To Take or Not to Take?

To Take or Not to Take?

| 39 | Strategy

Gaining a material advantage is a classic way of winning in chess. In some situations an extra pawn is sufficient for a victory, in others even being up a queen doesn’t guarantee anything. After all, the main goal of chess is to checkmate the opponent’s king, not to capture all the pieces (pawngrabbers – take notice!). Positional factors often outweigh the material balance. Frequently we have to make a decision whether to win material or not. It occurs in the following situations: 1) Your opponent offers you a sacrifice 2) You have a positional advantage, which can be converted into a material advantage 3) Your opponent blundered.

Let’s consider the cases one at a time.

Your opponent is offering a sacrifice

First you have to determine whether it is a sound sacrifice. If it is incorrect and there are no better moves, you can accept the sacrifice. If the sacrifice is sound, things are more tricky. Sometimes it is better to accept it, sometimes not. The hardest case is when it is not possible to calculate the consequences of a sacrifice (e.g. your opponent gives up a knight for a long-lasting initiative against your king) and there is a choice whether to accept the sacrifice or to decline. Here you will have to consider lots of factors: what can the sacrifice lead to (e.g. are you risking losing, or does your opponent have a perpetual at best?), which side has the easier play after it, how much time both of you have, etc.  

You have a positional advantage, which can be converted into a material advantage

As you probably know, gradually increasing your positional advantage often forces the opponent to give up some material. Your task is to evaluate where you have higher chances: with the material advantage or without it. In some positions it makes sense to continue the attack or keep on building up pressure instead of, let’s say, grabbing a pawn or an exchange and having a hard time converting it. Of course, each case is unique. Most pros prefer an easy technical win (even if it takes a lot of moves to play out) to computer-like variations where a single misstep may cost you the game. However, a proper balance is required between trying to play perfectly and relying exclusively on technique.

Your opponent blundered  

Unless you have an even more tempting option, you should capitalize on your opponent’s blunders. Watch out for traps though!

In the following game played vs WGM Stojanovic at the Women’s Chess European Championship-2011 I had a few chances to win material.


At the beginning of the game Black turned down White’s offers of the c4 pawn. Then White chose a dubious plan and made a few mistakes, but I failed to make the most out of them (15…Bd4 instead of Bb2). In the middlegame the position was about equal, but White was always on the defensive, and spent a lot of time and energy. Then I had to choose at what point to win the a-pawn. To crown it all off, my opponent made a few inaccurate moves in time trouble and lost.
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