Monday, 18 May 2020

063. Four Exchange Sacrifices

Black: Decus Tutamen - all-play-all tournament,, 2020

Theory advances inexorably. In the Traxler, for instance, 5 d4, which used to be considered totally harmless, now appears to be the critical move. IM Panayotis Frendzas has proselytized for it on the forums, and that led me to try out 5 d4 myself as White in online thematic tournaments. My score: P14 W12 D2 L0. As someone who generally plays this as Black, those results are not encouraging.

As it happens, I've faced 5 d4 twice too during the same period – and managed to defend the position after 5...d5 6 Bxd5 Nxd5 7 dxc5 Ndb4 8 a3 Qxd1+ 9 Kxd1 Na6 10 b4 Nd4, but it's not the most fun I've ever had – and White can probably improve anyway.

Instead, the game below followed some analysis by Stefan Bücker (whether my opponent knew it or not), where White sacrifices the exchange for two pawns and far greater activity (given that Black's remaining pieces are all on the back rank).

More exactly, we followed it up to a point because, rather than accept the exchange straight away, my opponent first sacrificed the exchange himself (with 13...Rxf3!?). This led to equal material – but not equality.

Black's king is still stuck in the middle and he has a weak e-pawn. The one point in his favour is that the white a-pawn is also weak, which means endings are not hopeless for Black. So, rather than liquidate, I played for an attack on the kingside. This my opponent neutralized by sacrificing another exchange (27...Rxg5), leading to another endgame where my extra material was not enough to win, even after the queens came off.

Well, perhaps I could have played more strongly somewhere. Stockfish is keen on 24 a3!? for some reason. But a game is a game. The only move I actually regret not playing is 38 Qxd3+, because a plausible line then runs 38...Kc8 39 g3 Qh6 40 Qe3 Qh2+ 41 Kd1 Bf5 42 Qe8+ Kb7 43 Rxb5+! axb5 44 Qxb5+ Ka7 45 Qxf5 Qxg3 and White reaches a pawn-up queen ending.

It doesn't win either, please note. But at least that way I wouldn't have been outdone on exchange sacrifices.


  1. Thanks for annotating our game. No, I was not aware of the Stefan Bucker analysis. I do not often get an opportunity to play the Traxler: I think this was my fifth game since about 1979, and the first where white chose 5.d4. My main reference was Kenneth Williams "The Real American Wilkes-Barre" (Chess Enterprises 1979) and he cited analysis from a 1958 issue of "Chess Correspondent." That was one year after I was taught the moves. Traxler theory does indeed advance slowly!

    1. Hi Chris :)

      Yes, it certainly does advance slowly. The 5 d4, 6...Nxd5 line (up to 10 b4) is actually even older. It stems from Albert Pinkus, in the 1941 issues of the US magazine Chess Review. Later books all give 6...Nxd4 as an improvement. It's only in recent years that 5 d4 has been recognized again as a serious test.

      I'd likely still opt for 4...Bc5 over the board, since I know a lot about it and my score is very good (P12, W8, D3, L1) – and no one has ever played 5 d4 against me (5 Bxf7+ is the usual choice) – but in online/CC games I'm looking more at the Ulvestad now.