I happen to be playing a game where I am up in material, but my position is weak (several pieces are trapped and cannot be developed).

I have some lines of very slow development I can play where I can't see far enough to know the outcome. I see a line where I can make a substantial material sacrifice but still be up in material, and end in a much better position.

I don't recall seeing any general rules of thumb that could help me determine if this type of sacrifice would be worth it.

Are there general rules or a resource that could help me understand scenarios like this?

  • 8
    It is a different question. Close, no doubt, but different. You need to stop closing DIFFERENT questions just because they have similar, or even the same, answers. This has been happening all too often lately especially when a mod decides unilaterally. It should take the 5 votes unless it is exceptionally clear it is a duplicate, as in almost word for word. Jan 3, 2020 at 23:14
  • 7
    Yes. There are a few bullies who are overzealous in their erratic application of the rules. And duplicates are not bad. Many newer people do not search for their exact question and the suggested similar ones the system throws up are never a duplicate.
    – yobamamama
    Jan 4, 2020 at 0:04
  • 2
    I'm hesitant to even give general advice if you are currently "playing" the game. That's usually considered cheating.
    – D M
    Jan 4, 2020 at 22:58

4 Answers 4


Development: One pawn == three moves

That's one example, if those are the kind of things you're looking for.

But there's another issue in this as well. What do you play well? I've known players who turn down activity for material because they're more comfortable maneuvering in tight positions than attacking, and they do it well enough that many attackers will fall short against them, despite the fact that "objectively" they should have taken the other path.

Merely being told that a pawn is worth three moves doesn't help if you're not comfortable being down a pawn, or if you can't find three moves you think are good enough, so your own capacities have to play into that sort of calculation.

It's why the common answer to this sort of question is that through game experience you develop an "intuition" about those sort of equivalences.

If you're looking for more details like this, Alburt and Lawrence's book "Chess Rules of Thumb" is a possible source. IIRC, Chess.com has a page on them as well. And there's an old book by Horowitz and Mott-Smith called "Point-Count Chess" that tries to turn these sorts of things into numbers. If you're looking for a more recent reference, Gambit has published a couple of books by Erik Kislik that touch in this area, taking advantage of Al Lawrence's new suggested piece values to create a logical structure for reasoning about advantages and disadvantages in chess.

In one sense, your question might boil down to "Rules to Play Winning Chess," and chess, at the moment, doesn't have that sort of quick path to winning consistently. There's too much variety, both in the game and in the players, to make that really possible. But if we're to learn anything from the recent rise of AlphaZero and Leela it's that smallish differences in material don't mean as much as we traditionally thought they did. So learn what it is you play well (and badly) and use that to guide these sorts of decisions.


I have to be honest: Your question is very strange for a few reasons.

First, if your development is that retarded, it is not very likely that you would have such a sacrifice in the first place. In addition, in your hypothetical, you calculate that you would end up in material and position, so of course, you would play it, especially if everything else was as bad as it sounds.

It might be more interesting if you were judging it because it was unsound, but just gives you a shot at fighting back.

There are no hard-and-fast rules, but basically, it comes down to pure calculation, especially if you have to sacrifice multiple pieces.

The only rule of thumb I can give you is that, assuming you are attacking the opposing king, you count the pieces that are defending, including the king, and count the attackers, or pieces that can be brought into the attack quickly (like a rook lift). You need more attackers than defenders.


As @PhishMaster says, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and it does all come down to calculation, but everyone, of any strength, encounters situations beyond their ability to calculate. They then fall back on intuition, and rules of thumb. One of those rules says that activity, as opposed to material gain, is often more valuable than you think it is. This simply translates to "dont be greedy" and just as in life you have to figure out for yourself what that means. So make the scrifice or dont, but in either case try to learn from the outcome.



You sacrifice material to gain an edge in position that is worth more than the material.

Mate is often the motivator for much sacrificing of material.

Tactics where you regain the material plus more material andor more positional advantage may occur.

Least often would be for just positional advantage, although it does happen. This might be in a mostly closed position where a rook is sacrificed for a knight. That leads to essentially a material imbalance which could lead to an easier win.

Very rarely but top players might give up a little material for more space or advantage in time. But this takes careful analysis to be sure the advantage does not disappear.

They say a pawn is worth 3 tempi. But only if you use them to good effect. More likely to work in open positions where tactics will rule rather than a closed position.

In the example of the OP you seem to be on the other side of that sacrifice to gain positional advantage. If you can't see how to just develop and win then perhaps you are going to be mated and just cannot see it yet. It seems really odd that you are up so much that you can make a 'substantial' sacrifice and still be ahead.

Was it really a sacrifice or just two very low rated players playing badly and your opponent played worse (unless he does have a mate!).

Why did your opponent sacrifice so much material and just how did he bottle up your pieces so you cannot develop them easily? How did you let that happen in the first place?

We need more info.
It would help a lot if you posted the position in question.

  • at least phishmaster did not downvote this one -- yet
    – yobamamama
    Jan 5, 2020 at 18:01

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