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Give to get! - Positional sacrifices in the endgame

Oct 2, 2014
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Positional Sacrifices in the endgame:

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

-- Winston Churchill

The quote can also be equally applied to chess. These getting and giving are called sacrifices and compensation. It makes sense to sacrifice material and still gain no immediate material in return. These sacrifices are for positional compensation. Below are a few games that illustrate positional sacrifices in the endgame.

Filippov, Anton - Kamsky, Gata 1/2-1/2

41st Olympiad Tromso Open 2014.08.09

BD_27015_203_0.pngDiagram #1

Black to move. I invite the readers to put themselves in the shoes of black and deliberate for a while over how they would respond in a similar situation.

[Think and post your answer in the comment before to check the answer]


A rather obvious move if one knows the theme. White's plan is to transfer the knight to d4 and breakthrough on the kingside. This move is pivotal to black's cause as it allows black to park the knight on d5, thereby tying up white's dark squared bishop. Black keeps the king on d7, knight on d5 and the bishop on d8-h4 diagonal for a fortress

(1...Kf7 is the silicon's first suggestion, however he's smart enough to realise after a few seconds how easily white can breakthrough 2.Ne2 Ke7 3.Kh4 Ng7 4.Kg5 Kd7+ ( Kf7+ 5.Kh6 +- ) 5.Kg6 +- )

2.Bxd4 ( 2.exd4 Nc7 doesn't really make any difference to the eventual outcome of the game)

2... Nc7 3.Bc3 Nd5 4.Bd2 Kf7 5.Ne2 Ke8 6.Nd4 Kd7

BD_27015_203_1.pngDiagram #2


Black has got the ideal defensive setup. Now white's only plan is to try and breakthrough with e4 and f5 in order to create a passed pawn. Black will set up a blockade on the f5 square when this happens

7.Nc2 Be7 8.Be1 Ke8 9.Kg2 Bf8 10.Kg3 Be7

Often in such endgames when each tempo isn't the most important thing, it often makes sense for the side having the upper hand to appear to loiter aimlessly for a while. This serves two purposes, 1.Lowers the guard of the defender 2.Conceals the real intention. 3.Tires the opponent Of course, this isn't a particularly useful tip against strong players who sense the essence of the position and calculate fully, however I've found it practically useful against people of lesser strength

11.Kf3 Bf8 12.e4

practically the only plan to try and win. Now black sets up a blockade, taking control of the f5 square

12... Ne7 13.Ne3 Bh6 14.Nc2 ( 14.Bh4 ( 14.exf5 Nxf5 15.Ng4 ( 15.Nxf5 ( 15.Ke4 Nxe3 16.Kxe3 Kf7 17.Ke4 Kg6 just in time to block the entry point. Now black can just move around the bishop and again white has no way to make progress)15... exf5 is an example of the position where white will not be able to break through)15... Bg7 and again, white has only one way to penetrate through to black's position, which is through the kingside and that is much more securely guarded than Voldemort's initial horcruxes)14... Ng6 15.Bg3 Ne7 gets white nowhere)

14... fxe4+ 15.Kxe4 Nf5 16.Na1 Bf8 17.Nb3 Bh6 18.Na5 Kd7 19.Nb7 Bf8 20.Nd6

This move virtually spells doom to all white's ambition of winning. with only black's knight remaining, white'll have no way to break through because it's impossible for white to mount pressure on f5, the safe house of the dark knight of black's position

20... Bxd6 21.cxd6 ( 21.exd6 isn't much to worry about either, as black's knight will continue to keep moving back and forth, for example21... Nh6 22.Ke5 Nf5 23.Kf6 Nh6 24.Kg6 Nf5 25.Bf2 now, black's knight has no squares, but black's king can move25... Ke8 26.Kf6 Kd7 27.Be1 Ne3 = )

21... Nh6 22.Bh4 Nf5 23.Bf2 Nh6 24.Kf3 Nf5 25.Kg4 Nh6+ 26.Kg5 Nf5 27.Kg6 Ke8 28.Kf6 Kd7

Vishnu, P. - Lalith, Babu MR 1/2-1/2

51st ch-IND Premier 2013 2013.12.20

BD_27015_203_2.pngDiagram #3

Black to move again. This game is a fairly popular game published in many publications. What would you do if you were black? Can you find what the grandmaster playing white missed?


BD_27015_203_3.pngDiagram #4


with the exchange of the light square bishop, white's king has no entry points

2.Bxb5 ( 2.Bg4 Nc6 3.Bxe6 Nxd4 4.Bxd5 was probably a better try4... Be8 5.Bb7 Bxh5 6.Bxa6 Be8 with very high chances for black to hold)

2... axb5 3.Bxb8 Kf7 4.Bd6 Ke8 5.Bc5 Kf7 6.Bd6

White to play - and win 1-0

BD_27015_203_4.pngDiagram #5

To cap it all off, I invite you to solve this wonderfully composed study by Afek, Yochanan.  Hint: Remember arithmetric progression ;) the numbers keep increasing in a sequence ;)

1.Rc6 bxc6 2.b4 Kf7 3.Kc7 Ke8 4.Kc8 Bd3 5.Kc7 Rxc5 6.bxc5 Bb5
( Ba6 7.Kb6 Bc8 8.Kc7 Bd7 9.Kd6 Kd8)

7.Kc8 Ke7 8.Kc7

You can find more studies and compositions by Afek in this advanced section:

[You need to be logged in to view this link properly]

Here is a brief summary of the lessons:-

1.Passed pawns are particularly more dangerous in endgames

2.Look to bring your king.  And king's position plays a pivotal role in almost all the positions we discussed in this article :)

3.In most cases when a side has only one bishop, he finds it very difficult to control squares of the opposite colour. Often this is termed with terms such as 'light square weakness' or 'dark square weakness'. Also outposts are very effective when it is of the colour opposite of that of the opponent's bishop. So, when your opponent has only one bishop, look to exploit weaknesses in the squares of other colour ;)

Has this every happened to you in your games, or in others' games? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. Let us learn together! That's the spirit of a chess player.


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