The Classic Bishop Sacrifice

The Classic Bishop Sacrifice

| 26 | Amazing Games

scarredeyes: “I find it hard to form a plan in the middlegame. I love to attack, but I always find that I do better if the game is more ‘dynamic’ with both players under pressure. Also, I keep starting an attack that I feel may go well, only to find myself running out of steam. To try to demonstrate, here is a game. I hope you can guide me to what I need to think about.

scarredeyes (1501) vs. Anonymous (1564), 2012

1.e4 e6 2.d4

scarredeyes: “The French. I was feeling confident already - the KIA is an opening I love playing so much, and I was looking forward to it.

Errr … well, first off, the game doesn’t turn out to be a French at all. Second, you seem to be confused about what a KIA (King’s Indian Attack) is. The KIA begins with 2.d3, not 2.d4. Then after 2.d3, White follows with Nd2, Ngf3, g3, Bg2, 0-0, etc. I discussed the KIA in my article, “Identical Twins: the KIA and the London System”. 


Now we can enter several different openings. For example, 3.Nf3 cxd4 is a Sicilian, while 3.d5 is a form of Benoni (a d-pawn opening!).
















We’re closing in on an actual opening: it will either be an Alapin Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.c3), or we can return to the French Defense (3…d5 4.e5).


Okay, it seems that we’ll be enjoying a bit of Alapin Sicilian theory.


Most popular, though 4.Bd3, trying to retain a broad center, is also commonly seen. 

4…Nd5 5.Nf3

scarredeyes: “Expecting him to try to undermine the d4-pawn.


This gives White an option that shouldn’t be allowed. Instead, Black’s most respected antidote to this move order is 5…cxd4 6.cxd4 d6 (6…b6 is also good) when 7.Bc4 is most popular, and 7.Nc3 and 7.a3 (keeping black’s pieces off of b4 and hoping to make use of the attacking e5-pawn by taking aim at the enemy kingside via Bd3, 0-0, Qd1-e2-e4, etc.) also make lots of tournament appearances. After 7.a3, Black has done okay with 7…Bd7, which is the most popular move, 7…Nc6, and 7…Nd7.


“Normal,” but it fails to take advantage of black’s inaccurate move order. One try at punishing black’s omission of 5…cxd4 6.cxd4 is 6.c4! Ndb4:

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 e6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.c4 Ndb4 7.dxc5! (This simple capture seems to give White a very pleasant edge. Also worthy of deep exploration is 7.d5!? Nd4? [stronger is 7…exd5 8.cxd5 Qa5 9.Nc3 Nd4 10.Bd3 with interesting complications] 8.Nxd4 cxd4 9.a3! Qa5 10.Bd2 d3 11.Bxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Nd2 and black’s in serious trouble: 12…Qc7 13.f4 Qc5 14.axb4 Qe3+ 15.Be2 dxe2 16.Qxe2 Qxf4 17.Qe4) 7…Na6 8.a3 Nxc5 9.b4 Ne4 10.Bd3 d5 11.Qc2 f5 12.exf6 Qxf6 13.Bb2 Qg6 14.0-0 Bd6 15.Nbd2 0-0 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Bxe4 Qh6 18.Rad1 Bc7 19.Rfe1 Rxf3 20.Bxf3 Qxh2+ 21.Kf1 e5 22.Ke2 Qf4 23.Bd5+ Kh8 24.Qe4 Qg5 25.Bxc6 Bf5 26.Qe3 Qg4+ 27.Kf1 Qxc4+ 28.Kg1 Qxc6 29.Bxe5 Bb6 30.Qg5 Bg6 31.Qe7, 1-0, L. Totsky (2490) – D. Losev (2375) [B22], Moscow 1996.


scarredeyes: “Why? There was nothing to fear about 6.Bg5.

Of course, 6…cxd4 7.cxd4 takes us back to main lines, but since Black didn’t capture on move five, he apparently doesn’t see a reason to do so now. On the other hand, the idea behind black’s 6…Be7 is clear enough: he wants to develop and castle. Unfortunately, 6…cxd4 really does need to be played since it not only ends the c3-c4 push ideas, but also prevents a timely dxc5 by White.


scarredeyes: “I made a plan to put the knight on the hole in d6, not to make it a nuisance, but rather to place the e-pawn there, restricting his pieces. I was then looking for dxc5 or Be4-xd5 and Bf4 to try to keep it there.















This hardly refutes black’s 5th and 6th moves, but it’s playable and the ideas you just mentioned have some nice positional foundations. On the other hand, in this particular position white’s e5-pawn is the cornerstone of any attack against black’s King because it prevents solid defensive moves like …Nf6. On e5, the pawn is an attacking piece, but on d6 is might prove to be nothing more than a weakness. I should add that one of black’s big ideas is to chop on d4 and create a hole on d5 (which is a wonderful home for his Knight). His light-squared Bishop will help dominate this square via …b6 followed by …Bb7. In other words, getting a pawn to d6 isn’t really going to bother Black too much.

If I was White (after 6…Be7), I would very much want to find a way to label black’s refusal to play 5…cxd4 as inferior (there’s a reason that almost every good player chops on d4, and if Black avoided doing so, I’d try hard to figure out some form of punishment). Thus, 6.c4 was the big try after 5…Nc6, while 7.dxc5 seems the most logical after 6…Be7. The idea is that if Black recaptures on c5 he’ll lose a tempo since he already moved his Bishop. In addition, white’s queenside pawns will be able to push black’s pieces back by well-timed advances like b2-b4 and c3-c4 (e.g. 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.b4 Be7 9.b5 Na5 10.c4 Nb6 11.Nbd2 and black’s pieces are stepping on each other’s toes).


Black should still take on d4.


And, once again, 8.dxc5 seems to give White an advantage. For example, how would the readers handle the white side after 8.dxc5 Bxc5?
















scarredeyes: “Still works for me, I thought.

I’m not high on black’s 8…f6. Instead, 8…cxd4 9.cxd4 (9.Nxd4 Nxd4 10.cxd4 b5 11.Ne3 Bb7) 9…Ncb4 10.Be2 (10.Be4 f5) 10…b5 11.Ne3 Bb7 and Black has a nice game.


White follows through with his plan, but it’s not very good. Instead, simple chess with 9.exf6 or 9.0-0 was the way to go, though White would have nothing more than a small plus (black’s King is a bit loose and his pawn structure is a tad wobbly, but his powerful grip on the d5-square ensures that Black will have his share of the chances).


First: this misses a big chance. Second: having the pawn on c5 actually blocks black’s own dark-squared Bishop in some lines (and gives White other options too). Thus trading it off by 9…cxd4 is not only a good idea, it turns out to be crushing in this position.
















scarredeyes: “At the time, I feared if dxc5 then …e4 wins a piece. Of course that was stupid since Bxe4 picks it up. At the time, I wanted to do 10.dxc5, but on hindsight, it allows Black to undermine the position with something like …b6: 10.dxc5 b6 11.Nxc8 Rxc8 12.cxb6 Qxb6 and I’m in trouble.

White’s 10.dxe5?? once again leaves him in serious trouble. Instead, White can achieve a very pleasant position with 10.dxc5! b6 11.Be4! bxc5 (11…Nf6 12.Bxc6 dxc6 13.Nxe5 bxc5 14.Nxc8 Qxd1+ 15.Kxd1 Raxc8 16.Ke2 leaves White with a vastly superior pawn structure) 12.Nxc8 Rxc8 13.Bxd5 exd5 14.Qxd5+ and white’s better.


scarredeyes: “Probably trying to win a pawn, when actually 10...Nxe5 11.Nxe5 Bxd6 already wins a pawn. I would have been tempted to do the same Bxh7+ sac as in the game.

Yes, Black missed 10…Nxe5! 11.Nxe5 Bxd6 with a safe extra pawn. As for Mr. scarredeyes’ desire to answer this with 12.Bxh7+ Kxh7 13.Qh5+, white’s position is hopeless after 13…Kg8 14.Ng6 and now Black has lots of winning replies, with 14…Qf6 15.Nxf8 Qxf8 being strong, and 14…Re8 being the greediest (15.Qh8+ Kf7 16.Qh5 Qf6 17.Ne5+ Kf8 and white’s toast.
















scarredeyes: “On hindsight, one of my problems - when to attack. This attitude did teach me one thing though - how to take advantage of openings in the enemy camp.

This move is completely unsound! Though you can get a real education on the Classic Bishop Sacrifice in Vukovic’s wonderful, THE ART OF ATTACK IN CHESS (and in other books), here are a few very basic (I’m not going into anything too complicated! Vukovic’s book will take you far deeper.) examples of when it does and doesn’t work:


* A pawn on e5, which stops …Nf6, which would defend h7 and (usually) refute the attack.

* The ability to follow up with Ng5+. This means that a black piece can’t chop the Knight once it goes to g5, UNLESS White has a pawn on h4, when taking on g5 would open the h-file after hxg5.


* White’s Queen can join in the attack after Ng5+ via Qh5+.


* White doesn’t have a pawn on e5, which means Black can defend with …Nf6.


* Black can safely chop the Knight on g5 after Ng5+.


* Black can place a Bishop or Queen on the b1-h7 diagonal, thus preventing white’s hoped for Qh7+.

For more on this subject, you can also turn to this chess mentor course!

11…Kxh7 12.Ng5+

scarredeyes: “Maybe Bg5 was a better move. I debated in the game whether to play it or not, and decided to make this move. After all, what to do after 12.Bg5 Bxg5 13.Nxg5+ Kg6?

What to do indeed! After 12.Bg5 Black would be a masochist to take on g5! Why allow White’s pieces to surround his King for no reason? Instead, 12.Bg5 Nxe5! 13.Nxe5 Qxd6 14.Qh5+ Kg8 and White can resign. However, after 12.Bg5 your 12…Bxg5?? drags Black into a world of pain: 13.Nxg5+ Kg6 (13…Kg8 14.Qh5 wins; 13…Kh6 14.Qd3! g6 [14…Kxg5 15.Qh7] 15.Qh3+ Kxg5 16.f4+! Rxf4 [16…Kxf4 17.Qg3 mate; 16…Nxf4 17.Ne4 mate] 17.g3 Nxe5 [17…Ra4 18.Nf7 mate] 18.gxf4+ Kf6 19.Qh8+ Ke7 20.fxe5 Qxd6 21.Qg7+ Ke8 22.exd6 and mates!) 14.Qd3+ Kxg5 (14…Rf5 15.g4 Nxe5 16.gxf5+ Kxg5 17.Qg3+ Kf6 18.Qh4+ g5 19.fxg6+ Kg7 20.Ne8+ Kf8 21.g7+ Kf7 22.g8=Q+ Kxg8 23.Rg1+ Kf8 24.Qh6+ Ke7 25.Rg7+ Nf7 26.Qg5+ Nf6 27.Qxf6+ Kxe8 28.Rg8 mate.) 15.Qh7! Nxe5 (giving up his Queen by 15…Qxd6 held out longer) 16.Qxg7+ Ng6 17.h4+ Kf4 18.0-0-0! Qxd6 19.Rd4+ cxd4 (19…Kf5 20.g4 mate) 20.Qxd4+ Kf5 21.g4 mate.

12…Bxg5 13.Bxg5 Nxe5 14.Qc2+

scarredeyes: “Not the move I originally planned, but Qh5+ does not work because of the central knight placement.

14…g6 15.Nxc8

scarredeyes: “Desperado. Ne4 may have been better.

It’s a good idea to retain as many attacking pieces as possible, but you were lost no matter what move you chose. Of course, as you demonstrate in this game, being lost and actually losing are sometimes two different things!
















scarredeyes: “I honestly do not remember why I made this move, but the next move is painfully obvious.

16…Nb4 17.Qe4 Rf7?

scarredeyes: “I kinda understand this move. He wants to use the rook to drive away the Queen, and double the rooks to make them active.

Black’s still winning after this move, but (since White has zero threats) he should have begun his own attack by 17…Nbd3+ 18.Kf1 Rxf2+ 19.Kg1 Rcf8 and White should quickly resign.

18.Qh4+ Kg8 19.O-O

scarredeyes: “I needed this. I didn’t think I wasn going to last long without it. For a start, …Nc2+ was threatened.


scarredeyes: “I don’t like their influence along the f-file. So I decide to deny him the f-file.


scarredeyes: “Makes my king vulnerable along the dark square diagonal, but I thought that would more than make up the limited activity of the doubled rooks.” 

20…Nxc4 21.Qh6 Rh7 22.Qxg6+ Rg7 23.Qe4

scarredeyes: “My Queen was nearly dead.















24.Qe3 Nxf1 25.Rxf1 Qd6 26.Bh6

In such positions, it’s often worth giving back some material so all enemy threats/pressure are a thing of the past. Here 26…Qd4! is the “human” way of dealing with this kind of situation. After 27.Qxd4 cxd4 28.Bxg7 Kxg7 black’s a full Knight up in the endgame and White has no hope of saving himself.


scarredeyes: “Is met with a nice pin.

“Nice?” Well, at least you’re remaining upbeat as you endure this chess equivalent of waterboarding.

27.Qd2 Rh7

scarredeyes: “I saw what he was doing immediately when he made this move - his knight and rook are focused on the f4-pawn and the queen is x-raying the h-pawn with his rook. I didn’t think this would work though. I was determined to make his win as hard as I can.

I found this last sentence from scarredeyes to be highly interesting: “I was determined to make his win as hard as I can.” This is smart stuff! While most players get depressed in bad positions and lose quickly, great defenders tend to hunker down and hang on like grim death. An opponent like this is always highly annoying, and his refusal to die often upsets the opponent to such a degree that blunders appear out of “thin air.” The great Emanuel Lasker was famous for this, drawing and even winning hopeless positions from a number of world-class opponents.

28.Bxf8 Kxf8 29.g3

scarredeyes: “I would have liked to play f5 to open up his king, but I knew that it would lose the game outright. Initiative was the only thing that is keeping me alive, and have kept me alive when I’m down in material, and I intend to make full use of it.

Mr. scarredeyes is referring to 29.f5 Qxh2+.

29…Ke7 30.f5!

scarredeyes: “Finally!


scarredeyes: “I already calculated my response to this move, but no further. I intended to pin him down.


scarredeyes: “I was happy.

You were? You’re completely lost. I can imagine a birthday at your house: Wife: “Here’s some dirt. Happy birthday!” You: “Wow, this is the best dirt I’ve ever had!”

On the other hand, perhaps you’re a Buddhist, and take joy in the joy of others. You know that all life is suffering, so you don’t take your own personal pain seriously. But to see your opponent smiling and waiting for your resignation, what more could you wish for? Bravo, Mr. scarredeyes, you’ve humbled me.

31…Nf6 32.Rf2 














scarredeyes: “A waiting move. To me, this place looked stalemated.

LOL … A “waiting move,” really?

32…Kf8 33.fxe6

scarredeyes: “I did this, anticipating a capture with the pawn. If 33...Qxe6.
















scarredeyes: “He made the biggest gaping hole I’ve seen. The blunder I have been waiting patiently for. He should have played 33...Qxe6 34.Qxc5+ d6.

If you were happy after 31.Qg5+, then I honestly can’t imagine how you were feeling now (perhaps sadness, since your victory has caused your opponent pain). Having said that, why give up the c-pawn in your analysis? Instead, 33…dxe6 is pretty easy since 34.Rxf6 Qd4+ ends this dance.

Now let’s address 33…Ne4 – How can such a move even exist? Here are the possibilities:

* Your opponent saw how much energy you were still putting into the game from a hopeless position, so he decided to reward you for your work ethic.

* You handed him a check under the table.

* You pushed a gun into his crotch under the table and whispered, “Hang everything or I’ll pull the trigger.”

* As your opponent reached for the e6-pawn, he suffered some sort of fit/convulsions and knocked the Knight to e4.

* Your opponent, who was dressed oddly and sported a huge white beard, arrived at the tournament site with reindeer. He suddenly remembered that you didn’t get anything at all for Christmas and decided to rectify that mistake with 33…Ne4.


scarredeyes gave this move two exclamations points. Well, I can understand his excitement (I think you’ll win the lottery more often than you’ll see a move like 33…Ne4). However, 34.Rxf7+ was faster: 34…Ke8 35.Qg8+ Qf8 36.Qxf8 mate.

34…Kg7 35.Rxf7+ Kg6 36.Qg8+ Kh5 37.Rh7 mate.

~ Lessons From This Game ~

* It’s easy to toss out a “normal”, good-looking move, but often you’ll find that you’re missing a nice opportunity. Moving quickly does indeed save time on the clock, but it also leads to quite a few oversights. In general, if you have a move in mind but you’re opponent plays something that strikes you as a bit “off”, sit back and reassess the situation since his “off” move might well have presented you with an unexpected gift.

* When you’re pondering your plans and moves, it’s very important to also understand your opponent’s best plans, threats (which isn’t a plan), and the moves that will make them a reality. Being lazy and only looking at silly enemy replies will usually set you up for a painful defeat.

* When you see something you want to do, or a move you want to play, don’t give up on it just because you suddenly spy a surprising enemy counter. Remember: you’re the only defender of your position, so don’t run from this responsibility! Instead, challenge your opponent’s counter and try as hard as you can to make your idea/move work!

* While most players get depressed in bad positions and lose quickly, great defenders tend to hunker down and hang on like grim death. An opponent like this is always highly annoying, and his refusal to die often upsets the opponent to such a degree that blunders appear out of “thin air.” The great Emanuel Lasker was famous for this, drawing and even winning hopeless positions from a number of world-class opponents.

*Happiness is in the eye of the beholder.

*Nobody ever won a game by resigning.

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