01 February 2019

Exchange sacrifices (intentional and unintentional)

Unfortunately most of my exchange sacrifices to date have been unintentional ones.  In other words, my opponent is able to win the exchange (a rook for a bishop or knight) because of an oversight on my part, but then I fight on with some positional compensation.  In some cases I can even win (as in Annotated Game #161) by focusing on maximizing the effectiveness of my minor pieces and playing aggressively to target my opponent's weaknesses.  Of course, it's even better to focus on doing that before you're down material.

Deliberate positional exchange sacrifices are a characteristic of master-level games, where the compensation obtained is intentional, with long-term positional and dynamic benefits.  (If it's an exchange sacrifice that leads by force to a mate or material gain, then it's not a "positional" sacrifice and should be thought of more as a combination.)  Although there is always a certain element of guesswork to any sacrifice without forcing winning variations, it's an indication of mastery to be able to identify concrete gains on the board, as well to have an intuitive feel for when an exchange sacrifice is a good (perhaps best) option.  I think pawn sacrifices are a related concept, and I have had a similar experience with them in that regard, although recently I've started to deliberately incorporate sacrificial ideas with pawns into my thinking.

Perhaps the clearest definition and explanation (with well-chosen illustrative examples) that I've seen is "Positional Exchange Sacrifices" by IM David Brodsky over at chess^summit.  This is a topic that gets referred to a lot, but not many people take the time to address it in depth, so it's well worth checking out.

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