expression) and historical myth.

    Content of article are interesting, about idea sacrifice on f7.

  • 4 years ago


    Quick question; In the fried liver attack why doesn't the queen go right to f3 after the knight takes on d5. I think it's a much stronger attack. 

  • 4 years ago

    NM BMcC333

    Russians don't retreat, they just withdraw for health reasons!

  • 4 years ago


    TQ SIR...

  • 4 years ago


    well boris gelfand played with anand and borris gelfand plays for a draw. that meand never resign if you know you might loose just play for a draw if you can

  • 4 years ago


    very strong move !!!

  • 4 years ago


    just great!

  • 4 years ago


    I sometimes do Nxf7 in games to make them tell themselves that they can`t castle anymore.

  • 4 years ago


    The sacrifice on f7 was first written by GM Rudolf Spielmann.  He classified such a sacrifice as an obstruction sacrifice, especailly when the king is still in the center.

  • 4 years ago


    Amazing and interesting article! Even though the "Russians do not retreat" saying isn't very true, (Based on historical events), I believe that the article shows the difference between club players/ masters and GMs. Especially that crazy Nxf7 sac Topalov did!

  • 4 years ago

    NM BMcC333

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!! Alex Ivanov  is a classy guy so there is no way it happened as described unless he had some issue with the player. Maybe he said it in a post mortem, although he is not a big fan of those.

  • 4 years ago


    In fact Russian saying goes: "Russians don't surrender" (i.e. they prefer to die); but the article is good anyway.

  • 4 years ago


    Guys quit writing stuff like "oh cool but they were not russians". This article was not about Russians and their style of play, it was about Nxf7 sacrifice which author called this way because of the mentioned story. Anyway good article :)  

  • 4 years ago


    How come the puzzles don't load on my page?

  • 4 years ago


    Topalov-Kramnik is a butifully complex game. Deserves an artical on it's own.

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago

    NM Petrosianic

    ironic in the games selected, the players who played nxf7 were not russian. Innocent

  • 4 years ago


    haha yeah! they would burn everything and retreat further east. it was a great defensive tactic. the invaders would get cold and die

  • 4 years ago



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