The Arch-Arch-Nemeses: Endgame Sacrifice!

The Arch-Arch-Nemeses: Endgame Sacrifice!‎

WIM energia
21 | Endgames

The topic of today's article is piece sacrifice in bishop vs. knight endgames. The most typical scenario is to sacrifice a piece in order to get a passed pawn. This is common because in endgames the price of a passed pawn can be much higher than the worth of a knight or a bishop as the passed pawn can potentially become a queen. Because a bishop is a long-range piece fighting against multiple passed pawns is easier for a bishop than for a knight. However, if the position has a closed character (there are pawn chains everywhere) it might be hard for a bishop to stop a passed pawn. This is where it would be more useful to have a knight. But the knight has its own disadvantages as it is extremely hard for it to stop multiple passed pawns separated by at least 3 files. We will explore these and other possibilities in today's article.

The following position is open and white has a bishop for a knight. There are pawn islands everywhere, therefore the bishop should be more effective in fighting the pawns than the knight because of its long range of action. The black pawns are far advanced and the king is threatening the pawns on the kingside. This gives black some advantage but overall white's position is solid without many weaknesses. With a pawn sacrifice f3 white could have secured a draw easily. Instead white decided to eliminate the pawn on b3 with the king. This decision was light-hearted as it allowed the black knight to get to the kingside pawns and decided the game favorably for black.

In the next example the pawn structure is fixed and white just created an outside and defended passed h-pawn. These two facts benefit white who has a knight. Moreover, all the white pawns on the queenside are on light squares which prevents them from coming under bishop attack. White tries to sacrifice the knight multiple times to get a passed pawn bue black manages to ignore the threat... up to a certain point.

So far we looked at knight sacrifices in order to get passed pawns. The following example illustrates the idea of bishop sacrifice to get far advanced passed pawn. A knight is a short-range piece and cannot defend successfully against passed pawns that are separated by a few files. In the given example white has the c and the h-pawns and the knight cannot fight against both of them. Notice how white took off the rooks from the board right away because the rook is a long range piece and it would aid black in defense against the passed pawns. The remainder of the game black tried to organize the line of defense by keeping the knight around the c-pawn and the king around the pawns on the kingside. However, white managed to break through because an active king and two passed pawns are more than enough compensation for a knight.

We looked at three examples where one side sacrificed a piece to get a dangerous passed pawn. In the next example white sacrifices a knight to get a stalemate. The biggest minus of white's position is his poor king location, but it turns out to be a plus as at h1 it can easily be stalemated. Black has a potential passed f-pawn but his king is not in the play yet. Black must be very careful in placing the king on the right square as in the game Cebalo placed it on a mined square and the game  became equal right away.  

Today we looked at bishop vs. knight endgames where one side sacrificed a piece. The first three examples featured a piece sacrifice in order to create a passed pawn. Obviously sometimes the sacrifices do not work, but in this article we looked only at those examples where the sacrifices went through smoothly. The last example is a rare case where one sacrifices a piece to achieve a stalemate. Over the next weeks we will explore more ideas in bishop vs. knight endgames.

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