Luke McShane

Great sacrifices

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Impelled by his engineer’s mindset, the former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik wrote a short essay to answer a simple question: ‘What is a combination?’ I like his succinct conclusion, which certainly captures the essence: ‘A combination is a forced variation with a sacrifice.’

Like the fizz in champagne, the sacrificial element is the sine qua non and the va va voom. In its absence, a forcing manoeuvre of the pieces may, like wine, still have much to recommend it, but it is a different libation. Nonetheless, an avid taxonomist might like to ponder Nigel Short’s victory against Jan Timman from Tilburg 1991, where the sacrifice of a rook is incidental to an extraordinary king procession. (The game can be found online.) Combination, or manoeuvre?

An exquisite queen and rook sacrifice was uncorked this month at the World Girls Under 18 Championship. Enterprising play in the middle-game prepared the way for Shuvalova’s sparkling combination. She went on to win the gold medal.

Polina Shuvalova–Anna Afonasieva

Mumbai, October 2019

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be2 e5 7 Nb3 Be7 8 O-O O-O 9 Kh1 Be6 10 f4 Qc7 11 f5 Bd7 12 g4 Bc6 13 Bf3 h6 14 h4 Nh7 15 g5 hxg5 16 Rg1 gxh4 17 Bh6 Bf6 18 Qd2 Kh8 19 Be3 b5 20 Rg4 b4 21 Nd5 Bxd5 22 Qxd5 Nc6 23 Rag1 Ne7 24 Qd2 d5 25 Qh2 Qd7 26 Nc5 Qc8 27 Bf2 dxe4 28 Bxh4 Ng8 29 Bxe4 Qxc5 30 Bf2 Qe7 (see diagram 1) 31 Rxg7!! Bxg7 32 Qxh7+! Kxh7 33 f6+ Kh6 34 Be3+ Kh5 35 Bf3+ Kh4 36 Bf2+ Mate follows with 37 Bf3-g4 1-0

Shuvalova’s 32 Qxh7! is a ‘magnet’ sacrifice, as the Black king is drawn forward inexorably. It is reminiscent of Edward Lasker’s famous combination beginning 11 Qxh7!

Edward Lasker–George Thomas

Informal game, London, 1912

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 11 Qxh7+! Kxh7 12 Nxf6+ Kh6 13 Neg4+ Kg5 14 h4+ Kf4 15 g3+ Kf3 16 Be2+ Kg2 17 Rh2+ Kg1 (see diagram 2) 18 Kd2 mate 1-0

Delightful. The historian Edward Winter unearthed many curious details about this game on his ‘Chess Notes’ website. To me, most fascinating is the aesthetic dilemma on the final move: White could equally have delivered mate by castling queenside, and who would pass up that rare opportunity? Lasker himself wrote that ‘I actually considered castling, but the efficiency-minded engineer in me got the better of it and I played Kd2 which required moving only one piece.’ That light touch has grown on me. What would you choose?