Initiative is derived from initiate, which is to originate or start something. In chess, initiative means the ability to take control of the game. You are said to have the initiative when you force the opponent to follow your lead (passive play) rather than initiate something on his own (active play). In Chess Sacrifice as Chess Tactics, we included the use of chess sacrifice as a tool to gain initiative.
Initiative can be gained in several ways like:
- making an active move that forces the opponent to react only in a certain way, restricting his choice
- creating pressure on opponent’s position that keeps him busy resisting that pressure
- playing with tempo i.e., creating a threat to win something
As initiative gives you advantage in play, your aim should be to gain and retain it. If you find that retreating a piece means loss of time, you can retain initiative by exchanging the piece. On the other hand, when you exchange your active piece with a passive piece of your opponent, you lose initiative.
To gain and retain initiative, you must play actively and making a sacrifice is a chess tactics that often constitutes such play. It is said that all sacrifices come about because of some weakness in your opposition’s position. But the presence of a weakness does not create any disadvantage for the opponent unless you are not only able to recognize it but can also make moves to exploit it to your own advantage and a sacrifice often helps you to seize the initiative immediately.
The illustrative game was played at St. Petersburg in 1909 between Ossip Bernstein and Eugene Znosko-Borovsky.
Ossip Bernstein (1882-1962) was a strong Russian master of his time and became Moscow Champion in 1911. Though a doctorate in law, a successful financial lawyer and a businessman, it seems he was plagued by financial misfortunes. He lost his initial fortune due to Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, which forced him to move to France and settle there. He lost again in the Great Depression of 1930 and the third time in 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded France. He was awarded GM title in 1950. He had a near level record against all the great players of his time excepting Capablanca and Alekhine.
Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (1884-1954) had defeated many of his more famous contemporary masters but could not reach the very top level because of many disruptions in his life. He came to be better known for his chess writings than for his games. He settled in France in 1920 where, besides being a writer on chess, he became a literary and drama critic.
The diagram shows the position after Black’s 22nd move (22. … Qxh4) which was considered risky compared to the alternative 22. … Kh8. When Black played his 23rd move, White immediately identified an opportunity to seize initiative by making a sacrifice! He must have noticed the unguarded Black Rooks, the threat to which formed a part of his attacking plan.
|23.||Rh2||Qg5||Aside from 23. … Qg3+ which could get the Queen trapped, this was the only square available, all because of Black’s risky 22nd move in accepting the pawn sacrifice offered by White to open the h-file|
|24.||Nxe6||fxe6||The Knight sacrifice opened the e-file and a2-g8 diagonal for White’s Queen|
|25.||Qxe6+||Kh8||25. … Kf8 26. Qd6+ wins the Rook on c-file
25. … Kg7 26. Qe7+ Kg8 27. Qxd8+ wins both the Rooks
25. … Kg7 26. Qe7+ Kg6 27. Qxh7#
|27.||Rxh7+||Qxh7||You can see how White maintains initiative by exploiting Black’s weaknesses and forced Black’s responses!|
|28.||Qxd8+||Nf8||Black offered the Knight to save the Rook|
|30.||Qxf6+||Resigns||Black has lost all the K-side pawns, and White’s three passed pawns with a balance in pieces make the win a certainty. Does it remind you of the end position in Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: creating passed pawn?|
The final position when Black resigned.
You also notice how a sacrifice made for a particular objective often create many other benefits which by themselves would be justification for the sacrifice. If you analyze, you will find that the sacrifice of the KRP and the Knight created all these themes for sacrifices discussed in earlier articles – diverting a piece, opening up lines of attack, breaking up King’s castle, seizing initiative, attacking the King, threatening mate or capture of pieces, creating passed pawns – all in a cascading effect!
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