Queen Sacrifices by Top-Level Chess Players

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Sacrificing a queen is rare in chess games. Since the queen is the most valuable piece, giving her up for lesser chessmen or for an attack is difficult to contemplate. Within the last two months, two top-level chess players have sacrificed their queens.

Magical Queen Sacrifices

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; Photo courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Photo courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

For The New York Times, Dylan Loeb McClain wrote:

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There is no moment in chess that is more magical than the queen sacrifice, especially when it leads to checkmate.

Although it might seem that opportunities for such sacrifices occur more often in games among lower-ranked players because of their shortcomings in defense, effective sacrifices require a high degree of precision. So it is not a given that they will naturally arise in games among amateurs. And there are quite a few examples of “parting with the lady” in the annals of top-level chess.

McClain wrote the quoted words in 2007, about queen sacrifices by Hikaru Nakamura of the United States and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. As of 2021, Nakamura is number 19 in the world and Vachier-Lagrave is number 16.

In June and in August of 2021, two other top-level players sacrificed queens.

Levon Aronian’s Queen Sacrifice

Levon Aronian of Armenia is the fifth-highest rated player in the world. He is expected to switch his federation to the United States. On June 28, 2021, he sacrificed his queen against Alireza Firouzja, who was then playing for FIDE but now is France’s top player and number 12 in the world.

What is Black’s best response to White’s Rg1, attacking Black’s queen on g6?

30… Qxg1+

The game ended here. Move 31 onwards is computer analysis, showing how Black would have proceeded:

At first glance, it looks like White has consolidated. After a queen trade, White has equal chances in the endgame, as shown in the following line: 30… Qxf6 31. Bxf6 Kf7 32. Bxg7 Be2 33. Rg3 Bxf3+ 34. Rxf3+ Kxg7 35. Rg3+

31. Kxg1 Re1+ 32. Kg2 Bf1+ 33. Kg3 Nh5+ 34. Kh4 Nxf6

Black will be ahead a rook and a bishop, more than enough to win the game. That’s why White resigned after Black’s 30th move.

Fabiano Caruana’s Queen Sacrifice

Fabiano Caruana vs. Sam Shankland.
Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Austin Fuller

Fabiano Caruana of the United States is ranked second in the world, behind World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. On August 17, in the first round of the 2021 Sinquefield Cup, Caruana sacrificed his queen against Sam Shankland of the United States. Shankland is number 33 in the world.

White to move and gain a large advantage! Hint: White offers a queen pseudo sacrifice and, on the next move, a knight sacrifice.

If one’s queen is attacked by a knight, and that knight can be traded off while preserving an advantage, most players would make the knight trade without thinking too much about it. For example, the following line:} 28. Nxf5 Rxf5 29. Qh6 R8f7 30. Rxf5 Nxf5 31. Qg5

28. Ng4 h5

28… Nxh4 29. Nh6# (The queen sacrifice is a pseudo or sham sacrifice. White’s queen cannot be taken, or Black is checkmated on the move.)

29. Qg5 hxg4

White has sacrificed a knight. Black’s best move, which he played, is to capture White’s knight.

30. hxg4 Ng7

(30… Rh7 31. gxf5 Rxf5 – Giving the knight back may have been Black’s best try, but White is still winning.})

31. Qh6 Nef5 32. gxf5 Rxf5 33. Rxf5 Rxf5 34. Rxf5 Bxf5 35. g4 Be6 36. Qxg6 Qf7 37. Qh6 e3 38. Bf3

White threatens Bxg7, capturing the knight that defends the bishop on e6. Black cannot recapture on g7 without losing his bishop. Black resigned.

Comments

Have you played a queen sacrifice? Or have you seen a queen sacrifice played by someone else that you would like to share? Please post or link to those queen sacrifices in the comments.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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