The eternal bishop sacrifice (part 2)
Illustration to Dumas "Three musketeers": breakfast under fire

The eternal bishop sacrifice (part 2)

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Today we will look at games, in which after Bxh7+ sacrifice Black king takes up the challenge and marches on to g6, as if inspired by a famous "breakfast under fire" scene from "Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas. Very often, such bravery is not really by choice, but dictated by realization that the meek retreat to g8 quickly loses. 

We will start with a basic example, which nicely illustrates White's main attacking ideas in this scenario:

This plan is very simple, but it very efficient and it works very well - especially when the center is locked and Black pieces cannot quickly come to help their king. Almost 100 years later Garry Kasparov used the same mechanism to beat a computer in a blitz game:

However, we should warn the reader that things are not always as simple. In the following game, we will see another World Champion venture Bxh7+ sacrifice when the center was open and Black pieces were not nearly as badly placed as in the previous examples. As we will see, Capablanca was right that this sacrifice did not really put him at the risk of losing, but with the correct play Black could achieve a draw or force White to sacrifice another piece with completely unclear consequences...

To round out this topic, we will look at a game, in which Bxh7+ was nothing more than a wild gamble. Somewhat miraculously, it did work out for White in the end, but only thanks to a blunder by his less experienced opponent in a position that was already very close to winning for Black.

Let us summarize what we learned about Bxh7+ sacrifice:

  • It is a powerful attacking idea, which every chess player should know and consider both in the attack and on defense
  • Success of the bishop sacrifice depends on many other factors, specifically on whether White can quickly get more pieces into attack, or if Black pieces are too far away from his king
  • If the center is locked, it is usually in favor of the attacking side, as it helps to cut off the defending pieces 
  • Very often, moving king up (Kg6 or Kh6) is the only way for Black to stay in the game. f7-f5-f4 is often a useful resource for Black, trying to chase away White queen or otherwise disrupt the attacking pieces