5

I (black) reached this position in a game and realised that black's king would be totally exposed if white's bishop decided to take the pawn (1. Bxh6 gxh6).

Is the smart move here for white to sacrifice their bishop and to expose the opponent's king? Or since you can't see that far into the future, maybe it's just worth keeping your piece. What do you think?

[FEN "r2q1rk1/pp2b1p1/3p1nbp/1Np1p1B1/1nP1P3/6PN/PP2QPBP/R4RK1 w Qq - 0 1"]

1.Bxh6 gxh6
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    If the white queen was on e3, so you could capture both pawns for the loss of the bishop, it might be worth it. But there's not really a follow up attack, is there? Nov 1 '21 at 23:56
  • @SteveBennett I think the sac still fails due to the zwichenzug ...Ng4 if white's queen were on e3. But then again, all of this is purely hypothetical.
    – Scounged
    Nov 2 '21 at 3:27
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    As a kid in one of my first tournaments I lost a game in which I sacrificed a piece against my opponent's long castled king, and a spectator told me afterwards "first get all your pieces involved, then sacrifice." Here your rooks, Nb5, Bg2 are all far away (and even Nh3 and Qe2 have no way to get closer to the king) so you haven't even started getting pieces involved in an attack, you're just giving away a piece. Nov 2 '21 at 7:55
  • Is this a game you played or are you asking SE for advice on a game that's still happening? The latter seems like cheating.
    – user253751
    Nov 2 '21 at 10:55
  • chess.com says that this move changes position from equal to -4. The suggested move is simply capturing the knight. Nov 2 '21 at 12:40
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The sacrifice makes very little sense here. A weakness is only a weakness if it can be exploited, and in this case white won't really have anything substantial to go on after giving up the bishop. But why can I be so certain that white won't have any good follow-ups, even if I don't consider all possibilities? What aspects of the position make it clear to me that white will not be able to exploit black's "vulnerable" king?

If we look a bit more concretely at the position after Bxh6, gxh6, what do we find? We find an entire army of black pieces, all of them ready to leap into the defense of their king! In particular, the knight on f6 and the bishop on g6 are at least as good as a pair of pawns when it comes to shielding black's king from direct attacks, so it doesn't really matter that black's pawn cover isn't that great. Also worth noting is the rook on f8, which can be placed on f7, providing even more defense for black's king.

While it's good that you're aware of the fact that one always has to be careful with allowing this kind of sacrifice around one's own king, this needs to be tempered somewhat. Ask yourself questions like "how will my opponent follow up their sacrifice?", "can the opponent easily open up lines of attack against my king?", "do I have enough defenders around my king?" etc. and you will find it a lot easier to correctly judge whether a piece sacrifice with the goal of initiating a king assault is likely to succeed.

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    I was never concerned about an immediate follow-up, but considering that black would need to continue using those pieces to protect their king, I can't help but feel their attack would be compromised, and they would have trouble using their pieces productively. Wouldn't black's knight and bishop would be out of commission for a chunk of the game? And when they do finally go into play, there is no real defense for the king, which is trouble for when white's queen and rooks are hypothetically in play too. So for sacrificing white's bishop, you are breaking the integrity of black's position. Nov 2 '21 at 6:07
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    @MitchellGraham protect against what? the single pawn remaining still defends against your H3 knight, which is completely stuck, meaning your white bishop is almost completely blocked as well. your rooks are blocked by your own pawns; a frontal assault is completly off the table in this position. any attack you have will come from the side, which your opponent has covered. the knight and bishop can move freely. the only frontal attack you have is a pawn storm, and if you are going to do that, why not sac a pawn instead of a bishop?
    – Jumboman
    Nov 2 '21 at 9:54
  • @MitchellGraham Black's pieces only need to defend black's king if white tries to attack it, otherwise they can move freely. So while it's probably a good idea to keep some pieces close to the black king, they're not chained to specific squares. This applies especially to long range pieces like bishops/rooks/queens. It feels like you're trying to make broad and general statements without even bothering to back them up with anything concrete. This is no way to evaluate a chess position. you have to treat the position in front of you, not some spectre in the distance that you can't make out.
    – Scounged
    Nov 2 '21 at 13:38
  • @Scounged "This is no way to evaluate a chess position. you have to treat the position in front of you, not some spectre in the distance that you can't make out." - Right, but you can't just ignore what's 3 or 5 or 8 moves away either. So then, how far into the distance do you look to evaluate a position?
    – TCooper
    Nov 2 '21 at 18:14
  • @Scounged I'm sorry but I disagree with you. Who are you to assume that I'm making broad statements without any reasoning? If you think there's something wrong with my reasoning then why not contribute to the discussion rather than by responding with an insult. Thank you. Nov 2 '21 at 19:42
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This won't work. When you make aggressive piece sacrifices like this to expose the enemy king, you need to be able to follow up. In this case the obvious follow-up moves are Ng5 and Qh5, but both g5 and h5 are protected by Black's pieces. You could try f4, but it's slow - Black is not obliged to capture and after [pass] 2. f5 Bf7 you are once again out of attacking ideas.

For such an attack to work you need more firepower. For example, if you had the queen on d2 such that you can meet 1...gxh6 with 2. Qxh6, the sacrifice might work. Or maybe if somehow managed to trade light-squared bishops (trading one of your inactive pieces for an important defender of the opponent), and had the king on h1 with rooks on f1 and g1. As it is, Black's king simply has too many loyal bodyguards for your few attackers to break through.

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black's king would be totally exposed if white's bishop decided to take the pawn

Having little pawn cover and being "exposed" are completely different things. Black has five pieces available for the defense of their king, while White has only four pieces available to attack. One of those pieces is the bishop whose sacrifice you're evaluating, one of them is the fianchettoed bishop that, thanks to White's e pawn, has been deprived of the long diagonal and will take awhile to get into the action, one is a knight that has no available moves, and one is a queen, and while queens are more powerful than the other pieces, they're also much less disposable. With White's dark-squared bishop gone, taking out the h-pawn is going to be far from trivial.

While the sacrifice will result in two half-open files next to Black's kings, they're half-open on Black's side. That is, at least in the short run, removing the g pawn simply clears the file for Black's rooks! There's no way White's getting their rooks in a position to take advantage of the files (especially the g file) without a huge amount of work, and the h and e pawns are going to be major impediments to any pawn storm. If White can trade their bishop for the g and h pawns and have their g and h pawns be passed, that would be much more of concern.

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If I am white, the sac I am looking at is f4 !? Idea of possibly a recapture on g5 with the knight, threatening the fork and eyeing h7. Also f5 may be interesting, but it is hard for black to really do much about the f4 break so it is probably best to just retreat the bishop with f4 coming. Another good rule of thumb is to not make a speculative sacrifice when a simpler strategy will suffice. I could be wrong, but I think white is in good shape here, and my suggestion is mainly not worth it because the f4 break delayed is almost as strong so might as well have a bishop for the attack.

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