13 August 2011

Annotated Game #5: First Sacrifice

The following features the first material sacrifice that I had ever played in a tournament game. My opening choices and general playing preferences are oriented largely towards achieving a solid game, with a either a comfortable position as White or counterattacking chances as Black.  This means that I tend to end up in middlegames in which there are not necessarily any obvious plans; I also reach endgames more frequently than the average player at the Class level.  This leads me to the conclusion that I need to work harder at endgame study and gain more depth on typical middlegame positions, but this style generally suits me well and I enjoy and better comprehend the resulting games.

One of the pitfalls of this type of playing style, however, is that it can become an excuse not to attack when the position warrants it.  As I've gained more experience and absorbed more chess knowledge, especially from study of master-level games, I've been better able to understand that as a player, I should first look to respond to the needs of the position.  For example, in Annotated Game #2 I resisted playing e4 although the position demanded it.

My opponent for this game was significantly higher-rated and younger.  He obviously was not familiar with this English Opening variation, being surprised by 6. Bb5 - a common phenomenon when Black prefers a reversed open Sicilian position, as other usual fourth moves for White (g3 etc.) do not allow for this response.  Once Black castled queenside, the position became very favorable to a White attack.  Although I don't play the Sicilian anymore, I have gone over a fair number of games in that opening and was aware of the thematic exchange sacrifice on c3 for Black, which is seen here from the White perspective on c6.

I made the decision to execute the sacrifice, seeing that even if it did not lead to a forced win, White would retain the upper hand.  In the event, some sub-par choices resulted in a draw.  I particularly recall thinking a long time about the position on move 21, which I had seen starting from the sacrifice on move 18.  I ended up not seeing enough benefit in the knight capture, so went with the queen capture with check.  Analysis shows that the knight capture was in fact superior, due to a neat tactic which forces Black's rook to remain en prise for an extended period.  There were two additional favorable ideas based on knight tactics later on in the game, also missed; in the endgame there was a forced win after my opponent got greedy and snapped up a pawn.

This game illustrates some of the strengths of knights on the attack and even in relatively open positions, where forking possibilities and their spatial control should not be underestimated.  The main lesson for me, however, was the benefit of playing according to the characteristics of the position, which in this case called for a sacrificial attack on Black's king position.  Another lesson, also seen in Annotated Game #4, is to avoid simplification for its own sake, which can quickly eliminate your advantage.


  1. Very instructive game!

    Did you learn that form of the English opening (e3, early Bb5) from some book?

  2. Actually, yes, it was in Nigel Povah's "How to Play the English Opening", which I mentioned in the "Opening Study Methods" post as one of the best opening books (if not the best) that I have. Out of print by now, unfortunately.

    4. e3 isn't very popular in the English Four Knights variation - most people seem to prefer playing g3 and developing the bishop on g2 - but I think White gets a good game from it. At the club level, many people still play 4..d5 in response, trying for a reversed Sicilian, which is simply better for White due to the Bb5 possibility.