Attacking Chess: The Exchange Sac!

In my last article I spoke of an attacking chess motif where by white often sacrifices an entire knight in the Sicilian. This is a pretty advanced idea, but powerful in the hands of a capable player too!

If you play 1.e4 I suggest you definitely check out that article for a great Sicilian killin’ weapon. 😉

Today I’ll be introducing you to another advanced idea with which I have won a LOT of games and have quite deep understanding compared to most players.

Lucky you, I’m sharing my secrets publicly and you get to soak them up! haha 😉

This “secret” weapon is the mighty…

Exchange Sacrifice!

This is when one side gives a rook for a bishop or knight (sometimes a pawn is thrown into the bargain as well) and for the small investment in NUMERIC value (a rook is worth 5 points and a bishop/knight is worth 3), the sacrificing side receives positional compensation of some form.

Another way of defining the exchange sac (coming straight from wiki) is:

“An exchange sacrifice occurs when one player gives up a rook for a minor piece. It is often used to destroy the enemy pawn structure (as in several variations of the Sicilian Defence where Black captures a knight on c3 with a rook), to establish a minor piece on a strong square (often threatening the enemy king), to improve one’s own pawn structure (creating, for example, connected passed pawns), or to gain time for development.”

I can still remember the first  time I can across this theme.

I was 17 years old and already a reasonable player (maybe 1800 or so level) and a huge Kasparov fan.

This was the year 2000 and there was an awesomely strong tournament going on in Sarajevo in which my man Kasparov was playing.

I was observing round 11 on FICS from my home in Newcastle, Australia and logged into the server somewhere around the following position.

Movsesian vs Kasparov, Sarajevo 2000

Movsesian vs Kasparov, Sarajevo 2000

 

What would you do in the above position as black?

I can still remember my excitement when Kasparov played 13…Rxc3!! and went on to win a beautiful game.

All these years later, for me the exchange sacrifice on c3 is completely normal and the outcome of the game seems logical to me.

The key point is that years of training have changed how I evaluate positions.

Back in 2000 when Kasparov played 13…Rxc3, I was like a giddy little kiddy saying “WOW!! Kasparov sacrificed a rook!!!! XD XD XD ROFLMAO!!!!”

Well maybe not that lame, but you get the idea.

Now when observing a position of the same nature, I’d be completely sober and thinking “Hmm the exchange sac looks good”.

In fact, now when doing my initial “scan” of the position, I will consider exchange sacrifices in all positions where a rook can capture a minor piece.

I’ll only reject the idea once I see that the compensation is not adequate.

I think this mental framework is a reason why exchange sacrifices occur so often in my games.

The fact that I am always on the lookout for the opportunity to sacrifice means I find them a lot more!

Somebody once said the same thing about Topalov saying;

“I think Topalov doesn’t necessarily know more (than other GMs), he simply looks for the possibility (to sacrifice the exchange) more often than not, while other players may be ‘confined’ to more quiet positional considerations.”

A good point.

For many players the idea of sacrificing something worth 5 points for something worth 3 points needs to have a clear and tangible outcome or else they’ll be scared to “risk” it.

But for me there are many positions where I’ll see and make the sacrifice the moment I see the position.

Its a matter of training.

You can and will be the same if you study this article well.

So what should the sacrificing side get as compensation?

Here are some forms of compensation the sacrificing side can expect when giving his rook for a minor piece.

  • Initiative (easy attacking play and ability to create threats. The opponent may be tied up or on the defensive for some time)
  • Mobile Passed Pawn/s (sometimes it is worth giving an exchange if it means your passed pawn/s can run and threaten to promote)
  • Reduction in King Safety (the enemy king is weakened to the point that he will be permanently exposed and subject to attack)
  • Domination of Colour Complex (light squares or dark squares of opponent permanently weak)

Let’s see an example of each so that we can get a clear picture.

Garry Kasparov vs Judit Polgar

In this game, another classic game I witnessed as a chess-crazed teen, Kasparov sacrifices the exchange with 26.Rxf6 and what from our above list does he get in return?

Initiative? Yes!

Mobile Passed Pawns? No! 🙁

Reduction in King Safety? Yes!

Domination of Colour Complex? No! 🙁

Witness the way he used just two of these dynamic forms of compensation to overwhelm the strongest women of all time.

 

Veselin Topalov vs Gata Kamsky

Veselin Topalov (as mentioned above somewhere) is one of the greatest masters in modern history when it comes to the exchange sacrifice. Here he plays 26.e6! followed by 27.Rxe6! and gets enormous compensation for the exchange.

Initiative? Yes!

Mobile Passed Pawns? No! 🙁

Reduction in King Safety? Yes!

Domination of Colour Complex? Sort of! The two bishops control EVERYTHING!  😎

Also notice how Topalov doesn’t rush. He just quietly applies pressure and makes threats until Kamsky’s position falls apart.

 

Veselin Topalov vs Levon Aronian

Here we see the maestro again sacrificing the exchange, but this time he does it twice!

What does he get?

Initiative? Yes!

Mobile Passed Pawns? Yes! (Amazing how the passed pawns are supported by the bishops!)

Reduction in King Safety? No! 🙁

Domination of Colour Complex? Yes! (he uses this feature to force a queen swap with 41.Qg5!)

 

RodentII Henny vs Frenzee 3.5.19

Here we see a chess engine personality I tweaked (and am SO proud of haha! 🙂 ) sacrifice an exchange against the mighty Frenzee who is rated 2779 on the CCRL list.

Interestingly, Frenzee seen the exchange sacrifice coming and thought its fine, while Rodent II Henny assumed that black could not accept it!

Rodent II Henny showed deeper understanding than his opponent rated 400 points higher and won with a beautiful domination.

The use of the two bishops against black’s extra rook and weaknesses is very reminiscent of Topalov.

So what did Rodent II Henny get for his exchange?

Initiative? Yes!

Mobile Passed Pawns? Yes! (the pawn on d6 didn’t do much, but was good “money in the bank” for later)

Reduction in King Safety? Yes!

Domination of Colour Complex? Yes! (Look at how dominant the white bishops become, black’s g7 rook is useless!)

 

Robert Eugene Byrne vs Robert James Fischer

In this very famous game, Bobby Fischer sacrifices an exchange and at the moment when several grandmasters (obviously materialistic jizzlers) were predicting his resignation, his opponent resigned.

Fischer’s domination of the light squares was so complete that he’d even already calculated forced mate in a few lines. Check it out!

What’d he get?

Initiative? Yes!

Mobile Passed Pawns? No 🙁

Reduction in King Safety? Yes!

Domination of Colour Complex? (Hell yes! Look at the white squares on white’s kingside!)

Are you guys getting some ideas?

Let’s just be reminded of what we should expect to get in return for sacrificing an exchange.

  • Initiative (easy attacking play and ability to create threats. The opponent may be tied up or on the defensive for some time)
  • Mobile Passed Pawn/s (sometimes it is worth giving an exchange if it means your passed pawn/s can run and threaten to promote)
  • Reduction in King Safety (the enemy king is weakened to the point that he will be permanently exposed and subject to attack)
  • Domination of Colour Complex (light squares or dark squares of opponent permanently weak)

You WILL need to develop new thinking habits.

You will need to think about chess in non-materialistic terms.

And you will need to consider exchange sacs in all types of positions where a rook can capture a minor piece.

Will it always be sound? Maybe not!

Should you do it anyway? Probably should!

There’s no way to get good at something without giving it a try!

So to summarise, when faced with the opportunity to sacrifice, follow this path…

  1. Spot the opportunity
  2. Calculate as deeply as you can
  3. Run the outcome against the list of compensation criteria above.
  4. If everything looks good (or at least difficult for your opponent), sacrifice! 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll show you a couple of games I played yesterday against fairly strong players here in China.

In both games I sacrificed the exchange, muddied the waters and was rewarded with success.

I’ll show you the games and a video lesson breaking down step-by-step my thought process.

Stay tuned friends and play boldly!

 

Your coach,

Brendan