04 April 2016

An Unsound Sacrifice

Ten years ago, I was discussing a line of the French Defense with FM Curt Collyer, who was giving me lessons. He was not yet a FIDE Master, and was only a National Master part of the time that he worked with me. I became a B Class player a few months after the lessons concluded.

While discussing the French Defense, I asked Curt about a sacrifice of a knight for two pawns. In the line we were examining, Black gets a passed, supported d-pawn. Even so, Curt's response expressed his sense that my notion was too ambitious at the least. "You know what your problem is," he said, "you love chess too much."

Yesterday morning, while waiting for a breakfast table at a popular local restaurant, I played a quick game on my phone. After fourteen seconds thought, I sacrificed a knight for two pawns. My position was clearly worse for the next fourteen moves.

Internet Opponent (1820) -- Stripes,J (1837) [C02]
Live Chess Chess.com, 03.04.2016

1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5 3.c3 d5 4.e5 Nc6 5.a3 

5.Nf3 is usual.

5...Bd7 6.Nf3 transposes back to main lines.

6.b4 is consistent with White's prior move.

6...Qb6 7.Be2 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nge7 9.b4 Nf5 10.Bb2

Black to move

My personal database reveals that I have had this position no less than eighteen prior occasions in online blitz. I have played 10...a5 and 10...Rc8. The most popular moves in the approximately 500 games in the ChessBase database are 10...Be7 and 10...Rc8. My score in the prior eighteen games is eight wins, nine losses, and one draw.


I played this move in 2007 on the Playchess server. My opponent hung his queen on move 21.

10...Na5!? was played by Robert Huebner in a game last year, which he went on to win in 38 moves.

10...Be7 and 10...Rc8 are both common and sensible in the position.

11.axb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bc3

12.Nbd2 Rc8 13.0–0 is also fine for White.


12...Rc8 was played in my game nine years ago. 13.Bxb4 Qxb4+ 14.Nbd2 Nxd4 15.0–0 Nxe2+ 16.Qxe2 Bb5 17.Qe3 Bxf1 18.Nxf1 a6 19.Nd4 Rc3 20.Qf4 0–0 21.Nf3 Qxf4 0–1 Internet Opponent (1730) -- Stripes,J (1783) Halle Main Playing 2007.


13.Bxb4 Qxb4+ 14.Qd2 0–0 (14...Qxd2+ 15.Nbxd2 and White must be better) 15.0–0.

13...Rc8 14.Bxb4 axb4

White to move


The g-pawn might become a target. Moreover, the knight's pressure on d4 is inadequate. White should coordinate pieces against the advanced b-pawn, turning a small material advantage into a decisive one.

Even so, White has not yet squandered a clear advantage.

15.Ra2 was probably best.

15...Ne7 16.Nbd2 Ng6 17.Nb3 Nf4 18.Nc5

18.Re1 Nxe2+ 19.Qxe2 Bb5 20.Qd2 Bc4 21.Nc5 Black lacks compensation for the sacrifice.

18...Nxe2+ 19.Qxe2 Bb5

This obvious skewer is not the threat that Black imagined it to be.

White to move


However, White's response suggests agreement that exchanging the rook for a knight benefits Black.

20.Qd2 was fine for White. 20...Bxf1 21.Rxf1 and with only heavy pieces, it is hard for Black to do much with the b-pawns.

20...0–0 21.Qd2? 

Only now does the advantage begin to shift to Black.



And I immediately improved White's position dramatically.


a) 22.Nde1 Qc6

b) 22.Nfe1 Qxd4 23.Qf4 Qxf4 24.Nxf4 b3

22.Rfe1 Rc2 23.Qe3

23.Qb4! Qc6 24.Nc5 b2 25.Rab1 Black's forward b-pawn looks doomed.


White to move


24.Nc5 Bc4 25.Reb1 is better for White.

24.Nb4! was White's best opportunity to maintain the advantage 24...R2c4 (24...R8c3 25.Qxc3 Rxc3 26.Ra8+) 25.Qxb3+-.


After fourteen moves characterized by the errors that are typical when patzers play blitz, Black finally has compensation for the sacrificed knight.

25.Qxd3 R8c3 26.Qd1 b2 27.Nd2?

27.Kg2 Qc6-/+


Black finally has a third pawn for the piece. But, Black's advantage stems from White's lack of mobility and vulnerable king.

White to move

28.Nf1 gives up

28.Ne4 only move 28...Qb6 29.Nd2 (29.Kg2 dxe4-+) 29...Qb4 30.Ne4 Rc1 31.Nxc3 Rxd1 32.Rexd1 Qxc3 33.Re1 g5 34.Re2 Qc1+ 35.Re1 Qc2-+.

28...Qxf2+ 29.Kh1 Qg2# 0–1

It was a fun game that put me in a pleasant mood for breakfast, but my sacrifice does not withstand the light of reason. Even so, it offered good practical chances in a blitz game. I may play it again.

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