Positional sacrifices in chess are what separates the extremely good players from strong players. In order to play positional sacrifices, you need a deep understanding of chess and be able to accurately assess the position.
One very important thing to remember when you sacrifice material is not to rush into getting it back. Your opponent can use the common defensive tactic of returning extra material.
There are attacking and defensive positional sacrifices. Every opportunity to gain material needs to be given lots of careful consideration.
There are two important times in a game when you will find a positional sacrifice very helpful
- your opponent has a strong attack and you give up an exchange (that is giving up a rook for a bishop or knight) to remove one of his key attacking pieces
- your sacrifice helps you keep the initiative either by tying down your opponent’s pieces or exposing him to an even stronger attack.
There are many different types of positional sacrifices.
A positional sacrifice can involve giving up a minor piece for two pawns, creating a structural weakness in your opponent’s position, and the exchange sacrifice.
The Exchange Sacrifice
In the Sicilian Defense, it’s common for the players to castle on opposite sides. This makes an exchange sacrifice on c3 very appealing for black.
The idea of this chess sacrifice is to shatter the protective pawn wall around the black king. This allows your pieces to attack from the a3 square.
Black will often place a bishop on f6 or g7 to put pressure on the c3, b2, and a1 squares.
This exchange sacrifice is very powerful. The threat of it being played means White must constantly guard against it.
As is often said in chess, “the threat is often greater than the execution.”
The c3 square in the Sicilian is not Black’s only thematic exchange sacrifice. In the French Defense, for example, black will often sacrifice the exchange on f3 if White castles short.
He often plays this sacrifice after establishing the queen and bishop battery against h2 when capturing the knight on f3 will remove the defender of the h-pawn.
Rooks thrive in positions which have open files. If the opportunity arises for you to close the only open file with an exchange sacrifice it’s worth grabbing it.
Closing the file will restrict your opponent’s rook and even being material down you will likely have the better pieces.
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For example, if your opponent captures your rook and you recapture with a pawn this could give you a strong passed pawn. A well-advanced pawn will tie down other pieces who must restrain it.
When calculating what you will gain in return for your sacrificed material it’s important to consider any pieces tied down to protecting a weakness or restraining a passed pawn.
On the board and in the game are not necessarily the same thing.
The Positional Exchange Sacrifice In Practice
There are three very important elements to chess – space, harmony and time. Timing is critical in chess and a single tempo can be the difference between winning and losing.
Make it a point to practice being on the lookout for the chance to play a positional sacrifice no matter how quiet the position appears. The opportunity might not be immediate but occur after two or three moves.
The more often you practice looking for the positional sacrifices the easier it becomes.
This was the case in Bryan Smith’s game, shown in the video, against S. Atalik in 2015. Instead of gaining a strong initiative with 14.dxe5 this missed opportunity cost White the game.
14.dxe5 would have led to the opportunity for an exchange sacrifice two moves later. White would have a very strong attack thanks to the bishop pair in an open position and the exposed position of the black king as can be clearly seen in the diagram.
A very helpful technique is to think of pieces in terms of material and relative value.
In the above position, two of black’s pieces are doing very little. The knight on f6 is pinned and the rook on a8 will need time to become active.
Thanks to the bishop pair, white can make it very difficult for black to break the pin on the knight. Playing an exchange sacrifice in return will still leave black down a pawn.
Two Examples Of The Exchange Sacrifice
Here is how the Smith versus Atalik game unfolded.
In the next game example, Gary Kasparov took the opportunity to sacrifice his rook for a knight. This is a very good example of the relative value of the white pieces being greater than the material value.
Look at the difference in piece mobility and the strong knight on the d5-square.
Even returning the extra material was not enough to save the game for Shirov.
Notice how after his exchange sacrifice Kasparov restricted the black knight by keeping a pawn on b4.
The octopus knight on d5 proved both an excellent attacker and defender of the pawn.
Playing sacrifices in chess is scary and challenging because we have learned the importance of protecting our pieces.
The beauty of chess is it’s richness and how it forces us to grow if we want to become better chess players.
Fortune favors the bold not the reckless and you could ask for no better teacher than GM Bryan Smith when it comes to positional sacrifices.
This course will give you the self-belief to play positional sacrifices in your games and help you earn victories that you can feel proud of.
Surprise your opponents by playing devastating positional sacrifices with confidence. Most of your opponents will be on the lookout for tactical sacrifices so give yourself an advantage by learning and deepening your understanding of this often overlooked part of essential chess knowledge. Click here for instant access to 80/20 Tactics Positional Sacrifices with 50% off.