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Sacrifice - chess

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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 on to 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.

Types of sacrifice

Real versus sham

Rudolf Spielmann proposed a division between sham and real sacrifices:

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

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

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.

Other types of sacrifices

Forced versus non-forced

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

Deflection sacrifice

Aronian vs. Svidler
Tal Memorial Tournament, Moscow 2006
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Position after 24. exd4??

In the diagram, 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.

Sacrifice to avoid losing

Evans vs. Reshevsky, New York 1963
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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.

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

Non-forcing sacrifice

Najdorf vs. Reshevsky, New York 1952
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Position after 13... h6 14. h4

This time Reshevsky is at the receiving end of a sacrifice. 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

Spassky vs. Tal, Moscow 1971
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Black played 14... d4

In this game 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

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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

McConnell vs. Morphy, New Orleans 1849
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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# .

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