Sacrifice (chess)

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a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
d7 black knight
e7 black bishop
f7 white bishop
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
d6 black pawn
f6 black knight
e5 black pawn
d4 white pawn
e4 white pawn
c3 white knight
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
h1 white rook
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The move 6. Bxf7+ is a bishop sacrifice.

In chess, a sacrifice is a move giving up a piece in the hopes of gaining tactical or positional compensation in other forms. A sacrifice could also be a deliberate exchange of a chess piece of higher value for an opponent's piece of lower value.

Any chess piece except the king may be sacrificed. Because players usually try to hold onto their own pieces, offering a sacrifice can come as an unpleasant surprise to one's opponent, putting him off balance and causing much precious time to be wasted trying to calculate whether the sacrifice is sound or not and whether to accept it. Sacrificing one's queen (the most valuable piece), or a string of pieces, adds to the surprise, and such games can be awarded brilliancy prizes.[1]


Types of sacrifice[edit]

Real versus sham[edit]

Rudolf Spielmann proposed a division between sham and real sacrifices:

  • In a real sacrifice, the sacrificing player will often have to play on with less material than his opponent for quite some time.
  • In a sham sacrifice, the player offering the sacrifice will soon regain material of the same or greater value, or else force mate. A sham sacrifice of this latter type is sometimes known as a pseudo sacrifice.[2]

In compensation for a real sacrifice, the player receives dynamic advantages which he must capitalize on, or risk losing the game due to the material deficit. Because of the risk involved, real sacrifices are also called speculative sacrifices.

Real sacrifices[edit]

Attack on the king. A player might sacrifice a pawn or piece to get open lines around the vicinity of the opponent's king, to get a kingside space advantage, to destroy or damage the opposing king's pawn cover, or to keep the opposing king in the center. Unless the opponent manages to fend off the attack, he is likely to lose. The Greek gift sacrifice is a canonical example.

Development. It is common to give up a pawn in the opening to speed up one's development. Gambits typically fall into this category. Developing sacrifices are frequently returned at some point by the opponent before the development edge can turn into a more substantial threat such as a kingside attack.

Strategic/positional. In a general sense, the aim of all real sacrifices is to obtain a positional advantage. However, there are some speculative sacrifices where the compensation is in the form of an open file or diagonal or a weakness in the opponent's pawn structure. These are the hardest sacrifices to make, requiring deep strategic understanding.

Sham sacrifices[edit]

Checkmate. A common benefit of making a sacrifice is to allow the sacrificing player to checkmate the opponent. Since checkmate is the ultimate goal of chess, the loss of material (see Chess piece relative value) does not matter in a successful checkmate. Sacrifices leading to checkmate are typically forcing, and often checks, leaving the opponent with only one or a few options (example, checking the king with the knight, queen takes the knight, then rook checkmates the king with absence on the queen).

Avoiding loss. The counterpart to the above is saving a lost game. A sacrifice could be made to force stalemate or perpetual check, to create a fortress, or otherwise force a draw, or to avoid even greater loss of material.

Material gain. A sacrifice might initiate a combination that results in an overall material gain, making the upfront investment of the sacrifice worthwhile. A sacrifice leading to a pawn promotion is a special case of this type of sacrifice.

Simplification. Even if the sacrifice leads to net material loss for the foreseeable future, the sacrificing player may benefit because they are already ahead in material and the exchanges simplify the position making it easier to win. A player ahead in material may decide that it is worthwhile to get rid of one of the last effective pieces the opponent has.

The tactical sham sacrifices can be categorized further by the mechanism in why the sacrifice is made. Some sacrifices may fall into more than one category.[3]

  • In deflection sacrifices the aim is to distract one of the opponent's pieces from a square where it is performing a particular duty.
  • In destruction sacrifices a piece is sacrificed in order to knock away a materially inferior, but tactically more crucial piece, so that the sacrificing player can gain control over the squares the taken chessman controlled.
  • A magnet sacrifice is similar to a deflection sacrifice, but the motivation behind a magnet sacrifice is to pull an opponent's piece to a tactically poor square, rather than pulling it away from a crucial square.
  • In a clearance sacrifice the sacrificing player aims to vacate the square the sacrificed piece stood on, either to open up for his own pieces, or to put another, more useful piece on the same square.
  • In a tempo sacrifice, the sacrificing player abstains from spending time to prevent the opponent from winning material because the time saved can be used for something even more beneficial, for example pursuing an attack on the king or guiding a passed pawn towards promotion.
  • In a suicide sacrifice, the sacrificing player aims to rid himself of the remaining pieces capable of performing legal moves, and thereby obtain a stalemate and a draw from a poor position.

Other types of sacrifices[edit]

Forced vs. non-forced[edit]

Another way to classify sacrifices is to distinguish between forcing and non-forcing sacrifices. The former type leave the opponent with no option but acceptance, typically because not doing so would leave them behind in material with no compensation. Non-forcing sacrifices, on the other hand, give the opponent a choice. A common error is to not recognize when a particular sacrifice can be safely declined with no ill-effects.

Examples[edit]

Deflection sacrifice[edit]

Aronian vs. Svidler
Tal Memorial Tournament, Moscow 2006
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8
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c8 black rook
e8 black rook
g8 black king
b7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black bishop
h7 black pawn
g6 black pawn
a5 black pawn
g5 white bishop
a4 white pawn
c4 black queen
d4 white pawn
d3 white queen
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
d1 white rook
g1 white king
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Position after 24. exd4??

In the diagram,[4] GM Aronian's queen on d3 is at the top of the ladder, and his rook on d1 represents the bottom. He mistakenly played 24. exd4??, opening up the e-file for Black's rook. After Svidler played 24... Re1+!, Aronian was forced to resign, because Black's move forces the reply 25. Rxe1 (or 25. Qf1 Qxf1#), after which White's queen is undefended and therefore lost.

This particular type of sacrifice has also been called the "Hook and Ladder trick", for the white queen is precariously at the top of the "ladder", while the rook is at the bottom, supporting it.[5]

Sacrifice to avoid losing[edit]

Evans vs. Reshevsky, New York 1963
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c8 white queen
f7 white rook
g7 black pawn
h7 black king
b5 black pawn
e5 black pawn
g5 black queen
h5 black pawn
b4 white pawn
e4 white pawn
f4 black knight
h4 white pawn
f3 white pawn
g3 white pawn
e2 black rook
h1 white king
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Black to move

Black played 1... Qxg3? and White drew with 2. Qg8+! Kxg8 (on any other move Black will get mated) 3. Rxg7+!. White intends to keep checking on the seventh rank, and if Black ever captures the rook it is stalemate.[6]

This save from Evans has been dubbed "The Swindle of the Century".[7] White's rook is known as a desperado.

Non-forcing sacrifice[edit]

Najdorf vs. Reshevsky, New York 1952
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a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
f8 black rook
g8 black king
b7 black pawn
d7 black knight
e7 black bishop
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
d6 black pawn
e6 black pawn
f6 black knight
h6 black pawn
a5 black pawn
b5 white pawn
g5 white knight
c4 white pawn
h4 white pawn
a3 white pawn
c3 white knight
e3 white pawn
b2 white bishop
c2 white queen
e2 white bishop
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
a1 white rook
e1 white king
h1 white rook
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Position after 13... h6 14. h4

This time Reshevsky is at the receiving end of a sacrifice.[8] White has just played h2–h4. If Black takes the knight he has to give up his own knight on f6 to avoid mate on h7. Instead, he simply ignored the bait and continued developing.

Positional sacrifice[edit]

Spassky vs. Tal, Moscow 1971
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a8 black rook
d8 black queen
f8 black rook
g8 black king
a7 black pawn
b7 black bishop
e7 black bishop
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
b6 black pawn
e6 black pawn
f6 black knight
d5 black pawn
e5 white pawn
f4 white pawn
a3 white pawn
c3 white knight
d3 white pawn
e3 white bishop
f3 white knight
b2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
d1 white queen
f1 white rook
h1 white king
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Black played 14... d4

In this game[9] Black played 14... d4! 15. Nxd4 Nd5. In exchange for the sacrificed pawn, Black has obtained a semi-open file, a diagonal, an outpost on d5 and saddled White with a backward pawn on d3. The game was eventually drawn.

Sacrifice to checkmate[edit]

a b c d e f g h
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a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
g8 black knight
h8 black rook
d7 black knight
e7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
c6 black pawn
f6 black pawn
b5 black pawn
d5 black pawn
f5 white bishop
a4 black pawn
d4 white pawn
f4 white bishop
h4 white pawn
c3 white knight
d3 white queen
e3 white pawn
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
c1 white king
d1 white rook
h1 white rook
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White to move
The following example features a forced bishop sacrifice by White. White can force mate in two moves in the diagram at left as follows: 1. Bg6+ hxg6 2. Qxg6#

Queen sacrifice leads to smothered checkmate[edit]

McConnell vs. Morphy, New Orleans 1849
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a8 black rook
f8 black rook
g8 black king
a7 black pawn
b6 black queen
e6 black bishop
h6 black pawn
d5 black pawn
f5 black pawn
g5 black pawn
c4 white pawn
f4 black pawn
h3 black knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white queen
d2 white knight
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
c1 white bishop
f1 white rook
h1 white king
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22. ... Black to move

In this position, Black moves 22. ... Qg1+ forcing the white rook to take black's queen by 23. Rxg1 ; the king cannot take the queen because it would have been in check from the knight on h3. Having forced the rook out of a position where it was defending the f-file and into a position where it blocked the king from making any move, the black knight delivers a smothered mate by 23. ... Nf2# .[10]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Horowitz, Al (December 28, 1967). "Chess:; A 23-Move Bind Winds Up With Brilliant Queen Sacrifice". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  2. ^ Rudolf Spielman, "The Art of Sacrifice in Chess", 1995, Dover, ISBN 0-486-28449-2
  3. ^ This classification scheme was presented by Hans Olav Lahlum in a series of articles in Norsk Sjakkblad, no. 2 2006 (p. 44), no. 3 2006 (p. 44), no. 4 2006 (p. 44), no. 5 2006 (p. 35), and no. 6 2006 (p. 31) (Norwegian)
  4. ^ "Levon Aronian vs Peter Svidler (2006)". ChessGames.com. Retrieved 8 August 2010. 
  5. ^ The Hook & Ladder Trick Chess Life Dana Mackenzie
  6. ^ Evans vs. Reshevsky, USA 1963
  7. ^ Stalemate! Jack O’Keefe, Michigan Chess Association.
  8. ^ Najdorf vs. Reshevsky, 1952
  9. ^ Spassky vs. Tal, 1971
  10. ^ "chessgames.com". pp. James McConnell vs. Paul Morphy, New Orleans 1849. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 

References[edit]