I've identified that the weaknesses in my game are:

  • Materialism: Most of my wins are where I've won some material and converted the advantage in an endgame. However outside of this plan, e.g. launching a mating attack, my knowledge is not up to scratch

  • Missing strong sacrifices: I can see pawn sacrifices in exercises, but I know in a game situation I would not make them. After all, my materialism screams "don't make a material concession!"

  • Undervaluing the initiative: I tend to underestimate an initiative advantage based on superior development, both for myself and my opponent. E.g. I might lag behind in development to ensure a superior pawn structure

My question is, can you recommend a training plan to boost my understanding of the initiative and making sacrifices?

Background info:

  • Rated 2050 Elo
  • Playing 1. d4 as White, Slav and Caro-Kann as Black
  • 1
    With that rating, you can be my instructor. So I can't help. But, are you afraid to lose?
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 11:53

8 Answers 8


A suggestion I have is to start playing gambits, and high-risk-high-reward openings. For example, playing the King's Gambit as White forces you to utilize any initiative you are given. Playing the KID as Black will force you to sacrifice pieces now and then to win istead of losing.

Basically what you need to do is to start appreciating initiative by experiencing it for yourself. Otherwise it becomes very difficult to dare making risky decisions based on tempo and piece activity, if you've never done it successfully before.

Based on what you wrote, I guess you tend to play mainly rather slow and positional setups in the opening. Then you have to expect it to be rather difficult to learn about this style of play, as you are probably not very familiar with it.

Other things you can do is to look for inspiration in games by e.g. Kasparov. He was excellent at utilizing the initiative, and just crushing his opponents with daring attacks. Just look at the notable games at his personal page on chessgames.com, some of them are rather amazing examples of this.

  • 1
    Learn the pattern of successful attacks. Could give pawn odds instead of familiar lines of gambits.
    – Mike Jones
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 13:15

I would recommend playing training games in which you try to sacrifice a pawn as early as possible. Once you are down material you are forced to look for dynamic chances.

I developed into a dynamic player by playing games against an old board computer which just grabbed every pawn it could get. I quickly found out that the easiest way to beat it was to sac' a few pawns and then build a winning attack from the development advantage.

A more realistic way is probably to create a blitz repertoire consisting of gambits and to use this repertoire in online blitz. I once compiled such a repertoire for my wife, who plays extremely solid chess appr. on your level, and it did work at least short term while she was practising with it.

Such a repertoire might contain the king's gambit, the Chochrane gambit, the French wing gambit, 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.f3, the Morra gambit for white and the Portuguese, the English wing gambit and the Schara-Henning gambit for black.

Of course it would require some study but the point is not to learn the theory really deep. You rather try to get the general idea and then just ditch a pawn and attack in every game.


One other recommendation alongside some good ones.....

Play speed chess. In speed chess material advantage is worth less than it normally would be. Instead, attacking is valued in this type of play more.


The key lever that stands out for me in your self-critique is the "knowledge of mating attacks" deficit. Just do a whole lot (hundreds) of mate-in-two and mate-in-three problems. It might crack the "blind spot" you are reporting in general. (I like the Polgar book ("Chess") myself for this (5000+ problems), but any reasonable source of -in-2 and/or -in-3 problems should work.)

  • I'm not sure that this is what the OP means when he says "knowledge of mating attacks". I think it's more like the "I will go attack the opponent's king, and it's impossible to see all the way to a mate, but I know it will work, because it is strategically justified" type of thinking that is the issue. What you're describing is lack of knowledge of mating patterns, which are essential as well, but not the same thing.
    – Scounged
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:14
  • @Scounged I see what you mean. What I meant by using the term "lever" in my "answer" though is that I think studying the -in-2's and -in-3's will "bleed over" into all the other areas the OP mentioned -- initiative vs. material, sacs, and as you say, king hunts in general.
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:25
  • Yeah, I mentioned it mainly to emphasize that the two subjects are different in nature, not that they aren't connected to each other.
    – Scounged
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:33
  • Hi @JeffY: I agree that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to spot the mate. I'm actually working through GM Ftacnik's 1000 mates to help my calculation. But the main issue I'm finding is in line with what Scounged said. I point my pieces at the enemy King, then lose the initiative, e.g. my pieces get traded off and I have no attack.
    – user1108
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 8:14
  • @Bad_Bishop That's interesting about pieces getting traded off. Are you familiar with Benjamin's latest book, Liquidation? It might have something for you also...
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 11:20
  1. Study games of attacking players who play d4 e.g. Kasparov. Or just attacking players in general e.g. Morphy.
  2. Read Art of Attack in chess by Vukovic.
  3. Practice tactics especially mating tactics in the middlegame.
  4. Find your weaknesses by analysing your own games and finding out where you could have sacrificed.
  • Art of the sacrifice in Chess by Spielmann is also meant to be good but I haven't read it so can't recommend.
    – magd
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 10:35
  • The life and games of Mikhael Tal, Fire on Board, Storming the Barricades, … all awesome. Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 11:59

One important aspect that you can consider apart from Material is

  1. Check how much Space you are occupying on a particular side of the Board .Here what I mean is sometimes your opponent has captured some Squares around your King but is material down . So when he gives up the Material (Sacrifice) to open up a line or deflect a Piece from your K-side do not accept the Material .

  2. Follow games of Kasparov/Shirov/Fischer where they have sacrificed Material to gain Activity .

  3. When you already have an ELO of 2000+ I do not feel you will be having difficulty in understanding the concept that Activity of Pieces is the sole purpose when you play a Chess Game .

  4. Follow Sicilian Dragon games from Black side where Rook is exchanged for Knight on c3 . Sicilian Dragon is one of the best example for Activity instead of material .

  5. There are a lot of tactics which focuses on Space advantage and Activity instead of Material . Practice those .


Study openings that are known for being tactical rather than positional.

Work lots of tactical puzzles (but it sounds like you already are).

Play unranked games against weaker opponents and limit your repertoire to very aggressive and sacrificial attacks. Work your way up to stronger opponents.

Take positions you have seen in games that are dynamic and tactical (from high rated players) - enter them into a chess program and play the side of the attacker without studying the conclusion of the game.

At the end of the day, just accept that you are a positional player and enjoy being who you are.


Play the isolani like a gambit

Source: The wisest things ever said about chess by GM Soltis

Many answers have advised playing gambits (+1 to them) to learn the trade off of material with time. I've also been playing isolated pawn positions to learn more about the initiative, which even if the initiative dissipates, then the isolated d-pawn is not a fatal weakness.

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