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Introduction to Chess Tactics: Sacrifices

A sacrifice is when one player gives up a piece, either for nothing or in exchange for one of lesser value, in return for some other advantage. Because it is normally important to keep your pieces safe and avoid having them captured, sacrifices can have great surprise value. For many players, when a sacrifice works it is one of the most exciting and appealing parts of the game, and many tournament brilliancy prizes have been awarded to players of beautiful sacrifices. Some grandmasters, such as former world champions Alexander Alekhine and Mikhail Tal, are especially popular with chess fans because their games contain many spectacular sacrifices.

Why sacrifice?

Of course, you should never give away your pieces for no reason. If you blunder and lose a piece, and then happen to win the game anyway, that doesn't count as a sacrifice! Normally, a sacrifice occurs as part of a sequence of moves that include other tactics - sacrificing is a great way to decoy or deflect an enemy piece. Here are some examples:

Exposing the king

A common reason to sacrifice a piece is to demolish the pawn shelter in front of the enemy king, so he can be attacked. Here are some typical examples:

Square clearance

Sometimes, you would like to put a piece on a particular square, but one of your other pieces is already on it. If the rewards are great enough, you can sacrifice the piece that is in the way, to make time for the other piece to take its place.

Gain of tempo

Sometimes, we sacrifice a piece just to keep the opponent busy while we get our other forces into position. A move that forces the opponent to waste his move dealing with some threat is said to gain a tempo. Think of a tempo as being a free move. If you give a check, for instance, the opponent must spend a move getting out of check instead of playing the move he wants to play. In this way, you have gained a move for free. Here is an example of a checkmate featuring sacrifice for gain of tempo.

The queen sacrifice

Because the queen is the most valuable piece, and losing her usually means losing the game, sacrifices of the queen are considered especially spectacular. Opportunities to make a queen sacrifice are rare, but if you play enough games you're sure to have the chance sooner or later. For many players, making a successful queen sacrifice is one of the most exciting and memorable moments in a chess career. Usually, a queen is sacrificed in order to obtain checkmate, and there are many different ways to do it. Here are some examples:

Your turn

Sacrifices can be difficult to spot, but it's well worth practicing how to spot them as a strong sacrifice will really stun your opponent. See how you get on with these puzzles:

Incorrect Move Sorry, that's the wrong answer. Click 'continue' to try again.
Nice Try Your move was good, but there is a better one.
Solved! Well done, that's the correct answer!
White to move
Incorrect Move Sorry, that's the wrong answer. Click 'continue' to try again.
Nice Try Your move was good, but there is a better one.
Solved! Well done, that's the correct answer!
White to move
Incorrect Move Sorry, that's the wrong answer. Click 'continue' to try again.
Nice Try Your move was good, but there is a better one.
Solved! Well done, that's the correct answer!
Black to move
Incorrect Move Sorry, that's the wrong answer. Click 'continue' to try again.
Nice Try Your move was good, but there is a better one.
Solved! Well done, that's the correct answer!
White to move
Incorrect Move Sorry, that's the wrong answer. Click 'continue' to try again.
Nice Try Your move was good, but there is a better one.
Solved! Well done, that's the correct answer!
Black to move
Incorrect Move Sorry, that's the wrong answer. Click 'continue' to try again.
Nice Try Your move was good, but there is a better one.
Solved! Well done, that's the correct answer!
Black to move

Suggested Books

For more information, why not try one of the suggested reading options below?

Introduction to chess tactics Back to Contents << Decoys
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