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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Classic Bishop Sacrifice

I’ve had occasion in a few of my games over the years to play this sac (Bxh7+) or have it played against me, but have never actually had it happen because for some reason it was always flawed…until this game.

I suppose it’s probably rare these days because even lower rated players are aware of it’s existence, but that wasn’t always the case. In The Art of Attack in Chess, Vukovic says it was first analyzed by Greco back in the 1600's, but a systematic review didn’t happen until Voellmy analyzed it in 1916.

I’ve seen some lower rated players commenting on it and often they assume the sacrifice is automatic and always correct. As Vukovic points out, it is not. In the game Capablanca-Molina, Buenos Aires, 1911, Capa played the sac, but it was flawed in one line. Colle-O’Hanlon, Nice, 1930, saw the sac played and it won Colle the game and brilliancy prize. In both cases Vukovic claims the sacs were incorrect and Black missed the best defense, I have not checked out these games with an engine to verify this however. Let me add here that The Art of Attack in Chess is a really excellent book, but it of necessity contains much tactics and was written before the advent of computers. Therefore when playing through the examples in the book, I’d strongly recommend doing so with the aid of an engine because there are quite a few errors in analysis.

Here is a position from Vukovic’s book:

Vukovic gives some basic guidelines when trying to determine if the sac is correct; They are 1) White must have a Q, B and N. 2) The N must be able to safely reach g5 and the Q must be within reach of h5, or in some cases, be able to get to he h-file. 3) Black must have 2P’s standing on f7 and g7 4) The position of Black’s Q on d8 and R on f8 points to, but does not absolutely guarantee, the correctness of the sacrifice. Finally, 5) Black’s N should not be able to reach f6 and 6) neither his Q or B should be able to occupy the h7-b1 diagonal.

Additionally, it is important, before embarking on the sac, to make sure that Black’s three primary methods of defense (…Kg8, …Kh6 or …Kg6) do not offer him the opportunity of conducting a successful defense. If any one of the lines offers Black an out, then the sacrifice is unsound. As it turns out according to Vukovic in the diagrammed position the sacrifice is sound in all variations.

In this recent game I arrived at the following similar position.

The most significant difference in the two diagrams is Black’s N is on e7 instead of d7. Here Black’s N can’t reach f6 and his Q the h7-b1 diagonal so the question I had to consider was, “Does this offer Black any chances of finding a defense?” As it turned out, it did, but they were not sufficient to save the game.

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