The Simplifying Pawn Sacrifice

Most amateur players are far too attached to material, and rarely think of sacrificing for positional reasons, unless they know it is theory. One example of a type of sacrifice which is rarely seen at lower levels is the pawn sacrifice, to ensure simplification. This is often a very useful defensive technique. In the game below, Black faces a tough decision at move 17. Routine play will leave White with control of the d-file, whilst the black Q-side pawns are weak. The position could quickly turn very nasty for Black.

Instead, Alekhine finds a carefully-calculated combination, starting with 17…Ne4!, by which he sacrifices a pawn, to ensure mass simplifications and a dead-drawn opposite-colour bishop ending. It is far the easiest and best solution to Black’s problems, and brings him a painless draw. Of course, it again shows the importance of being able to calculate variations accurately and deeply, at any stage of the game, but the idea of such relieving defensive sacrifices is a valuable one to remember.

Steve Giddins