Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grabbing material

Sacrificing pieces is something very common in our games. Gambits remain very popular at amateur-chess but even in top-games we see little respect for material. A couple of days ago Kramnik played a brilliant game filled with sacrifices against the strong German grandmaster Matthias Bluebaum see e.g. here. Or what to think about the Chinese grandmaster Wei Yi beating a week earlier the Russian top-grandmaster Vladimir Malakhov with an ingenious exchange-sacrifice see e.g. the newsreport at

Technically and psychologically the task of the defense is difficult so it often pays to sacrifice material even if it is not fully correct. A theme which is closely related to this is grabbing material. I don't speak just about answering gambits offered by the opponent but rather when you discover that pressure/ initiative can be converted into a material-gain. Will you choose to get the dividends by grabbing the material? Or will you wait and hope for more by playing double or nothing?

An initiative is often temporarily. If you don't succeed to transform it into something tangible like material or structure then you risk staying empty handed. However a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush isn't always so unambiguous in chess. I experienced this a couple of months ago. The game against Frederic Verduyn was already covered in the article chesspub but this time I only look at the phase where I decided to pick up a pawn.
[Event "Interclub KBSK - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Verduyn, F."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A84"] [WhiteElo "2200"] [BlackElo "2304"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r2rk1/p2q2pp/1p1pp3/3n1p2/P1nP4/2PN2P1/Q2BPP1P/2R1R1K1 b - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "12"] [CurrentPosition "2r2rk1/p2q2pp/1p1pp3/3n1p2/P1nP4/2PN2P1/Q2BPP1P/2R1R1K1 b - - 0 19"] 19...Nxd2?! { (This very concrete decision was rightly questioned. I wanted to avoid any new tricks with Nc5 and didn't see how to improve my position any further. Nevertheless a more quiet approach with Qf7 promises more although it remains hard to control the position for black.) } 20.Qxd2 Qxa4 21.e4 fxe4 22.Rxe4 Rfe8 23.Qe1 Qd7 24.c4 Nf6 25.Re2 { ( Black is a pawn up but white in the meantime was able to get his pieces activated. In the end the game was drawn.) } *

In hindsight it was probably more clever to not go for the pawn and just maintain the positional-advantage. However there are no guarantees here because if you don't understand how the advantage should be nurtured then it can quickly go downhill.

Another example of this theme popped up in my most recent interclub-game against David Roos. Also that game was already published here see scholar's-mate. I zoom at move 18 when I decided to grab an exchange.
[Event "Interclub Zottegem - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Roos, D."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C23"] [WhiteElo "2100"] [BlackElo "2299"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4r1k/1pp3bp/p1nqn1p1/3pPb2/1P6/2PP2QP/P1BNN1P1/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 18"] [PlyCount "9"] [CurrentPosition "r4r1k/1pp3bp/p1nqn1p1/3pPb2/1P6/2PP2QP/P1BNN1P1/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 18"] 18...Qxe5?! { (I presumed that Bxe5 was stronger but I could not calculate everything so chose for simplicity sake to grab the exchange.) } ( 18...Bxe5! { (Probably my clock also played a role as we were both running out of time.) } 19.Qe3 { (Objectively the best if we trust the engines. However I was only afraid of Qe1 and Qh4 in the game.) } 19...d4 { (A human player would not allow such simple refutation. It shows again how different we play compared to the engines.) } 20.Nc4 Bh2+ 21.Kh1 dxe3 22.Nxd6 Bxd6 23.Bxe3 g5 $19 ) 19.Qxe5 Nxe5 { (D3 hangs so white decides to give up the exchange.) } 20.Rxf5 gxf5 21.d4 Ng6 22.Ng3?! { (Pity as after Nf3 it was still a very serious challenge to win with black. I guess the strange blunder can probably best explained by the difficulty of the position, a lack of time and insufficient concentration.) } 22...Nxd4 0-1
In the end it probably didn't matter much. Fact is that after winning the exchange that the win is not easy if white doesn't blunder. Waiting with picking up the material looks more efficient and is also practically much stronger.

In my most recent rated game I managed to overcome my materialistic demons. I ignored one material gain after the other (including even a piece) and scored my most convincing win ever against Robert Schuermans. I am pretty happy about that as I had to win with black to become club-champion of Deurne.
[Event "Klubkampioenschap Deurne r9"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Schuermans, R."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C36"] [WhiteElo "2145"] [BlackElo "2299"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2k1rbr1/ppp2p1p/2n1qB2/8/2bP4/2P5/PP3RPP/R2QN1K1 b - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "19"] [CurrentPosition "2k1rbr1/ppp2p1p/2n1qB2/8/2bP4/2P5/PP3RPP/R2QN1K1 b - - 0 19"] 19...Bh6 20.Nc2 Rg6 21.Bh4 Qe4 { (I could take the pawn on a2 but I prefer not to lose time.) } 22.Qh5 Bd3 23.Bg3 f5 { (Of course grabbing the piece at c2 wins. However I noticed correctly that f5 is also playable and besides much harder to counter when you have not much time left on the clock.) } 24.Rf4 { (White collapses but the position is anyway beyond repair.) } ( 24.Qd1 Be2 25.Qb1 f4 26.Bh4 Rg4 27.g3 Rxh4 28.gxh4 Rg8+ 29.Rg2 Qxg2# { (I had calculated this line during the game.) } ) 24...Bxf4 25.Re1 Be2 26.Rxe2 Qxe2 27.Qxf5+ Kb8 28.Qxf4 Rxg3 { (This exchange-sacrifice was not necessary but I knew that this would force resignation. This victory was my best ever against Robert.) } 0-1

At the end of the game I was up so much material that I could afford to sacrifice an exchange to force resignation. Beside Robert had no time left anymore while I still had a half hour. In the game we see all the advantages of waiting to grab material and adding systematically pressure.

The opponent loses a lot of time to find solutions for the ever growing problems. Often we see that there is much more material to collect. Practically this strategy is very efficient but in practice it is not so frequently used in comparison to gambits. Psychologically there exists today wrongly a large difference of perception between sacrificing material and not grabbing material for the same less visible advantages.


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