What Is the Best Sacrifice in the History of Chess?

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Dec. 18 2012 2:26 PM

What Is the Best Sacrifice in the History of Chess?

A chess game in  Washington Square Park in New York City.
A chess game in Washington Square Park in New York City.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Gaurav Dutta, chess fan:

For me, the greatest sacrifice(s) would be from "The Polish Immortal Game" (Glucksberg, or Glinksberg, depending on your source, vs. Najdorf, Warsaw 1929). Now, the Polish Immortal is one of the most famous chess games of all time and there is a reason for that. It's got a brilliant series of sacrifices that Najdorf comes up with to finish the game in only 22 moves. It would have been interesting to have been inside Najdorf's head to see just when he realized what he had done!

Najdorf playing black opted for the Dutch Defence (f5) in response to White's Queen's pawn opening (d5). The game continued with the Stonewall Variation.

1. d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nf3 d5


From here, the game continued with both Black and White adding to the stonewall and developing their pieces.

5. e3 c6 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. 0-0 0-0


Now this is known as the Stonewall position, but here Glucksberg decided to bring his Knight to e2, possibly to strengthen his kingside and having more options against black's attack. Although not a common move, it definitely isn't a blunder. After this white continued with moving his Knight down to g5 attacking Black on his kingside.


8. Ne2 Nbd7 9. Ng5

Now when Najdorf saw this position, his tactical mind probably started buzzing. Although, while the Knight(g5) is attacking the pawn on e6, it also vacated the defense of the h2 pawn and allowed the bishop on d6 to attack it.


Najdorf saw this and went ahead and captured the pawn checking the King. The King moves to safety (h1) to avoid the check. Now, the knight moves to g4 to protect the bishop, and white plays the pawn to f4 to protect his knight.

9. Bxh2+! 10. Kh1 Ng4 11. f4

But now, Najdorf plays a very nice move Queen to e8, eying the h5 square. White quickly realizes this and plays pawn to g3, giving some room for his king to breathe because White really can do very little from stopping Black''s Queen because his Queen and both the bishops are locked. After this, like predicted, play continues with Queen to h5 an King to g2.


11. Qe8 12. g3 Qh5 13. Kg2

Now, White has surrounded Black's bishop and threatens to win it with Rh1, Nf3, and Nxh2. But the real question to be asked is how does Black continue its attack? From this position, Najdorf came up with a series of brilliant moves that truly defined him as a great tactical player.

Here Najdorf played Bg1, sacrificing the bishop in order to continue the attack on White's king. Now if White captures with his King (Kxg1), Black would checkmate with Qh2#. White cannot capture with his rook either(Rxg1), because of Qh2+ followed by Kf1 and Qf2# checkmate. So White is forced to capture with his Knight on e2.

13. Bg1!!14. Nxg1


Variation No. 1

14. Kxg1 Qh2 #


Variation No. 2

14. Rxg1 Qh2+ Kf1 Qf2#

Also, if the White King decides not to capture and moves to f3 (the only square), Black would then play Qh1# checkmate.

From here after, White captures the bishop with his knight, the game continues with the Queen moving to h2+, and the king is forced to move to f3.

Now, once again, Black is faced with the challenge of how to continue attacking.
Najdorf comes up with another good move. He played pawn to e5. After the pawn captures (dxe5), Najdorf comes up with another sacrifice! (Ndxe5+)

14.  Qh2+ 15. Kf3 e5! 16. dxe5 Ndxe5+

 

The King has absolutely no squares to go to, and hence, the knight must be taken (fxe5) and once the knight is taken, Najdorf lands check again with Ndxe5+

Now in this position, the King does have an escape square (f4) and so the king goes there, and the knight swings over to the other side to check White's King again, forcing the king back to f3.


17. fxe5 Nxe5+


18. Kf4 Ng6+

 

In this position, Najdorf offers another pawn by playing f4, giving white even more material. So, after white happily captures (exf4), Najdorf has to continue attacking or else he will surely lose the game because he is down in material (a Bishop, a knight).


In this position, Black came up an absolute killer move. Najdorf played Bg4+, sacrificing another bishop.


20. exf4 Bg4+

Again, White has no other option but to capture the Bishop (Kxg4), because if the King moves, White would lose his Queen.

After Kxg4, Najdorf continues his sacrifice by playing Ne5+, giving away even his Knight.


21. Kxg4 Ne5+!


White is forced to capture, as the White King has no squares left!

And once the pawn takes (fxe5), Najdorf comes up with a nice little pawn move to seal Victory!

22. fxe5 h5#

CHECKMATE.

What a game: Najdorf sacrificed all of his minor pieces to come up with a series of brilliant moves to impose a crushing defeat on White!

...

Answer by Md Arifuzzaman Arif, software engineer:

I would say the game between Edward Lasker vs. George Alan Thomas played in London on 1911 has one of the greatest chess sacrifices.

Opening:
1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 f5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. Bxf6 Bxf6 6. e4 fxe4 7. Nxe4 b6 8. Ne5 O-O 9. Bd3 Bb7 10. Qh5 Qe7

After the first ten moves, the position looks equal. White to move, and a mate is almost invisible to the naked eye.


The sacrifice:
But Edward Lasker sacrificed the queen here:
11. Qxh7+!!

Forced moves:
A brilliant move. The rest of the game is a sequence of forced moves for Black side. The mate by driving the black king all the way to the other side is beautiful.

11 ... Kxh7 12. Nxf6+ Kh6 13. Neg4+ Kg5 14. h4+ Kf4 15. g3+ Kf3 16. Be2+ Kg2

The mate:
And then - 17. Rh2#


Another thing, which makes this sacrifice a great one, is the king was mate on the other side of the board seven moves after the sacrifice. This is really, really difficult to calculate that many moves upfront with that many squares involved.

You can view the full game here.

Answer by Ram Gupta, chess player:

I am a chess player, been playing this game since the age of 6. With all due respect, all of the other games already mentioned in this question are brilliant in their own regard, but none of them come even close to possessing the depth and beauty of the combination present in the game of which I am talking about. For instance, Lasker - Thomas, even though it contains a beautiful king hunt driving the king to the other side of the board, contrary to first impressions, is not very difficult to calculate for a good chess player at all since all the moves are forced.

The game I am talking about was the first ever full game my first coach showed me, and I remember it to this day. It has been analysed and praised by Kasparov in the Mega Database, which is the largest database of all chess games recorded. To quote Kasparov from the same -

"I think there is reason to nominate this game the most beautiful ever played in the history of chess."


Not many people remember Alekhine, but this game solidified him, in my opinion as one of the greatest chess players of all time. Let us not forget too that Alekhine was the only world champion in the history of chess who died holding the crown.

The combination in this game is the deepest I have seen in my whole career of more than 12 years. Here, Alekhine had to calculate 16(!) moves ahead when he pushed his rook en prise on the 26th move:

26. Re3!

to spot the final crowning jewel of a fork on the 42nd move:

42. Bd5!

which sparked Reti's resignation. Not all the moves were forced either. An amazingly deep combination which shows the long sight which Black possessed. A good chess player will appreciate how difficult it is to carry out such a combination.

I present to you:

Reti, Richard v/s Alekhine, Alexander; Baden-Baden, 1925.

Playthrough (analyzed):
Alexander Alekhine and his Two Greatest Games (chess.com)

In-depth analysis (without diagrams unfortunately):
A. Alekhine; (Baden-Baden, 1925) re-play page. (lifemasteraj.com)

Playthrough alternate (from http://chessgames.com ):
Richard Reti vs Alexander Alekhine (1925) "Roughin' Reti" (chessgames.com)

I apologize that I couldn't find a better version of the game which is more user friendly. I do hope that you will take two minutes of your time to walk through this marvel of a game. I am sure you won't be disappointed.

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