Exchange Sacrifice

I’ve been thinking more about positional sacrifices recently. I believe this is an area where chess has moved on a lot from the far off days of more than half a century ago when I was learning the game.

I was White in this online blitz game, having just traded minor pieces on d5.

It really should be automatic, here in 2021, to play 28. Rxd5 exd5 29. Rd1 in this position. I have a lovely advanced pawn on e6 but his bishop is currently holding his position together, while my rooks have no open files. I’m going to win at least one pawn for the exchange, and I have a potential breakthrough with f5, opening lines for my queen and bishop, after which his king may be in trouble and he’ll also have more weak pawns to deal with. Yes, he has a pawn break himself with b4 but it shouldn’t really cause me any problems.

If you don’t believe me, play it through yourself and see what happens. The engines tell me White has an overwhelming advantage.

Instead, I thought something like this. Oh no, I’ve just noticed he’s attacking my rook. Rooks are worth 5 points and bishops only 3 points so I suppose I’d better move it. I’ll play 28. Rhg1 aiming for a pawn break with g4 and f5. Perhaps something good will happen.

But the game continued (with question marks generously provided by Stockfish):

28. Rhg1?? Kd7
29. Bc5? (Again I could have played Rxd5.)
29.. a6?? (Too slow: Rfb8 was better.)
30. g4?? (Here, again, Rxd5 was strong. Instead, I chose a totally misguided plan.
30.. hxg4
31. hxg4?! (Rxg4 was better, but Black already has the advantage.)
31.. Rac8? (Instead, he could have played Rh8, demonstrating that all 30. g4?? did was open the h-file to Black’s advantage.)
32. Be3 b4
33. Bd4?? (I would still have been in the game after 33. cxb4 Qb5, which is about equal, but not 33.. Qxb4 when again 34. Rxd5 is strong.)
33.. b3

and Black’s a- and b-pawns soon proved too strong.

Not very impressive, but it’s clear I’ve been playing chess incorrectly for the past 60 years (and teaching chess incorrectly for almost 50 years).

The standard point count we teach beginners overvalues rooks compared to minor pieces and queens. If we consider bishops to be worth 3½ rather than 3 points, then it’s clear that bishop, pawn and a positional advantage in exchange for a rook is very often an excellent deal.

It’s very hard to break the habits of a lifetime, though. If you’re younger than me, which most people are, you still have a chance. Look out for possible exchange sacrifices in your games.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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