The Greek Gift Sacrifice Lives On!

The Greek Gift Sacrifice Lives On!

| 26 | Tactics

As beginners, we are taught a surprising amount of various tricks, sacrifices, and mates that rarely occur in serious tournament practice. Scholar's Mate, Fool's Mate, Legal's Mate - all of these are aesthetically pleasing to an amateur, but require an outrageous amount of cooperation to actually occur in a serious game. At first sight, The Greek Gift Sacrifice (exact definition provided below) appears to feature prominently in this aforementioned category of useless tricks. Here is an example of the Greek Gift Sacrifice (also called the Classic Bishop Sacrifice and the Trojan Horse Sacrifice) in its purest form, taken from IM Vladimir Vuckovic's Art of Attack in Chess

This sacrifice is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but it is so well-known, so familiar to chess players of all levels, that we rarely bat an eye at it. In fact, it is tempting to assume that the Greek Gift Sacrifice (henceforth abbreviated as GGS) has disappeared from tournament play because of its banality. 

In fact, the opposite is true! While the GGS in its purest form is relatively easy to see, it can be modified and concealed in a countless number of ways. This might seem vague to you at first (how can a sacrifice on h7 be concealed?), but hopefully, the following games will prove my point. 

GM Odysseus' GGS in Illium Tournament 1135 BC | Image Wikipedia

We will divide this article into four types of "camouflage" (it just dawned on me that if a non-chessplayer were to read this sentence, he would assume that it is an essay on chameleons): 

  1. Impossibility: The sacrifice appears impossible due to the specific circumstances of the position. 
  2. Piece Placement: Either the knight or the queen cannot reach attacking squares through conventional means.
  3. Defensive Ability: The sacrifice does not seem to work because the king can escape or be defended by other pieces.
  4. Transformation: The sacrifice is a prelude to a different type of attack.

My article on positional sacrifices had a similar structure (a list followed by example(s) illustrating each point), and once again, I should make clear that this list is not all-encompassing. Your opponent may well miss a pure GGS sacrifice, or you might find another way to disguise it.

1. Impossibility is by far the leading cause of tactical blindness. The GGS is rather unique in that it frequently succeeds even when all precautions have been taken to prevent it. The following game is a memorable illustration: 

Some claim that our brain is an "intelligent computer," automatically eliminating moves that are clearly not playable, but this intuition can very well backfire. 

2. You might think that a knight has to be located on f3 for the GGS to work, but this is certainly not the case! In the following recent game, GM Gata Kamsky uncorks one of the most beautiful Trojan Horse sacrifices I have ever seen. 

3. At its core, the GGS seeks to expose the opponent's king to attack by the strongest tandem in all of chess: the queen and knight. As such, even the presence of multiple defensive opportunities do not deter this formidable pair from storming the royal castle. The following brilliant game, also drawn from Art of Attack in Chess (note: in general, I try to select games that have not been hitherto examined in chess literature. However, the probability that most readers have read Art of Attack in Chess and vividly remember this example is quite low - I quote Vuckovic's analysis on a few occasions, but otherwise, all annotations are my own).

4. Admittedly, GGS sacrifices that do not lead to a mating attack with the queen and knight are rare, but far easier to miss. In the following game, a prominent twentieth-century player fell prey to a devastating attack out of thin air (perhaps a punishment for excessive rumor spreading :D ?). 

Of course, this article is merely a sampling - my primary intention is to demonstrate that modern tactics do not imply complexity; even combinations that are very tough to spot might be based on simple tactical themes. Hopefully, you also extracted at least some pleasure from these devilish combinations. Hasta el viernes! 


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