Many beautiful and celebrated master games feature heavy sacrifices of material that result in checkmate, or at least the regaining of more material than was sacrificed. In most cases, the original sacrifices were soundly based on positional considerations.

How well do these tactics work for amateurs? Do many make "correct" sacrifices (from the master point of view) and then lose because of incorrect follow up? Do amateurs sacrifice at the "wrong" times (when positional considerations don't warrant it)? Or is it usually to be the case that if "someone is good enough to sacrifice (correctly), they're good enough to win?"

  • Recently friend of mine (rating roughly 2000) beaten a grandmaster (about 2400) by sacrificing many things in a really long variation (game last about 20 moves after the first sacrifice). We checked the game with engine, not all sacrifices were correct, but it was really hard to keep calm at that situation even for a GM. So I think if you have a well thought reason for sacrifice but you can't see the end, go for it. It's not just you worried about losing a piece, it's also your opponent worried how to defend.(a quote by Michael Tal) Jul 27, 2015 at 0:56

5 Answers 5


This happened once, I was white and had misplayed the opening:

[FEN "r1bq1rk1/ppp2p1p/3p2p1/2nPp2n/1PP1P3/2N1bP2/P2NB1PP/R1BQ1RK1 w - - 1 12"]

I thought that Kh1 would lead to a deadly black attack, so I sighed and played 12.Rf2. There followed 12...Qh4 13.Qe1 Qxf2+ 14.Qxf2 Bxf2+ 15.Kxf2, I had lost an exchange, the queens were off and I assumed I would be lost.

I then proceeded to blow black off the board -- black's rooks turned out to be completely useless, my pieces found great squares, and I won in 32. Of course there were also many more mistakes, according to the computer.

So if a completely unintentional sacrifice can work, then so can intentional sacrifices, right?

I believe that a good move is a good move. If a sacrifice gives compensation (in terms of great squares for pieces, or an attack, etc), then it does, regardless of the level of the players.

Yes, weaker players are more likely to make mistakes and lose the compensation. But guess what, they are also more likely to make mistakes without playing the sacrifice! Maybe the sacrifice is the best move, and not playing it is already a mistake.

How well do these tactics work for amateurs? Do many make "correct" sacrifices (from the master point of view) and then lose because of incorrect follow up? Do amateurs sacrifice at the "wrong" times (when positional considerations don't warrant it)? Or is it usually to be the case that if "someone is good enough to sacrifice (correctly), they're good enough to win?"

This is hard to answer because at one hand, yes, of course weaker players are much more likely to screw it up, because that's what weaker players do, that's not really related to the move being a sacrifice. Weaker players will also play a conscious sacrifice less often, because it's easy to understand that you'll lose a piece, and less easy to understand that you get positional features in return that make up for it, or that the tactic actually does lead to a forced mate in 6. So most amateurs play it safe (but not all).

But if we assume the opponent is at the same level, so also an amateur, then I think sacrifices can be very effective at amateur because the opponent is also less likely to see them coming, and more likely to be confused by them.

So I don't think a general answer can be given, and think what matters is that a good move is a good move. Many moves gives up some type of advantage in return for another type, and sacrifices are just one example of that.

I think amateurs don't play them as often as they should, because of unnecessary fear.

Edit: I guess I need to add the whole game

[FEN ""]
[Date "2010.09.05"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "1927"]
[BlackElo "2040"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 O-O 5.Nf3 d6 6.Be2 Na6 7.O-O e5 8.d5 Nc5 9.Nd2 Bh6 10.f3 Nh5 11.b4 Be3+ 12.Rf2 Qh4 13.Qe1 Qxf2+ 14.Qxf2 Bxf2+ 15.Kxf2 Na6 16.Ba3 Nf4 17.Bf1 c5 18.dxc6 bxc6 19.Nb3 Rd8 20.Rd1 Bb7 21.Na5 Rab8 22.c5 Nc7 23.cxd6 Nb5 24.Bxb5 cxb5 25.Nxb5 Bxe4 26.Nxa7 Ra8 27.N7c6 Bxc6 28.Nxc6 Rxd6 29.Rxd6 Rxa3 30.Rd2 Nd3+ 31.Kf1 Nc1 32.b5 1-0 
  • 1
    +1 "...a good move is a good move". And, this game is played in real time, over a chessboard, between two players. It does not matter what a kibitzer or a computer finds later.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:36
  • I once blundered a knight only to realise that afterwards my position was positionally winning. Still one of my most brilliant sacrifices ... Jul 28, 2015 at 7:54
  • In this game, you had the advantage of an aggressive, well-developed queenside to make up for the loss of the exchange. Black was slow in completing his development, especially by moving the B to b7 instead of say, e6. You shouldn't have won, necessarily, but you were not at a disadvantage despite having lost the exchange. It was a game of "compensating advantages," and you made better use of yours than Black did of his.
    – Tom Au
    Nov 27, 2015 at 16:14
  • Another factor at lower levels is the psych-out: you take their bishop with your rook, and they can take it with their knight ... but you must have been planning on that, and there must be some trap, so they decline to recapture, and you get a bishop for free. Oct 29, 2020 at 2:13

A sacrifice will work equally well for any chess-player provided he sees it, which a master is much more likely to do based on his skill level and previous experience. Of course, you wouldn't want to make a sacrifice if you couldn't see an immediately winning follow-up. Maybe the master could make such a "speculative" sacrifice if his judgment felt the position warranted it, relying on his skill to find a winning continuation amidst the ensuing complications, but a weaker player is much less likely to accomplish that. You have to train yourself you look at all the possible moves in a position, even ones that immediately seem unsound or foolish, to find potential sacrificial lines and develop this skill. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be done.


There are three types of sacrifices:

  1. The move leads to a clear win such as checkmate.
  2. The move gains a more abstract advantage such as space or initiative.
  3. The move 'feels' right though the player cannot plumb the depths.

While the first point's 'clear win' may differ depending on the skill of the players, this is not actually a sacrifice. Sometimes it is called a 'sham sacrifice'. This is a combination that yields a happy result and is good stuff indeed. Amateurs can successfully sacrifice this way. In one of my earliest games I missed a mate-in-2 where the first move was a sham rook sacrifice.

The second point is more interesting. This is where amateurs begin to fall down. Your better amateurs (USCF Masters, for example) navigate these waters pretty well. They have a good understanding of the related abstractions. I don't think the GMs would always agree with the sacrifices made by the USCF masters, but they'd agree with the ideas. As we move down the skill tree to Experts, A-class, and B-class players, the sacrifices would get more and more dubious and any benefits squandered quicker. These players choose inefficient moves, losing time and allowing a defenders to negate the value of the sacrifice. Before long the amateur is generally down material without compensation.

The third point is called a "speculative sacrifice" when made by a GM and a "guess" or a "blunder" when made by anyone else. The point of this sacrifice is to complicate the position to such a degree that the superior player will be able to wring value from the position as the lesser player falters. That is, the Master sees good outcomes but cannot be sure any of them will come to pass. Michael Tal was the king of speculative sacrifices. Unless you're Mikhail Tal*, you probably shouldn't be doing this if you care about winning. If the post-mortem of such a game causes spirited debate among chess players it was likely a successful move regardless of the game's outcome. When the amateur plays this move, he generally has a resignable position within a few moves.

  • You aren't.
  • 2
    I think there's a tier in between your first two. I had a memorable correspondence game where I noticed sacrificing the exchange would get me connected passed pawns. I couldn't prove that it was a win, but it was a much more concrete gain than something like space or initiative. I made the sacrifice, my opponent couldn't stop my pawns, and I won the game. Apr 19, 2018 at 3:43

Tom, you seem to be confused.


Many beautiful and celebrated master games feature heavy sacrifices of material that result in check mate, or at least the re-gaining of more material than was sacrificed.

and this

In most cases, the original sacrifices were soundly based on positional considerations.

are unconnected except physically in your first paragraph.

"heavy sacrifices of material that result in check mate, or at least the re-gaining of more material than was sacrificed" are based on tactical and psychological considerations not positional ones.

As CConero points out, these work equally well regardless of your ability. The only difference which difference of ability makes is your ability to see them in the first place. Stronger players are better than weaker players at spotting these and marginally better at calculating them. Usually spotting them in the first place is harder than making the necessary calculations to verify that they work.

I said that this type of sacrifice is often also based on psychological considerations. Some players, even or especially world class ones like Alekhine or Tal, make sacrifices where it is not possible to calculate the complications in a reasonable amount of time. Chess is mostly played between human beings and human beings are psychological beings. Their performance can be affected by fear and doubt. Such sacrifices depend for their success (or otherwise) on the two players' ability to see through the calculations and their mental toughness.

This is particularly true for the second player who faces the unexpected shock to the system that the sacrifice brings in a position which he thought was relatively safe and solid. If he is mentally fragile then an unsound sacrifice can still lead to mental disintegration and an undeserved loss.

There are, however, sacrifices which are "soundly based on positional considerations". There are many examples in master play which have their own, more subtle, beauty.

Sacrificing a pawn to gain a purely positional advantage or to negate a big positional disadvantage are very common in top level play as are exchange sacrifices (sacrificing a rook for a knight or bishop often with a pawn as an additional sweetener). These are much rarer in amateur play, requiring a level of positional judgment and knowledge which requires a great deal of experience and training to develop.

  • "...and an undeserved loss." How many points does an undeserved loss get on the scorecard?
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 26, 2015 at 20:29
  • 1
    Just because sacrifices result in checkmate or a material advantage, doesn't mean they weren't based on positional considerations. If you look at the Immortal Game, those are sacrifices based on positional considerations (except the final mate combination) and they obviously did result in checkmate. They didn't result in checkmate by force, but nobody was speaking about a forced or inevitable result. Jul 27, 2015 at 11:55

It may seem that way because masters would make sacrifices based on their judgement of how well it work.

Beginners often make sacrifices that are total nonsense. They might beat some other weak player with it but against a decent player they lose with such nonsense.

New kids just learning who have some skill already, often fall in love with nonsense sacrifices because they like to play a wide open slash and burn attack rather than play a sounder game. If the sac is borderline and not an obviously stupid move they might get away with it on occasion. Especially if the line is complicated and the other player is unfamiliar with it and could make mistakes that would lose.

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