White to play
Keene - Browne, BBC The Master Game Series 7
Exchange sacrifices are messy. That's kind of the point, I suppose. The trade of a concrete advantage (material) for something that is much harder to evaluate in the expectation - or hope - that you get the better end of the deal.
Study rook endgames, particularly when you focus on rook and a single pawn against a rook, and you can get a definite and absolute answer. You look at the position, have a think and come up with a move. Then you Nalimov it and find out whether you are RIGHT or WRONG.
Exchange sacs are a completely different story. We - at least, players of my standard - are pretty much on our own with them. I'm confused, dear reader. To demonstrate precisely how and why I'll enlist the help of three guys who were amongst the best chessers in the land back When we were Kings.
White to play
Hartston - Basman, Hastings 1973/74
I first came across this game many moons ago during a brief flirtation with Basman's home-brewed … e6, … Bc5 system in the Sicilian. He had a tape on it in his Audio Chess series*, and I remember his comment on this position going something like,
"Hartston thought for 40 minutes and then stuck the boot in with Rxf6."
The game ended in a perpetual check after 25 moves. Not a bad result, but Bazzer said that he wasn't happy about allowing Hartston to give up rook for knight. Basman was unable to refute the exchange sacrifice over the board and evidently still thought it problematic several months later when he chose 10 … Nge7 against the same opponent.
Worth a punt then? Maybe, but you remember that article in The Independent just before Christmas when The Corporal said that A phone app could beat most grandmasters? Well, my phone hates this sac. Not so much 12 Rxf6 itself, which it reckons leads to a level position, but Hartston's 13 Rd1 follow-up. … Qg1+, 14 Bf1 Ne5 and Black's winning according to my Bloody Apple Monster.
A text which may nor may not include a chapter on how to play exchange sacrifices
So either two chessers who are infinitely better than me missed a tactical detail which refutes the sacrifice or my engine is falling into the Excessive Materialism trap that plagued its ancestors. How am I supposed to know which? Either way, if one, some or all of Hartston, Basman and my phone are getting this sacrifice wrong, am I really likely to do any better?
Which brings me back to Keene-Browne and The Master Game.
In his commentary RDK said he wanted to play 17 Qc2, but was concerned that after ... Bxd3, 18 Qxd3 Black would bust up the kingside with ... Rxf3.
Black to play
Keene felt that the resulting position was unclear, but that White would be able to draw at best. Why? Well it's not difficult to see that White's got problems: no open files for his extra rook, few squares for his bishop, weak pawns all over the shop and a drafty king for a start. By way of contrast Black is going to have the f-file for his rook, has a good square on f4 for a knight (if he can get one there) and perhaps possibilities of penetrating on the light squares with his queen (e8-h5 or d7-h3, maybe).
So I can see that why … Rxf3 could be a good idea, but what's my move now we're here? What's my plan? Hartston - Basman looked reasonable to me too and maybe that's not so hot after all. Is Keene-Browne one of those, or does Black really have enough. And how am I supposed to know the difference?
I'm confused. Anybody got a little help for a blogger?
2014 Exchange Sac count: 6
* Is it really still going? Astonishing.