Author Archives: John Lee Shaw

The Chess-Player’s Brainfade

One of the most important qualities that a chess player must have on his C. V. is the ability to analyse accurately. One can possess all the theoretical knowledge and experience in the world, but when it comes to it, it is our moves over-the-board, that will decide the game. And if we are blase or complacent in our contemplations, we will (or should) pay the price.

What makes human chess so exciting, is that even with the best of intentions, games are filled with oversights, inaccuracies and darn right blunders. These are made at all levels, and even the greats fail. Perhaps you watched the recent online blitz showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura? As well as being a real treat to see just what these players are capable of seeing given such short time, there was also some comfort to the mere mortals among us, when Nakamura hung his Queen by allowing his King to be skewered.

This makes me feel slightly more at ease, in sharing with you the following example that I recently played online. It is a correspondence game with a 7-day time control and I feel that it perfectly demonstrates the difficulties we face in maintaining a clear head, capable of consistent accurate analysis. Both myself and my opponent certainly failed at this in the most critical moments of the game, which was decided by who made the last error rather than any brilliance. This was, luckily for me, my opponent, who also committed the great faux pas of assuming that his opponent knew better than he did, as you will see.

So what do we learn from this game? Well, a few things:

  • We have to base our analysis upon the nature of the position. This goes without saying, but it is sometimes startlingly easy to forget. My positional and psychological decisions had served me very well up to a point in the above game. When the pieces are not in contact, when there is no tension, limiting one’s thought process to this is fine. The analysis of lines can often be limited to a few moves in these positions — infact, deep analysis of lines would be an inefficient use of time. However, when creating tension, when the pieces are in close contact, this changes. Even more so if one is intending to take a risk, such as a sacrifice. Deep, thorough and accurate analysis becomes essential and general positional and psychological thought simply will not suffice. We must endeavour to confirm that we will get the return we want, we can’t just wish our opponent to do something or trick or bully them into it.
  • Our opponent does not have to cooperate with our aspirations. Actually, the chess player’s goal is to not cooperate with the opponent. My decision to play 17…Bxh3 was based on the fact that I felt that White would be compelled to move his knight (therefore allowing me the strong …Qh4) after 18.gxh3 Rg6+ 19.Kf1 Bh2 in order to stop mate. This was completely inaccurate, but I saw what I wanted to see and didn’t see the reality on the board.
  • Our opponent is never infallible. My opponent’s decision to not play 18.gxh3 ultimately cost him the game. Had he analysed accurately, he would have seen that the bishop was a safe capture and that he would be fine to all that I had to throw at him. Instead, he relied on the accuracy of my analysis and in effect allowed himself to be bluffed, thinking that I had all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed. This resulted in him losing a game that he should have won.

John Lee Shaw

10 Steps To Improve Your Chess

I thought I’d do something a little different in this post. Obviously, as a contributor here, I do quite a lot of thinking on how best to improve one’s chess. The problem is, that there is not one piece of advice that will be of great benefit on its own. The game is just not that easy, if it was, everyone would be a Grandmaster.

It will very much depend on the player concerned as to how he or she can improve their game. However, I think, generally, the list below would be a good place to start for most …

Analyse your games.
It’s important to know where you are going wrong and what your weaknesses are. This is the way to find out. There is no hard and fast formula, it takes a great deal of time and effort, and a lot of blunt honesty with yourself. However, it is worth every bit of it. Think of it as using the benefit of hindsight, in order to improve your foresight for future games.

Learn Opening Systems and setups before lines.
When it comes to the opening, the most common approach is often to sit down with a book and play through lines, trying to commit each one to memory. This often backfires, the human brain works best by association, especially the older we get. Therefore, before you get in to the meaty stuff of variations, it is much wiser to first become familiar with opening. First, general opening principles, like: control the centre, “bishops and knights out like lights”, castling early, not wasting time with prophylactic pawn moves, and so forth.

Then one is well equipped for learning a specific opening.

A good way to do this is to play through master games featuring the opening in question. This will highlight themes, and concepts, and one will already be noticing common move orders. Critical positions will also be indicated and recent games will highlight trends and novelties. At the end of this initial piece of research, the player will better understand the opening’s general principles, and know which lines to focus attention on. This is a much more productive way of learning an opening, in my opinion, than just trying to commit lines to memory.

• Learn endgames with the same dedication as openings.
I am not sure of exact figures but the endgame features in a good percentage of chess games. Therefore, it does puzzle me somewhat, that it is largely under-rated. Especially when compared to the opening. There are tons of books on the opening, but very few on the endgame — very few good ones anyway. So, where does one start with the endgame? I would recommend picking up a good book, and benefitting from experience. 101 Chess Endgame Tips by Steve Giddins is a good place to start. The games of masters are also very useful here.

• Learn pawn centres and their nuances.
Fixed, mobile, open, fluid, closed. A player who knows the differences (some subtle) between one from another, will enhance their middlegame (well, especially middlegame) understanding. The player who also knows the differences in strategy, technique, piece capabilities/limitations, has a very fine string to their bow.

• Don’t favour pieces.
When we learn chess, we are told (by a teacher or author) what the value of the pieces are. We are also told that bishops are slightly better than knights. I would not dream of trying to argue with the general intentions behind these pointers, but that is what they are, pointers. They are used to help the beginner learn the game and to appreciate the value of the various bits.

The downside of this approach is that it can also be limiting, and close a player’s mind. I see it so often that a novice will endeavour to get the bishop pair, by hook or by crook, having been told that it is advantageous. This kind of thing, though well meant, very often backfires. I once saw a player so focussed on obtaining the bishop pair, that he failed to notice the board closing up. In the end, he ended up with two bad bishops and a position constantly probed and influenced by his opponent’s knights.

• Learn how to think.
In a game of chess, one just thinks, right? Plain and simple. What should we play? What are the candidate moves? Let’s look at a few variations in each. It’s actually not quite that simple. The way one approaches the analysis of a position, will depend very much on the position. A tactical position will demand more precise calculation of as many valid variations as possible, whereas a quiet, positional situation wont and will be mainly general piece placement considerations. Once a player grasps the different thought processes that are applied to different types of position, his or her game can come on leaps and bounds. Alexander Kotov, teaches this in enlightening fashion in his books Think Like A Grandmaster and Play Like A Grandmaster.

• Play Correspondence (or turn-based) Chess.
Most players will play chess over-the-board and across from another person. The next most popular method will be live chess online I think. However, correspondence chess should not be over-looked. Correspondence chess (called ‘turn-based’ chess by some) is great for allowing deep analysis of chess positions, for which the player has a greater amount of time than normal. It can also be useful if you are still learning your openings, as the use of databases are legal.

• Adopt a GM.
Sounds like a TV appeal, I know, but choosing a Grandmaster (especially a very good one) to follow closely can help one’s chess remarkably. If he or she plays your openings all the better, but this is not essential. Your choice should be fairly similar in playing style, however. By analysing their games, and observing closely how they deal with certain situations, one can learn a lot, and take positive influences in to their own play.

• Exercise.
This is a rather strange piece of advice at first sight, but an active body breeds an active mind. It has been shown that exercise helps the brain to function better. Most of the top chess players are pretty active, swimming and walking being very popular activities — can’t be coincidence … ?

• Practice, practice, practice!
I suppose ‘play! Play! Play!’ would be more appropriate? Chess takes little time to learn, but a good time to become proficient at. A deep understanding of our beautiful game will take many hundreds of hours and just as many experiences. Ultimately, few are able to call themselves ‘masters’. If you take to chess with the main goal of becoming a Grandmaster, you are very likely to be in for a disappointment. However, if you take it up because it is a beautiful, fascinating game, one which you enjoy and wish to learn more and more, then you are at the start of a very rewarding love affair.

And, like all love affairs, it will fill your heart with joy one moment and have you wanting to walk away forever the next, so all the very best of luck!

John Lee Shaw

Taking On The Other Kind Of Time Trouble

I was asked a little while ago, how one can improve their chess if they don’t have a lot of time.

To be honest, this is a tricky question to answer. If the player is seriously up against it when it comes to available time, (for example, someone working long hours or a single parent — Heaven forbid, both), then things are indeed challenging. Chess is, after all, something that requires as much study and practice time as possible, This is especially true if one wants to be a strong player.

Let’s suppose, that after my commitments, I have a mere hour available in the day for chess. (This should be relatively doable for most people I think.) How do I make it productive? How much of that hour, do I set aside for playing and how much for study? The answer is quite simple in my opinion: all of it.

Let’s take a look …

My week starts on (let’s say, for argument’s sake) Monday. I begin the week with a game of chess. If I make it 25-minutes per side, then I have a game of 50-minutes. That leaves 10-minutes spare, so I can do a few tactical problems afterwards or play a game of blitz too. That is a very good hour of chess play.

On Tuesday, I can analyse the game(s) I played the night before. It’s good to do it here, because even after 24-hours my thoughts are relatively fresh still. I allow the full hour. The reason for this is that time can tick on when analysing games. There may be complicated positions; there will be crucial points; deep analysis is likely to be needed here and there. Maybe I feel that I didn’t quite get my head around a certain position on Monday. Now is the perfect time to set it up on my board and take a look. I write things down, make notes, look things up in the database.

It is very important for my development to do this manually, without the aid of an engine. Engines are great to check things and point out errors in our thinking, but merely using a chess engine to analyse teaches very little. This is because learning requires mistakes, in order to identify the flaws in our own brain — rather, the flaws in our own thinking. To improve, that thinking needs the benefit of experience, in order to be ‘re-programmed’, and a chess engine does not provide that. It can only show the ‘what’, not the ‘how’ or ‘why’.

Wednesday can be used to focus on openings. I explore lines, work on my repertoire database, try to find ideas and plans. Maybe my games have highlighted weaknesses, and I can’t ignore those. Can they be fixed or do I need to find something else?

On Thursday I devote the time to blitz. Not only is this a great way of releasing tension, but it is a great time to give my opening work from the night before a whirl, test out some new lines and ideas, for example. The last 10-minutes can be used for going back over the games, just to look at crucial positions, any blunders (when I play blitz there tends to be quite a lot of those!), and look for things that may have been missed. In my opinion, one should not dwell too much on blitz games — though this might be why I am extremely bad at it.

Friday I can start winding down for the weekend, so I study some middlegame problems and tactics. There are some good books around for this purpose, and websites like Chessity make this kind of thing all the easier. The way I would approach this, personally, is to split the hour in to two. The first 30-minutes I would use to analyse a complex middlegame position. I set it up on the chess board and analyse as I would over-the-board (so, without moving the pieces). The only difference from an over-the-board situation, is that everything is written down, and checked over with a computer later.

The second part, I would use to do some tactics training. Sites like chess.com or Chessity are great for this and their apps mean that it can even be done on one’s phone. This is great if one spends some time on public transport, or a lot of time waiting around. Actually, it is quite addictive once that tactics rating starts going up!

Saturday I could leave open, and use it as I feel. Where do I think I need more attention? What area in the week did I feel I didn’t quite get enough time with?

Sunday is for endgame. I would work through a good book, and try to iron out mistakes that I had made in endgames previously. I religiously set up the standard mating material combinations (K+Q v K, etc.) against the computer and practice them. (I once saw a guy unable to mate with King, Bishop and knight against lone king. It was agonising. I never want to experience that in a game.)

And that is a week of work on my chess done. And covering many areas of my game.

The above is just one example of how an hour a day can be used to give one’s chess some serious attention. The emphasis is on Quality rather than Quantity. And I really believe that this can be used to good effect. “Where there’s the will there’s a way,” after all — but, as with everything, much needed ingredients are structure, commitment and discipline.

If you go down this route, I advise you to keep all your work, and your games. It will be great to look back on in a few months time and see what difference just an hour a day has made to your chess! Please let me know!

John Lee Shaw

When You Need To Win …

At certain times in competitive chess, no other result than a full point is acceptable. When the top of the standings table is so closely contested, a mere draw can mean finishing out of the glory area. The question of how one should approach such circumstances, has caused much debate in chess, and how one should approach it as black perhaps even more so.

Well, one of the last chess tournaments of 2014 was the London Chess Classic, held between the 6th and 14th of December. In the final round of the event, we saw such a case. The event was won by former World Champion, Viswanathan Anand, who defeated British Grandmaster Michael Adams in the final round to take 1st place. A tie-break of black wins had to be used, however, as 2 other players (Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri) also finished with the same total of points as Anand.

Thus, his game against Adams was of vital importance. Any other result than a win in his final game would have been unsatisfactory if Anand sought overall victory.

So, how did he approach the situation? Well, the same as he approaches most other games, to be quite honest. He did not play an obscure or out-of-the-box opening, or any wild moves in an attempt to unsettle his opponent or sharpen things up. I have seen some players do this, and end up shooting themselves in the foot. Anand, the seasoned campaigner that he is, remained himself, and stayed in his comfort zone. He dealt with situations and circumstances as they arose and made good moves — the same as any other game.

Perhaps this is a logical, though. After all, when do we play a game of chess and not need (want) to win it?

To be fair, though, it was a game which Black should not have won. White was seemingly in control throughout, and Black was certainly playing catch-up for most of the game. However, strange things can happen in chess, especially when your opponent may be out of form or out of sorts. Apparently Mickey Adams was fighting a heavy cold and this may explain a couple of his moves being somewhat ‘lethargic’.

In the end, Anand had to do nothing drastic in order to achieve his point than play his natural game. It is true that he was aided slightly by some less-than-optimum moves from his opponent — however, such mistakes need to be taken advantage of, and this Vishy did extremely well.

All the best for the festive season to you and yours.

John Lee Shaw

A Single File Please … !

It goes without saying that the chess elite are so great to learn from, because they are capable of playing such great chess, and showing the rest of us how it’s done. However, that is really only half the story. The other half, is that when they get things wrong, they can really get things wrong. Not only that, but the consequences tend to be amplified all the greater. This is because they are usually playing another elite player, who is ever poised to grab them by the jugular — figuratively speaking, of course (in most cases).

The following game is a case in point. It was played at the recent London Chess Classic, by Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik, both former World Chess Champions. It must first be said, that this was a blitz game, but that rarely makes huge differences at the top levels. Of course, it varies from player to player, but the two involved in this game are both very accomplished blitz players. Therefore, the game should be judged accordingly.

The opening is a Reti. It is not unusual for players to opt for less common openings, steering the game away from theoretical lines. This way, they lessen the risk of being caught out or wasting their preparation. The games often quickly become a straight middlegame fight. The players both play the opening reasonably well. In a position of opposite-side-castling, White obtains an initiative on the Kingside, while Black endeavours to create counter-play on the Queenside. Good, fighting, exciting chess.

The outcome of this game is largely a result of inaccuracies made by White, it has to be said. First, his 20.Qa6? posts his Queen away from his theatre of operation. Not only that, but it offered Black the opportunity (albeit missed) to take the initiative with 20…Bxd4!. White’s fatal error, however, would have to be refusing 24.dxc5 in favour of 24.d5?? A move very much unworthy of a player of Anand’s calibre. This is because the chosen move hands his opponent the b6-square (and thus the b-file) on a platter, whereas the refused move would have guarded the b6-square and actually seems very good for White. The move is a clanger, it must be said.

Vladimir Kramnik is clinical, seizing control of the game via the b-file. He wraps things up powerfully and renders his opponent’s attempts at defence futile.

John Lee Shaw

Kasparov’s (brief) Return …

Just as Magnus Carlsen was retaining his World title in Russia, the 13th World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov, was in rare chess action in Japan. It was an exhibition event, against the shogi champion and chess FM Yoshiharu Habu. The time control was 25 minutes per game plus 10 seconds a move. Kasparov won both games, and perhaps expectedly so; however, it is not unfair to say that he was helped at least a little by some questionable play by his opponent.

I have annotated game 1, which is quite instructive, not only with regard to some rather fundamental chess technique, but also when it comes to the psychology of the event. For instance, notice how Kasparov plays the opening especially, avoiding main lines in which his opponent may be more up-to-date. Also, notice his 8.e5, which on one hand could indicate aggression, but, on the other hand, there were other good options, so could be seen as an unwillingness to maintain the tension in the position. This possibly shows his discomfort these days in analysing deeply, or some chess rust, which goes without saying after such a long time in retirement.

Unfortunately for Kasparov, he does not get a lot out of the opening, and his opponent achieves an equal (at worst) position. However, you will then see that Habu’s technique lets him down. He allows Kasparov to free his position and seize the initiative and from there seems to go to pieces.

In offering the annotations, below, I should say that I am not claiming that my thoughts as to the psychological reasons for a move are spot on, only that they are possible explanations for certain decisions. In chess, there is very often a lot more behind the moves our opponent makes than what is going on at the board. The same goes for our own moves. There are also things going on psychologically: likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses.

It is to our advantage if we can get in to the mind of our opponent, while keeping him well away from ours. Also, it is something to keep in mind when analysing our games — did certain decisions of our opponent perhaps reveal something that we did not pick up on at the time? Did our own play betray us in some way? It may only be a case of small things, but they can make a very big difference.

John Lee Shaw

The Processes of Finding The Right Move

How does a Grandmaster decide what moves to play? The same as any chess player, by a process of thought. It just happens that the Grandmaster applies the process better, and understands things a little more. It used to be suggested that it was a matter of intelligence, but that is now known to be a myth. Grandmasters have put hours and hours of study in over a chessboard, and played thousands and thousands of games. Of course, some people are cleverer than others, but in the main I believe this to be irrelevant.

It is my belief that anyone with the desire, who is willing to invest the time, can become a very good chess player. And very proficient at applying their mind to it.

It goes without saying that the thought process is one of the most important qualities of a chess player. One can forget the opening, and other theoretical aspects, if one cannot think effectively. The correct line of thought can make a whole bunch of difference, with regards to the clock as well as anything else, and what exactly the correct approach is will depend upon the position on the board.

– How do we know?

– How can we evaluate this essential part of our technique?

Well, those who know my writing will already be aware that I am a great fan of the books by Alexander Kotov, Think Like a Grandmaster and Play Like a Grandmaster (the latter being one of my most treasured possessions). In those books, Kotov goes in to the thought process of a Grandmaster, and especially the differences depending upon the types of situation.

He states that in positions where there is calm, and no contact between the opposing sides, the considerations should be of a general strategic nature, where one wishes to post pieces, what files may open, how the structure and layout may change over time and how we can prepare for it. Importantly, the analysis of variations should be minimal, and merely as a quick check over. By contrast, when there is contact (or credible impending contact) between the opposing sides, he said very simply, “one calculates”. Thus, positional considerations play second-fiddle to the concrete analysis of variations and possibilities.

Failure to apply this can have serious consequences and make one’s analysis muddled and ineffective, as well as costing much time on the clock due to trying to cover everything from all sides. In chess it is very important to concentrate on the relevant. Before I learned this I used to have terrible time trouble problems due to going between the two approaches.

I found it very interesting to see Kotov’s words applied often when listening to Peter Svidler’s commentary during the recent Carlsen-Anand World Championship match. Svidler made many general observations, such as to where he would like to place a certain piece and why. He also voiced his anticipations about certain files being opened, changes in pawn structure, and he was ever mindful of the endgame.

Where there was tension, he wasted little time on such matters, instead stating that “we should calculate”, or that a certain line should be “made concrete”.

This, to me, indicated a finely tuned technique — not that one would ever think otherwise for such an accomplished player as Svidler, of course. And so I decided that in this article I would bring it to your attention, dear reader. If you find yourself unsure of how to approach a certain position in your chess games, or perhaps you are getting in to time trouble a lot, the following points may help you considerably. Infact, I would go as far as saying that there is not a chess player around who would not benefit from bearing the following in mind:

– In positions where there is little contact between the opposing sides, where there is a relative calm: One considers general strategic plans and possibilities. The analysis/calculation of variations is minimal.

– When there is contact between the opposing sides: One calculates variations. Positional and strategic considerations are minimal if at all.

An effective thought process can (probably will) add points to one’s rating. It will certainly add to the enjoyment of the game, due to less blundering and time pressure. It will help us approach chess positions with confidence and clarity. It will result in us finding the relevant and important. Ultimately, it is what will help us find the right moves.

John Lee Shaw

Seek The Initiative

We chess players are told that when we have the advantage we must attack. It is not an option, said Mr. Steinitz, it is a ‘duty’ — an obligation.

The top chess Grandmasters, however, don’t just leave it there, they actively seek initiative. They look in every corner for it, every nook and cranny. And, furthermore, they are willing to do whatever they (legally) can for it.

The game I am going to share with you this week has been analysed in a few sources. Nevertheless, it is my game of choice to illustrate the point of actually ‘seeking’ the initiative, looking to go that one step further in order to manufacture it, rather than waiting for it to just happen … or not.

The game is between British GM’s Adams and Howell. It was played at the London Chess Classic of 2010. You will watch as Michael Adams, playing White, actively seeks the initiative. He seeks it so much that he is willing to take a risk, enticing his opponent in to wasting some time and neglecting his development. And then, into accepting a pawn sacrifice a few moves later. In return for the pawn, Adams obtains much superior development, and a powerful Kingside initiative. He wastes no time in using this to make threat upon threat towards his opponent, giving him no time to develop or organise his pieces. In fact, when Howell does complete development, it is too late to be of use, and Adams finishes the game superbly.

A very nice display, in which Mickey is in complete control throughout — Enjoy!

John Lee Shaw

Tarrasch and the Anarchist Bishop

I recently got back in to playing some chess, dear reader. For some time now, my main chess activity has been writing about our wonderful game, and I do dare say that I might regret not leaving it that way as time goes by. However, I must say that having joined up at one of the numerous chess servers around, I am finding it rather enjoyable to be back at the board. The bug is back.

I have noticed that the website I play at has a tactics training feature, paying members can play an unlimited number of tactics per day, and are rated depending on their success. I fast became addicted, even though my initial experience with the tactics was quite humiliating. It really is quite amazing how the brain slows down and becomes lazy when one is not using it, the sharpness fades and we can forget even elementary things. Thankfully, just before my laptop went flying off of the balcony, my brain started to wake up, and I began making progress, and feeling somewhat on the road to my former self, when I was playing chess like there was no tomorrow, including a couple of hours of live online chess daily.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it surprises me that looking at the players on the site I play at, it appears that the percentage of them who take advantage of this tactics trainer is rather low. To be honest, I don’t really understand it, tactics are a very important part of chess, and the more a player practices them, the easier he/she will recognise important tactical and thematic patterns. One can never practice them enough, and I think that most chess coaches would say that a few hundred at least are required before very much benefit is felt from them. If they are able to be practiced for free, at the click of a mouse button, then this is a gift to the modern day player that the old masters did not have.

Such a master would be Siegbert Tarrasch, (1862-1934), one of the most influential chess players of all time. Tarrasch was one of the advocates of the chess principles that we still follow today, rapid development, castle early, focus on the centre. He did things ‘by the book’ so to speak. This made him a target of the games hypermodernists. What we are going to look at, is a game played by Tarrasch in 1914. From what I can gather, he was facing a consultation team, named ‘Allies’. I’ve annotated the game, so I wont give too much away here, only to say that it is very illustrative when it comes to the principles of good opening play, and how to approach things when the opponent does not develop effectively. In the case of ‘Allies’, this included leaving the King precariously situated in the centre.

I advise the reader to take time when playing through the game, as much can be learned from it. In a way, I selfishly hope that it is the first time you are seeing it, as Tarrasch’s knock-out blow is I think right up there with the finest moves the game has ever seen. It was his wide appreciation of the chess board, of patterns and tactical themes, that allowed him to deliver it.

Enjoy …

John Lee Shaw

Thoughts on the Sacrifice …

Sacrifices in chess are among the most exciting things to observe. They are also very satisfying to play … especially when they go right. They have the ability to take calmness and turn it on its head, giving the game a dramatic and tense flavour.

However, sacrifices are not things to be taken lightly or made on a whim. The player is, after all, giving material to the opponent. So how should sacrifices be approached in chess? This, like everything else, is a much debated topic, of course. There are some materialists who wont entertain sacrifices; then there are others who will sacrifice at the slightest opportunity. Neither player is right, in my opinion, the decision should always be based on the position, with as deep an insight as possible.

In playing over Grandmaster games featuring sacrifices, some factors do stick out, however. I would not call them ‘rules’ exactly, but they are consistently present in the games. More specifically, they are present in games where the player making the sacrifice is successful and vindicated.

First, the reasoning must be valid. Even in the case of so-called ‘speculative’ sacrifices, one can never approach it with a ‘let’s see what happens’ mentality. Even a speculative sacrifice must have something that one can use or work with: activity, it opens up the King, it creates an avenue for passed pawns to march, or some other form of compensation. Ultimately, it gives the opponent considerations. These considerations by themselves can prove decisive.

Second, one must commit. There is no going back after a sacrifice of material, no second chance, and usually changing one’s mind will not have positive outcomes. Therefore, once a sacrifice is made, the player sticks to it.

Recapture material only when the motive behind the sacrifice has been achieved — or, if the sacrifice is refuted and you get lucky enough to get your material back, I guess. I have seen countless games where good sacrifices are made, only for the attacker to lunge at regaining material later on. It often follows, that the rewards reaped following the sacrifice are diminished … often making me wonder why the player sacrificed in the first place to be honest.

So, with these in mind, let’s look at the following game, played between Emil Sutovsky and Ilya Smirnin in the Israeli Championship of 2002. Sutovsky takes relative tranquility and blows it wide open with two bishop sacrifices.

If we look at our factors, we should probably conclude that his sacrifices were valid — he opens Black’s King, which is not able to run for cover. On top of this he obtains activity, while the Black pieces lack quality. Following on from that, Sutovsky commits fully to his action. His focus is firmly on the Kingside, Black’s king specifically; and well, he gave two bishops, if that’s not commitment I am not sure what is.

Then, when he has the opportunity to re-capture material, he declines it at first, and only does so when it is not at the cost of what the sacrifice brought him. Finally, with all these factors in place, Sutovsky goes one step further, finishing the game in style and making yet another sacrifice to mate his opponent.

This is a lovely sacrificial game, I hope you will enjoy it.

John Lee Shaw