Sacrificing in the Opening

Openings - Sacrifice in the Opening!

We are going to look at quite a rare situation in chess where you might consider sacrificing a piece very early in the game.

Important Note: This is not for the faint of heart! A sacrifice in the opening means you will have to play with lots of energy or have a clear tactical goal in mind to make the investment worthwhile.

Crying

Don't worry, little one. That piece has not been lost in vain!

A piece sacrifice is a big investment. There is no two ways about it, you will need to get some kind of compensation for the piece given away, whether that's immediate material gain, checkmate or activity.

Your Turn! White to play

5. Bxf7+ is tempting! 5...Kxf7 6. Nxe5+ dxe5 7. Qxg4 gives white some pressure but there is something even more forceful here...5. Nxe5!

After the capture 5...dxe5 (best), then white is just a pawn up after 6. Qxg4. Alternatively, if black grabs the good lady... 5...Bxd1?? 6. Bxf7+ Ke7 7. Nd5# is a beautiful finish.

This is an example of a piece sacrifice, completely justified by tactical means. Other cases are not so clear...

Three things you will learn today

  1. f7 and f2 are your target squares
  2. Tactical means are best
  3. If there is no clear return on investment, make sure you have activity!

Part 1 of 3 - meet your target squares - f2 and f7

You will often read about the vulnerability of these squares and also see games with the "f7-sac" idea.

The reason these squares are so weak and a big target are several:

  • Only the king defends them
  • In many systems, the f2 or f7 pawn is an important defensive cover of the king
  • By taking a piece on f7 (for example), the king is opened up to checks on the a2-g8 diagonal by the bishop; the Nf3-g5+ from the knight and a potential Qd5 or Qb3

However, like making a move on a potential love target, the timing is vital!

Romance

Like romance, the timing and conditions have to be perfect...

Back in the romantic days of the 1800s, players couldn't sacrifice on these squares fast enough. There are many-a swashbuckling game from this era where great chess heros of the day would play the king's gambit, get an attack rolling and end the game with sacrifices aplenty to win a marvellous game.

Sadly for aficionados of this bygone era, defending players got better and worked out a way to handle these threats, principally by developing strongly early in the game.

Against bad development, the opportunity is there for the taking!

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 is known as the "Fried Liver Attack" and is a very sharp variation from the Italian Game. It is very playable for both sides but with wild complications! In the fictional game, Graham Marconi - Ted Edison, 1891, black hesitated in the opening (playing ...d6 then ...d5, allowing his opponent to play the same idea but faster, giving white a very favourable position:
[Event "A Better Liver"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "1891"] [Round ""] [White "G Marconi"] [Black "T Edison"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "1891"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 d6?! {after some thought, white decided (correctly) that} 5. Ng5 {was a good way forward! Black has lost a small amount of flexibility. After} 5...d5 6. exd5 Nxd5 {here it comes...!} 7. Nxf7!! {a wild game ensued:} 7...Kxf7 8. Qf3 (8. Nc3 {is also good}) 8...Ke6 9. Nc3 Nce7 10. d4!! {and white won in fine style:} 10...exd4 11. Bf4 dxc3 12. 0-0-0 cxb2+ 13. Kxb2 c6 {there are just too many open lines now...} 14. Rhe1 Kf7 15. Bc7 {and the white flag was raised}

Summary of part 1

Let's look at why this sacrifice worked:
  • White had no issue in getting his pieces out - just got on with getting the maximum activity for his pieces
  • Black made too many passive defensive moves, giving white free reign
  • White was even happy to invest more material so that his rooks could 'join the party' whilst black was dozing!

Part 2 of 3 - Where a sacrifice is justified tactically

When you have an opportunity to sacrifice a piece with an immediate recovery of the invested material, you should grab it with both hands!

Your Turn! White to play

The bishop is lined up menacingly against the queen. However, if the king were say on f7, Ng5+ would uncover a nasty attack on both the king and bishop. As the king takes priority, the bishop would go...so how to get a king on f7?

1. Bf7+! Kxf7 2. Ng5+ Ke8 (other moves aren't any better) 3. Qxg4 and white has won a pawn!

Your Turn! White to play - BE CAREFUL!

This looks very similar, doesn't it?

Sadly this time there is a sting in the tail! 1. Bxf7+?! Kxf7 2. Ng5?? Qxg5!! Now white gets embarrassed. White has given up two pieces for a single pawn and after 3. Bxg5 Bxd1 4. Kxd1, the net effect is white has one pawn for a bishop and a lot less material on the board. We have to be wise to these defensive tricks!

Sometimes a sacrifice is just not justified, like here. Black is too well developed and there is no immediate win of material or advantage to be gained. Here, a simple developing move like 1. 0-0 is best.

Summary of part 2

If you can get an immediately return on the invested material, you should definitely go for it. Be aware though, defensive tactics exist as well and it is easy to get caught out with a move like ...Qxg5!!

Part 3 of 3 - Activity or Material - A recipe for success

Whilst this article is all about the potential for exciting chess, there is no point sacrificing material, if there is no return on your investment, in the form of either a material gain over the long term; enhanced activity or a better position (e.g. more open lines, better development).

The conditions for a sacrifice to work often consist of some or all of the following:

  • Pieces are waiting to "join the party" - the sacrifice will give many open lines for your pieces to immediately capitalise upon
  • You have nearly completed your development and your opponent has not
  • Not sacrificing allows the opponent to gain equality (e.g. by castling)
  • The sacrifice negatively affects his defence

If any of these conditions are lacking, it is unwise to sacrifice any material.

Here is one final example where these ideas were met with gusto!

[Event "Lodz 1929"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "1929"] [Round ""] [White "Najdorf, Miguel"] [Black "Gliksberg"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "1891"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "POL"] 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bd3 Be7 7.O-O b6 8.Ne5 Bb7 9.Nxf6+ gxf6 {the position is primed for this sacrifice. Hitting f7 would open the position to attack by the Queen on h5 and bishop on h6, severely restrict the king and take advantage of the black rooks being stuck in the corner. Equally a knight retreat helps black, as white has essentially lost two tempi:} 10.Nxf7 Kxf7 11.Qh5+ Kg8 12.Re1 {joining the party} Nf8 13.Rxe6 Nxe6 14.Bc4 Qd6 15.Bh6 Bf8 16.Re1 Bc8 17.Qe8 Bd7 18.Rxe6 Rxe8 19.Rxe8 Be6 20.Bxe6+ Qxe6 21.Rxf8 {just a brilliant tactical finish!}

One thought on “Sacrificing in the Opening

  1. americanlamboard.com

    One of my favorite openings is the King’s Gambit . It is extremely aggressive, and makes for a sharp tactical game without sacrificing too much material. It isn’t played at the highest level at standard time controls, but even today it is occasionally used in blitz by top level players such as Hikaru Nakamura .