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.
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.)
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.