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caro-kann 53 ( +1 | -1 )
Material V Positional This is just a thread to see what opinions people have on material against positional play. Some key questions that may get you started are:

Will you take a free pawn if it means having two pawns in a line? Why (or why not), and at what stage of a game?

If you were adjudicating a tournament, when would a positional lead overrule a material lead?

How much would you be willing to sacrifice in order to gain far better control of squares that your opponent?

Comments greatly appreciated,
naamloos 213 ( +1 | -1 )
Ofcourse, It all depends on the specifics of the position.

Usually, to answer your first question, a pawn outweighs doubled pawns(I take it it, that is what you mean with pawns in a line) and most of the time it outweighs having doubled isolated pawns. I'm far from being good (I only have an 1268 rating OTB), but I feel that even when the doubled pawns are so weak, the opponent still has to use some tempo's to take back the pawn. Doubled isolated are somewhat trickier, because if one of those pawns get removed, you are left with a isolated pawn which can be vulnerable, but still here I would say: Take the pawn. Ofcourse all these considerations depend also on the position. If your opponent gets active play for the pawn, besides you getting a doubled isolated pawn, it should be too risky. For instance, in a clubgame I played recently my opponent made an oversight, after which he had a choise: giving up a pawn or taking on f6 with his g-pawn which leads to a very vulnerable kingside (where he was castled). He chose to keep the pawn, but I am sure that it was better for him to give the pawn away and keep his king save. In general though, if all other things(dynamics, king safety) remain the same, take the pawn.

Your second question is much harder and I don't think I am in a place to comment much about this. I, myself, am quite materialistic and would not soon give up material for positional compensation (certainly not in OTB-play and the few times I tried it on gameknot, I was not succesfull. It is very hard to judge what is exactly enough compensation for a pawn, a quality or a piece and if you are not certain if you have enough compensation, go for material first. (Again, all depends on the dynamics in the position)

On your third question, I would again say that it depends on the situation. How important are the squares that you obtain? On the whole, I would not sacrifice anything unless I'm sure the squares can be used for other actions (an attack usually).

One must realize that all above comments where made a very mediocre player and that the comments could be way off.
spurtus 110 ( +1 | -1 )
"Will you take a free pawn if it means having two pawns in a line? Why (or why not), and at what stage of a game? "

Answer : I would primarily consider whether it is a file for which I want to open for my rooks. I don't usually worry about the fact that pawns are doubled or that I am receiving a pawn advantage, my worry would be that maybe my pawn that is now missing from the file which may no longer be a kicker of an outpost etc. ( positional considerations usually always rule for me )

"If you were adjudicating a tournament, when would a positional lead overrule a material lead?"

Answer: If say a pawn advantage, that pawn would have to be part of any perceived win to be be counted materially. Piece activity, flexibility and space counts for a lot in my opinion.

"How much would you be willing to sacrifice in order to gain far better control of squares that your opponent? "

Answer: Usually just a pawn, but the more forcing or developing the play that follows especially when homing in on the enemy king then I would consider trading off two pawns or a bad bishop etc.
ionadowman 407 ( +1 | -1 )
Deep... ...and far-reaching questions, Caro-Kann. Perhaps a concrete example might suggest the kind of thing we are considering here:
Consider this diagram position from a game played on GK last year:

Now, White has an extra pawn, and a rook on the 7th rank confining Black's King. Black, however, has inaugurated a counterattack against White's K-side pawns. Ought White to play a defensive move like 29.Ke3 or 29.Bg3? Maybe he has to give up one of the pawns in the hope that he can force the passed d-pawn home? Bear in mind: this is an endgame, in which even a small amount of material looms the larger as the amount on the board decreases.

In the game, White gave up two K-side pawns in order to penetrate Black's position with the King:
29.Kc4 Rxf2 30.Kd5 Rxg2 31.Ke6 ... How would you adjudicate this position?
White considered it so strong that it was worth giving up 2 pawns to obtain it. But there were some special long-term considerations to add to the more immediate ones. One is that both sides have retained their dark square Bishops. Had White's been a light-square Bishop, he would certainly have looked for other options, possibly even contemplating an immediate draw offer. Why? Suppose Black traded his Bishop for the d-pawn (which Black eventually had to do in the game), and suppose the rooks also came off. Black can cheerfully give up all his remaining pawns just to keep his own king in contact with the h-file. Since the light-square bishop would not have been able to cover the queening square, White could not win. It is possible from the actual game that after 31.Ke6 Black can hold, but it seems a very difficult task!

So position can count for a great deal! It all depends on circumstances. A friend once told me about having (with a colleague) to adjucate an OTB team game in which one side was a rook ahead. The opponent seemed to have a little bit of counterplay - enough to decide the adjudicators just to check it out before awarding the win to the extra rook. A couple of hours later, the adjudicators discovered two hours had gone by without their having reached a conclusion despite intensive analysis during that time. I think they awarded a draw in the end: unclear position.

By "pawns in a row" I presume "doubled pawns" is meant: pawns on the same file (as obtained in the Exchange Lopez). I'd probably think twice about accepting doubled pawns if they were isolated as well. Much would depend on where they were. But if doubling brought one of the pawns closer to the centre, that would be fine, even if it left a pawn isolated on the a-file say (such as recapturing bxc3 or ...bxc6). Earlier in the game mentioned above this position arose after White's 12th move:


White considered that he had the edge here as his Q-side pawns, just as ragged as Black's, were closer to the centre. True, it also meant that he already had an active rook without any expenditure of effort on the rook's part, and that Black's pin was harmless...

More than 30 years ago, in a University Arts Festival match game, I found myself with the Bishop pair in an open position. I don't recall the position exactly - something like:


Who would keep the B-pair in these circumstances? 1.Bxf6 gxf6 2.Bxc6 bxc6. OK, Black now has the more mobile minor piece on an open board. But those 6 isolated pawns! White won the ending fairly easily.

I mention these examples to show that position vs material questions are as relevant in simple positions as they are in the complexities of opening and middlegame.

spurtus 66 ( +1 | -1 )

Computers statically evaluate positions largely biased on material score ( but not entirely ), humans (which cannot calculate like a computer) have to rely on the great advantage they actually possess over a computer which is a positional 'feel' without having to do any calculation.

Because of this I think humans should always trust their intuition and favour positional considerations over material in a lot of scenarios.

Having said that though, the material balance/inbalance can and should influence your positional aims, and your positional aims can be to gain material! I hope that made sense!
far1ey 366 ( +1 | -1 )
I think that a positional knowledge is really what seperates the grandmasters from the others. The 'others' reluctancy to let go of material is what prevents someone from getting better at chess. Recently I have tried in a few blitz games just giving up material here and there for some compensation. It has greatly helped my chess play because now I know when I can afford to sacrifice a pawn. Remember that a pawn is just a pawn and can only be of use in the endgame (a few exceptions) sacrificing a pawn in the middle game is nearly allways worth it especially if it gives you play on one side of the board etc.

"Will you take a free pawn if it means having two pawns in a line? Why (or why not), and at what stage of a game? Doubled pawns? It depends, there are two things I consider.
1. How long will it take for my opponent to get his pawn back and then mount SUFFICIENT pressure on my isolated pawn? (sufficient means I have to consider the pawn being lost).
2. During that time can I distract him by attacking in another place eg k-side attack.

If I can draw my opponents attention away from my isolated pawn then I am by all means willing to have an isolated pawn for the initiative. Remember that an isolated pawn is by no means won. It takes many pieces to win an isolated pawn and even when the pawn is won it is only one pawn. ONE SINGLE PAWN!!! Not near enough to win a game (a king pawn ending can be drawn) Just forget the pawn (if you lose it) and concentrate on your goals. Lower rated players (me included) seem to have this tendency to hold onto pawns at whatever cost.

If you were adjudicating a tournament, when would a positional lead overrule a material lead?
I dont adjudicate (duh!) but I think that it all depends on the particular situation. If someone has a winning attack of course the positional lead overrules everything.

How much would you be willing to sacrifice in order to gain far better control of squares that your opponent? EXCELLENT QUESTION!!! I was considering posting the same question myself... It all depends on the position which in turn comes to your analysing.
Can those squares bring about a win?
Can my opponent ignore the weak squares?
Can my opponent bring back pieces to control these weak squares?

Generally it is usually a pawn sacrifice or two if you really have a good grip on the situation to open a bishop line or get a good knight out post.

And lastly, live by this quote... "When in doubt... SAC IT!" You can only learn from your sac's.

Here is perhaps my best positional sacrifice: Not an amazing game but I thought that the positional sacrifice ideas are correct even though the sacrifice mightn't be sound and that is why I think it is a good game.

[Event "Tricky Knights"]
[Site "->
[Date "2007.01.18"]
[Round "-"]
[White "grogygrmln"]
[Black "far1ey"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteElo "1608"]
[BlackElo "1671"]
[TimeControl "259200+86400"]
[Mode "ICS"]
[Termination "normal"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6
6. Be3 Bg7
7. f3 Nc6 8. Bc4 O-O 9. O-O a6 10. a4 Qb6
11. Nce2 Rd8 (Qxb2?? Bb3!!) 12. Bf2 Qc7
13. Bb3 d5 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. exd5 cxd5
16. a5 Rb8!?

Black is going to sacrifice the exchange for these positional advantages:
1. MASSIVE CENTER e5 + d5 unopposed
2. Excellent bishop on g7
3. Bishop pair
4. Open c and b files while white has little except the a file which does indeed bear down on blacks weak pawn but is defended sufficiently by the Bb7.

In the end the game was drawn.


ionadowman 229 ( +1 | -1 )
Caro-Kann's 3rd question... How much would one be willing to give up to gain better control of squares than you opponent? How much is that doggie in the window? I guess the correct answer is: whatever it's worth.
In a correspondence game I once sacrificed a minor piece to establish a K-side bind with pawns on d6, e5 and f4, which, the position as it was in the game, left Black completely paralysed from the d- to the h-files (bear in mind this d6e5f4 pawn constellation won't achieve this in just any position!). To free up his game Black promptly returned the material. Yuri Averbakh (I think it was) once gave up a whole rook to trap his opponent's king on the wrong side of his pawns, before gradually building up an overwhelming attack. Trapped behind the immobilised pawns, the stranded King's army was powerless to intervene. Possibly the most famous positional sacrifice in the chess canon.

I am presuming, of course, that Caro-Kann intended to leave aside tactical - shall we say dynamic - considerations, but more specifically for static considerations: giving up matrial for placement rather than movement. The two aren't entirely divorced, withal, but at different times one or other is the primary concern.
How do you assess, say a pawn sacrifice played to double opposing pawns with the specific view to attacking and capturing them later? This from 1978:


12.Rc1!? Bxb4 13.Nb5 Bxd2 14.Qxd2 a6 15.Nb7 Rc8 16.Nxe6 fxe6 ...
Black has an extra pawn, but that central pawn phalanx looks, just like the Macedonian, vulnerable from the flanks (phalanx, flanks ... there ought to be a witticism there, but I can't seem to come at it...).
17.Qb2 Qb6 18.Qxb6 Nxb6 19.Bh3 Rfe8 20.a5 Rxc1 21.Rxc1 Nbd7 22.Rc7 b6 ...
Rather than capture one of the pawns at the first opportunity, White built up more and more pressure until something had to give. Costs do not mean that which is given up. It can also mean that which is not taken up...
23.axb6 Nxb6 24.Rc6 Rb8 25.Bxe6 Kf8 26.Nxe5
From a pawn behind, White is suddenly a pawn ahead. But wait: there's more!...
26...Ke7 27.Bf5 a5 28.Re6+ Kf8 29.Nc6 Ra8 30.Nxa5 Rxa5 31.Rxb6 ..
And White won with his 2-pawn surplus.
Positional - or material?
ganstaman 219 ( +1 | -1 )
For me it depends a lot on the type of game. In blitz, I have no problem playing the Tumbleweed (1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Kf2!! Qh4+ 4. g3 fxg3+ 5. Kg2 gxh2 6. Rxh2 Qxe4+ 7. Nf3 and so on -- basically clearing away the kingside pawns so your pieces will have free reign and gaining time against the black queen) or the Muzio (1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. 0-0 gxf3 6. Qxf3 -- piling everything up on f7). However, I don't think I'd ever play either of this in a correspondence game.

I play those in blitz because they allow me to get very simple and good development of my pieces. When I can get everything to their right squares without hardly trying, then attacking and defending tactics are easy to find. It doesn't take more than an instant to figure out how to get my pieces coordinated towards a particular target when they're already so well developed. And this saves me valuable time.

In longer games, I don't need to worry about the time. I can spend hours trying to figure out how my pieces should be developed and what squares I should try to target. And so in longer games, I'm usually very materialistic.

I like using pawns to control square, as they do that best. Therefore, I'm not immediately scared of double pawns as I see them as a positional asset sometimes. Especially when not isolated, the doubled nature helps to really reinforce certain squares or create a pawn mass that will march down the board at will.

I just played this as white in blitz:
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. c4 h6 6. Nc3 Nc6 7. Be3 Nf6 8.
Bd3 Bb4 9. Nc2 Bxc3+ 10. bxc3

I don't know if it's entirely accurate, but I liked it. I have double isolated c-pawns, but they help to keep the c6-knight from invading and increase my control of the center. I now own certain squares enough that I can use them as redeployment centers when needed. Also, I can put rooks on the d- and b-files and pressure some weak black pawns.

So basically, like everyone says, it depends. I'm more likely to grab material I think, but there's always some level of positional-goodness that can buy me out.
ganstaman 42 ( +1 | -1 )
Oh, the other thing I wanted to add -- one reason I lean towards material more is that I find defending fun a lot of the time. So, grabbing material and then narrowing escaping from my opponent's compensation, leaving me simply up material, makes me happy. For someone who prefers to be on the attack, I'd imagine they'd be less materialistic.

This isn't to say that sometimes you have to sacrifice to defend. That may be part of the fun in defending, after all.
ionadowman 127 ( +1 | -1 )
ganstaman... ... I've seen the occasional player who will accept the material and hang on like grim death. It requires as much courage in my view as to give up material for nebulous returns. It's not a bad policy to adopt as part of one's chess development, neither. It can help develop a particular side of one's chess imagination and improve one's defensive technique.

Another famous example of positional over material considerations is from Saemisch ve Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen 1923:
Black played 20....fxe4 with the following considerations:
"This sacrifice, which has a surprising effect, is based upon the following sober calculation: two pawns and the 7th rank and an enemy Queen's wing which cannot be disentangled - all this for only one piece!"
21.Qxh5 Rxf2 22.Qg5 Raf8 23.Kh1 R8f5 24.Qe3 Bd3 25.Rce1 h6!! 0-1
White is so constricted that sooner or later he has to start shedding. E.g. 26.Kh2 R5f3; 26.Rd1 Re2; 26.Bf1 R5f3; 26.Rgf1 Bxf1; 26.g4 R5f3 27.Bxf3 Rh2#; and if White tries to prevaricate with other pawn moves, Black merely marks time with his King.
doctor_knight 158 ( +1 | -1 )
this is very interesting This topic has exposed me of being too materialistic. As I was reading, I was trying to remember the last time I made a sacrifice for position. Even though I'm not a strong player yet, far1ey's comment really makes a lot of sense. I think I've been too afraid of losing. Perhaps I'll start trying to make more sacrifices to gain positional advantages a lot more. Maybe they won't be right all the time, but I'll try to start learning.

1) It depends on the position. Generally I don't like doubled pawns as they can cramp you up, but if I can get attacking chances from it, I'll do it. But as I have said before, I am very material minded, and as I think of my past games, I think that in a real game, I generally will take the pawn unless I see a glaring weakness. As I talk here I would say that I wouldn't take the pawn many times, but my actual play says different. My theoretical beliefs and practical playing do not really match up apparently.

2) I've never done any adjudicating before and I don't believe that I have enough knowledge and experience to give a very concrete answer. All that I can say is that it depends on what the position is. Give me a position to do and maybe I can give a concrete answer.

3) As in number one, I doubt whether my theoretical consideration right now matches my playing experience. I think that if I could severely cramp my opponent or really mess up his piece coordination, I would sacrifice everything that I won't need to take advantage of this (or at least I should). I doubt whether my experience confirms this though. I'll have to look at my past games again.
badgraphics 136 ( +1 | -1 )
Subject: Material V Positional I just sacked a minor piece and will probably be down a whole rook soon. But I am winning the game none the less. Against a human, I might sack quite a lot of
material. Against a computer I do not sacrifice even a pawn. Believe me, the computers these days will sack your material for you. LOL!
My take on this is that the computers have solidly vindicated materialism.
(speaking strickly about highest level grandmaster play) from what I can tell,
The queen is chess has failed in her purpose. Namely to create credible mating threats before pawn promotion. The acendency of Kramink is not a fluke. Nor was the record and style of play of Jose Raul Capablanca. I wished it were not so, but it seems to me (at the highest levels) chess is being reduced to a long endgame starting from move one. Steinitz killed the Romantic school. Then a period of weighing attacking chances against end game considerations has lasted a long time. But I think it is over. I think sacking material will soon be only seen in regularly in the
late endgame as was practiced by Capa. Not for positional reason, but simply to help
pawns promote. Of course I will still be playing e4 till I die. I will never give up on the
mind over matter joy of material sacrifice (at least when it works LOL!)
ionadowman 170 ( +1 | -1 )
More examples... This discussion of the relative values of material and position reminds me of this line of the King's Indian Saemisch, which first saw the light of day in a game Spassky vs Bronstein, in 1956:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7
4.e4 d6 5.f3 e5 6.d5 Nh5
7.Be3 Na6 (H'mmm, reminds me of a Zulu impi about to attack..)
8.Qd2 Qh4ch 9.g3 Nxg3! 10.Qf2 Nxf1!!
11.Qxh4 Nxe3 12.Kf2 Nxc4 13.b3 Na3 ... (I think 13...Nb6 is the preferred move these days)
With just 2 Bishops and 2 Pawns for the Queen, Black's game is, for the time being at least, the more active. However, White will attempt to build up a K-side attack, so Black has himself to play actively.

For some reason, it has omly recently come to mind that an opening Exchange sacrifice was once played against me. It was the final round of the Auckland Labour weekend tournament, 1979.
White: I.A.D. Black: L.C. Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4
4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 Bd7 Interesting choice, but no alarm bells ringing...
7.Qd3!? Keres's old move, superseded pretty much by 7.Qd2. Worth a try, though...
7...Rc8 8.Be2 Qa5 9.f4
I just didn't see what was coming, otherwise I might have considered 9.Bd2
9...Nxd4 10.Qxd4 Rxc3! What the...??!!
11.Qxc3 Qxc3ch 12.bxc3 Nxe4 13.Rb1 Nxg5 etc
Now Black has just one pawn for the Exchange, but White's position is in complete tatters. After the following moves - 14.fxg5 Bc6 15.Bf3!? Kd7 16.Kd2 f6
17.Bxc6ch Kxc6 18.Rhe1 e5 19.gxf6 gxf6 20.Rf1 Be7 21.Rf5, White had made something of a recovery (!) and, after a game in which fortunes swung this way and that, won after an endgame mistake by Black.
ionadowman 33 ( +1 | -1 )
The position in tatters... In my last posting, I forgot to diagram the position raeched after 14 moves...
Though White lucked into a win in the actual game, Black's position at this point must be good for a draw at least!
far1ey 20 ( +1 | -1 )
110 Best Sacrifices of all Time:


Very good site with positional sacrifices.
far1ey 72 ( +1 | -1 )
This is a brilliant game by Kasparov found on the webiste I gave:

Kasparov - Shirov, Horgen 1994
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 9.Na3 b5 10.Nd5 Be7 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.c3 Bb7 13.Nc2 Nb8 14.a4 bxa4 15.Rxa4 Nd7 16.Rb4 Nc5 17.Rxb7!!

White's move is explained on ->

But briefly Kasparov's sacrifice is base on the control of the central d5 square. Currently the Bb7 is the only think saving black from ultimate d5 control - so Kasparov rids of it.

Nxb7 18.b4 Bg5 19.Na3 O-O 20.Nc4 a5 21.Bd3 axb4 22.cxb4 Qb8 23.h4 Bh6 24.Ncb6 Ra2 25.O-O Rd2 26.Qf3 Qa7 27.Nd7 Nd8 28.Nxf8 Kxf8 29.b5 Qa3 30.Qf5 Ke8 31.Bc4 Rc2 32.Qxh7 Rxc4 33.Qg8+ Kd7 34.Nb6+ Ke7 35.Nxc4 Qc5 36.Ra1 Qd4 37.Ra3 Bc1 38.Ne3 and Black resigned
ionadowman 347 ( +1 | -1 )
One of the ironies of that game... ... is that White eventually ends up the Exchange ahead! 100% interest om his investment.
Interesting to see some of the added remarks, especially the minute discussion of the "points value" of the original sacrifice. They can be kinda fun post facto, but I wouldn't set too much store by them. I doubt Kasparov thought of any such considerations, but figured that control of d5 was so valuable too him that it was worth giving up the exchange in order to get exclusive, uncontestable title to that piece of real estate.
There are other positional reasons for giving up that kind of material, too. Consider this, from a GK game last year (which will soon be annotated, I hope):
White had just recaptured Black's Q on g3. Black is at present a pawn ahead (gambited early in the game by White), but his rook is attacked. Now Black could save his rook easily enough, but indications were that, owing to White's pressure on Black's central pawns that he wouldn't for long keep his extra pawn. Further, it looked as though general simplification would lead to a very drawish position. Those were the negative reasons for Black's choosing to play 18...Bxd2! 19.Re2 Bh6 (Black has thrown 2 tempi into the deal!) 20.Nxf5 gxf5 21.Rd1 0-0-0 ... and here's the positive reason. Black has a mighty pawn centre, and overall his pawn formation is much the prettier of the two. His two extra pawns are well worth the exchange, and Black doesn't mind overmuch about his opponent's possession of the B pair, neither, figuring that the knights will prove the handier pieces in the sequel.
All this was admittedly speculative, and it is likely the the game is pretty even at this point. Soon after this, another decision came up that is relevant to this discussion: 22.f3 Na5!? 23.Ba2 c6!? 24.Bc3 b6 The attacked knight had no moves, so this was the only defence. Why? Black decided that every consideration would go into that central pawn phalanx, even to the risk of leaving himself with doubled isolated pawns on the a-file. We'll never know how good was Black's judgement, because White declined to capture, possibly on the grounds that his c3-bishop was worth more to him than the a5-knight was to Black. Very much a judgement call.
Several moves later, this position arose, after 29.Bd4:

This time Black wanted to keep his knight, and to keep his pawn roller mobile. 29...Ne6! 30.Bxa7 Nd6 31.fxe5 fxe5 32.Rf6 Bg7 33.Rf1 Re7 34.Bf2 and White's brief incursion into Black's position has been repulsed. For a pawn, Black has driven White back, and his phalanx looks ready to advance decisively. However, it turned out not so easy, as White managed to conjure up enough counterplay to hold the pawns up for a very long time.

It was the speculative nature of these decisions that made this such a fascinating game to play. (I admit to being somewhat addicted, perhaps, to games with asymmetric material, though it hasn't been due to such a policy that this has been a motif in quite a lot of my GK games!)