A Stunning Sacrifice and Tricky Evaluations

The position above was reached at the Dorset Centenary Chess Congress between Keith Gregory (2023) and Jacob Boswell (2331).

Jacob had just played 13…Rfd8!?   We presume he had foreseen the consequences of this move in which case it was a very interesting and brave choice as he had plenty of safe options.

Keith naturally enough realised he could win material with 14.Ne5 since if the queen moves the knight on c6 is hanging.  Instead Jacob replied 14…Nd4 saccing his queen.

After the obvious (and best) sequence of moves 15.Bxd5 Nxe2+ 16.Kg2 Rxd5 the following position was reached.

Now White has a difficult choice.

The other option is
17.f3 Nxc3 18.bxc3 Bxe5

Black has the bishop pair and a pawn for the queen and has good piece activity.  How would you evaluate this position?

This is the option Keith chose.  It is easy to see that Black has a lot of compensation but how much?  Older engines give an advantage to White but modern engines say this position is equal.

Regardless of the objective evaluation, this position is, perhaps, easier for humans to play as Black, added to which there would be a lot of psychological pressure on White to prove that his material advantage is worth something. Roll forward a few moves 19.c4 Rd6 20.Rbd1 Bc6 21.Qc2 Rad8 22.h4 Rd4 23.Rfe1 Bd6 24.a4 Rg4 25.Qf2 e6 and the players arrived at this position.

The position is still level but it is White that needs to be careful.  Keith played 26.Ra1.  At this point Jacob cashed in and after Rxg3+ 27.Qxg3 Bxg3 28.Kxg3 Rxd3 White stood a lot worse  due to his weak pawns.

The game finished 29.Rf1 e5 30.Rad1 Ra3 31.Ra1 Rc3 32.Rac1 Rb3 33.Rb1 Bxa4 34.Rxb3
Bxb3 35.Ra1 a5 0-1

One option is
17.Nc4 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Nxc3 19.Qb3 Nxb1 20.Qxb1 Rxd3+

Black has a rook and three pawns for the queen and a potentially dangerous passed c-pawn.  How would you evaluate this position?

Modern engines score this over +2 for White.  However, after 21.Kg1 Rd4 or 21…Rad8 it does not seem that clear cut to us.  To prove an advantage White will need to use his queen to attack Black’s pawns but that is not so easy as Black does not have any weaknesses.  We don’t doubt that the engines are objectively right but for a sub-GM human the position is not clearly winning.

This was an intriguing sacrifice and game with some hard to evaluate positions.  Congratulations to Jacob for his enterprising play and commiserations to Keith for being on the receiving end of it.

Peter Anderson and Martin Simons, April 2024

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