It was a Saturday afternoon and the tournament hall was buzzing with suppressed chatter and hushed whispers.
The tension was getting thick and the sound of banging chess clocks could be heard clearly from outside of the hall.
Inside the playing hall and just outside of a playing area which was separated from the crowd by red nylon ropes, a crowd had began to gather as close as they could get to board one. Before going to jump on Sicilian Defence section, I’m giving you a brief introduction of Sicilian Defence is a chess opening that begins with these moves: 1. e4 c5.
Both sides were now in the midst of serious time trouble with just a couple of minutes remaining on their clocks.
Playing as white was a tall wirey guy with a youthful face and blonde hair.
He was in calm concentration as his clock ticked down its last seconds, seemingly unaware of everything off-board, including the crowd of anxious onlookers.
He was completely focussed on how to finish his opponent off as cleanly as possible.
No inaccuracies, no ‘letting off of hooks’ or any of that nonsense.
Just cold precision.
His opponent was a Women’s International Master with a decade of experience in top level events, but the deep frown on her brow coupled with periodic shaking of her head told any observer that she was not happy with her position.
Not happy at all.
She sat there a pudgy, slightly overweight brunette who now, was crouched forward with her head in her hands trying to find a defence against white’s creeping pieces.
It was round 4 of a small town’s open chess tournament and being around 6pm, this round was now nearing its closing stages.
The tall wirey guy reached his hand out and slid his queen across the board, resting it gently on the h6 square.
As he pressed the clock, she looked up at him with a forced smile before reaching out her hand.
She had resigned and the round was over.
“How’d you go?“
I asked as my tall friend came through the door of the playing hall and briskly approached my table.
I was seated at a table in the bistro outside of the playing hall which was run by kind, middle-aged Australian ladies.
I’d finished my round quite early (with a quick hose of some low rated player) and was now enjoying a beer and watching the rugby game on an overhead screen.
The All Blacks were beating the Wallabies, but what’s new, right?
I sipped my bottle of Heineken as my friend took a seat on one of the plastic chairs at my table.
By now it was approaching six-thirty and the bistro was getting crowded with dinner guests, so my friend was forced to speak loudly over the noise.
“I just did some Morphy shit against her Sicilian. You know Qxd4, Bg5, castles queenside etc?”
“And just blew her away did you?” I asked.
“Well you know, I was lining up to do the ol’ Nd5 sacrifice and I should have even done it a move earlier, but played Rhe1 and got the WHOLE army in on it. I knew she’d have no idea what was going on which turned out to be the case.”
I couldn’t help but smiling.
For a master level player, his approach to chess was incredibly practical.
Ok enough of my story telling…
Sicilian Defence Structures: The Breeding Ground for Nd5 Sacs!
What my friend was referring to was a well known attacking device with which white sacrifices a knight on the d5 square.
Usually this occurs in openings like the Sicilian and English Hedgehog where black places pawns on d6+e6.
This sacrifice is known to be very dangerous in the hands of a strong attacking player and although sometimes it is played unsoundly, defending against such a move is so difficult in practice that its worth trying even if you can’t see the outcome clearly.
“There is a grey area between ‘unsound’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ and this grey area is the swamp where strong attackers catch their fish” – Brendan J. Norman
The above quote is my less-than-eloquent way to say what I have said before that the goal of a move is not so much to be PERFECT and match StockFish’s every move, but to place your opponent in as much difficulty as possible, as early as possible.
Its your opponent’s job to dig through the enormous complications you place him in and find the solution.
You just stick to making natural attacking moves.
Last week I showed you a game where Rhetoric Dynamic played a speculative Nd5 sacrifice against me and although it wasn’t 100% sound (it was in that “grey area” mentioned above), I was unable to defend well and lost quickly.
Remember this game?
I can hear you now…
“Okay Brendan, but this type of play would never work at the top level, right?”
Well today I dug up another game which looks remarkably like the game where Rhetoric smashed me and it was played by none other than Sergey Karjakin!
Yes. The same guy about to play a match for the World Championship.
Have a look and compare with the game above.
This Nd5 sacrifice looks pretty powerful, right?
Let’s break down what white typically gets as compensation in exchange for the knight.
White’s Compensation for Nd5 Sacrifice:
- Removal of opponent’s castling rights.
- Open e-file.
- Use of the f5 square for the other knight to use when coming forward.
- Black is often left cramped and has severe difficulties unravelling his pieces.
- Black is under enormous psychological pressure and has to find “only-moves” often for a long period of time.
- A pawn (lol)
So what do you think?
Are all the above advantages enough to justify giving a whole minor piece (3 points of numeric value) for?
I’d say so!
You can also ask yourself when considering a Nd5 sacrifice “Will I gain the advantages in Brendan’s list?”
If you think you will get at least a few of these in return then be brave and throw that knight in the centre!
Let’s see a couple more examples.
David Bronstein vs Florin Gheorghiu
Here we see Soviet Grandmaster Bronstein play the Nd5 sacrifice, so let’s see what compensation from our table he gets for the knight?
Open e-file? Check!
Loss of opponent’s castling rights? Check!
Screw it! Check out the game and see for yourself!
If even a strong Sicilian Defence specialist like Gheorghiu can’t hold on, it’ll be much tougher for 99.9% of others.
Now you have a powerful knight sacrifice in your arsenal which you can consider next time you tackle the Sicilian.
Mikhail Tal even played the Nd5 sacrifice against none other than Gary Kasparov (perhaps the greatest Sicilian player in history) and again we see the black king prevented from castling, the e-file opened and white on the attack.
Kasparov lost on time in 17 moves trying to figure out how best to defend!
Mikhail Tal vs Garry Kasparov
So what do you think? Want to give it a try?
Give this article some study (study the games over a physical board as I always advise) and add the Nd5 sacrifice to your arsenal of attacking weapons for the future.
Every little nugget of knowledge adds ELO and chess&cognac will be here to build your knowledge into the future my friends.
I’ll leave you with a surprise.
Here’s a blitz game I played against a software program Rebel 12 (the Tal personality). Just like the true Mikhail Tal above, the Tal chess engine played the Nd5 sacrifice and threw me into the “grey area” swamp where I could have won… but quickly drowned.
Just watch the way he walks his king up the board trying to checkmate me!
An impressive game by a very impressive engine.
I’ll leave you with a quote I use quite often nowadays to highlight the practical side of chess.
“Was Rebel Tal’s sacrifice sound? Who knows and who cares? He won and that’s all that matters in the end!”
So be bold, sacrifice and hunt those kings!
Catch you in the next article fellas.