In the fifth (of six) round of the Pittsburgh Chess Championship, I had an interesting game as White in which there were bouts of material inequality.
The accidental sacrifice
Out of the opening, my opponent lost a Pawn that I went hunting for.
In retrospect, I should have chosen not to go hunting for that Pawn in the first place: it was a doubled c-Pawn on c5 that was not worth the trouble of going into contortions to win. It turns out that winning the Pawn did leave me with a large advantage, but one that required alert play to maintain.
What happened was that my opponent tried to get long-term defensive chances by forcing a trade of his Bishop for my Knight on c3 resulting in my having an isolated a-Pawn as well as isolated, doubled c-Pawns on c2 and c3, so that basically, I won a doubled c-Pawn at the cost of having my own doubled c-Pawn.
Objectively, I had a large advantage and there were many ways for me to proceed, but I faltered, became passive, and Black ended up getting huge compensation, pressuring both my a-Pawn as well as my terrible c-Pawn on c3, that made the initial Pawn loss almost feel like an accidental positional sacrifice! In fact, Black could have regained the Pawn with a great game, but also faltered, resulting in a time-scramble of a scrappy ending that led to my swindling a winning ending but then not having enough mental reserves left to finish the job (that ending may be the subject of a separate post).
The unplayed sacrifice
The interesting thing is that after the game, we both agreed that I missed a great chance to immediately sacrifice a Pawn back for a huge advantage. I had definitely considered it during the game, but in a turn of mental passivity I had thought that I might as well play more quietly (which could have sufficed, but I made further errors). It was a psychological as well as technical error.
The sacrifice c4 would have been very strong. Here’s why, in terms of general principles as well as the concrete situation on the board:
- Whether Black takes the Pawn with the Queen or the b5 Pawn, the result (after a Queen trade if appropriate) is that Black’s retaking Pawn on b5 would have been diverted into a weak doubled c-Pawn on c4, and also give White a very strong outside passed a-Pawn.
- Giving up the useless c-Pawn on c3 would have opened up lines for White’s dark-squared Bishop, especially important since Black no longer had any Bishops.
- Opening up the b-file would also have been advantageous to White, who was well ahead in development and ready to swing the King Rook over to the Queen side if appropriate.
- If Black did not take with the Queen, the situation is even worse for Black, because with the Queens still on the board, Black’s Queen becomes tied to defending the regained c-Pawn while the Black King remains in danger, uncastled and unable to castle.
- Since it’s just giving a Pawn back, it’s not even “really” a sacrifice anyway.
- It’s almost certain that White will regain this weak Pawn on c4 anyway that is either unprotected (in the case of a Queen trade) or barely protected (by just the Queen).
There was only up side, no down side, to this sacrifice.
It is unfortunate to report that despite knowing all this, I did not play this positional Pawn sacrifice that was crying out to be played, but chess life goes on. I hope that if you encounter a position like this in one of your own games, and consider the points made above, you will not think twice before happily giving up a terrible Pawn for a great position!
The annotated game