Tactics – The Greek Gift!

Tactics - The Greek Gift

So the legend goes, the Greek army casually leaves an enormous horse at the gates of Troy, packed with a whole army, hidden within!
The Greeks, seeing the nice gesture, take the horse into the city walls, whereupon many soldiers appear, ransacking the town and thus the phrase "beware of Greeks bearing gifts" is born!

What on earth has this got to do with chess, you may ask!
In no less a game than the women's world championship Game 3, 2017 Anna Muzychuk unleashed the chess tactic of the same name!

Strangely, this does not involve the knight but a bishop! The idea is to sacrifice a bishop (usually on the h7 or h2 square) to denude the king of his defensive cover! Usually this is only successful where one side has a development lead.

Trojan Horse

A Famous Greek Gift (unwise to open)

Three things you will learn today

  1. The Greek Gift can be a very successful way to throw petrol to the fire of an attack!
  2. The Greek Gift is highly dependent on the attacker having a development or positional advantage.
  3. You must always be on your guard for this (attacking and defending)!

Part 1 of 3 - A successful way to add fire to the attack!

In high level chess, the players are very evenly matched and the result of the game will often come down to who has the initiative in a given position - that is, who is dictating the flow of the game.

This is a bit like a power-play in ice hockey. One player has the chance to really seize the chance to make the game go in their favour by capitalising on a short-term advantage.

Sacrificing a bishop on h7 (or respectively h2) does a couple of useful things:

  • It removes a defensive pawn from covering the king
  • It brings the king out into the open, getting unwanted attention from the attacking units
  • It means the victim of the sacrifice MUST defend and spend time calculating defensive resources - the attacker often has the initiative.
Let's look at an ideal scenario for the attacker, where few of the defender's pieces stop this plan and we have lots of pieces ready to jump in!
[Event "Greece - Troy"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "2017.02.19"] [Round ""] [White "Anne Attacker"] [Black "S Developer"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbq1rk1/2pnbppp/p3p3/1p1pP3/3P3P/2PB1N2/PP1N1PP1/R1BQK2R w KQ - 0 9"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017.02.19"] [EventType "Endgame Study"] [EventCountry "GB"] 9. Bh7! {Boom! Who let that happen? Sadly, Black has left his king a bit vulnerable here...The knight is ready to jump to g5, then Qh5 and if ...Bxg5, hxg5 opens up nicely for the rook. Black is toast!} 9...Kh7 (9...Kh8 10. Ng5 g6 11. Ndf3 {and white's pieces are just marauding the black king!}) 10. Ng5 Kg8 (10...Kg6 11. h5 {or} (11. Qg4) 11...Kh6 (11...Kf5 12. Qf3 Kg5 13. Ne4) 12. Ndf3 {and the wheels fall off - Ne6+ is pretty unstoppable and the queen's gone!}) 11. Qh5 Re8 12. Qh7 Kf8 13. Qh8
Notice in all the lines shown, black's defensive pieces didn't have time to help or get co-ordinated because of white's initiative!

Summary of part 1

  • The Greek Gift idea works best when we have a development advantage and our pieces are ready to join in the attack!
  • h7 is only defended by the king in the above position so any weakening of this is likely to draw the king out.
  • Keep the initiative by involving all your attacking units - "inviting everyone to the party"

Part 2 of 3 - When you don't have a development or positional advantage

From reading the earlier notes on how tempting a Bxh7 sacrifice can be, you'd be forgiven for going in for 10. Bxh7+ here, as happened in the fictional game Montague v McMahon, Scottish Highlands Championship, 1941.

However, this would be a very bad move indeed. Black is developing fine and only three possible white pieces (Nf3, Qd1, Bc1) can get involved in any kind of attack and not quickly!

  • The bishop and queen cover the d8-h4 diagonal well, so any Ng5 ideas are soon snuffed out
  • Both knights are ready to go to the optimal defensive square, f6 in one move, covering h5.
  • Simply put, white just doesn't have the artillery to make this work!
A much more sensible move here would be Nc3 or Re1, developing a piece, challenging the centre.

Summary of part 2

  • The Greek Gift idea will not work if the defender is well developed and has no serious weaknesses!
  • If the attacker cannot co-ordinate a follow-up, it is just a sacrifice of a Bishop!
  • Get your attacking forces co-ordinated first before launching an assault!

Part 3 of 3 - Always being aware of Greek Gifts!

In the diagram position, white is down material but has an absolute headache of a tactic which he can force on black.

The immediate Bxh7+ is a waste of a clergyman but what about after 1. Qe8+ Qf8? Now it works and black is down a whole queen! This is known as a deflection or overloading (the king).

White can take the pawn but would run into 1...Bxh2+! followed by 2. Kxh2 Qh4+ or 2...Qe5+/Qd6+ picking up the knight and making a nice dent in white's defences.

Summary of part 3

  • The concept of sacrificing a bishop on h2/h7 is often tactically strong.
  • Both attackers and defenders need to be on their guard against these ideas!