The Greek Gift Sacrifice

Chess Piece
Bobby Ang

Posted on March 09, 2017

Today let us talk about the Greek Gift Sacrifice. We had taken this up a few years ago but let’s do it again.

When we first took up the game our teachers introduced us to a few elementary concepts, like the Fool’s Mate, Scholar’s Mate, Smothered Mate, etc. etc. Then when we got past the basic stuff and took up opening play we were warned to watch out for some common attacking combinations, and one of these was the Greek Gift Sacrifice. This refers to a bishop sacrifice on h7 (or h2 for black) followed by Ng5+ and bringing the queen to the kingside for a mating attack.

We are not sure how it got its name, but some quarters suggest that it was named after the Greek/Italian Gioachino Greco, the unofficial world chess champion circa 1623. Greco authored a manual containing traps and compositions and this was posthumously published in 1656. It contained several instances of the trap which was later to be called the Greek Gift. Here is an example.

* * *
Greco, Gioacchino -- NN [C01]
Greco Europe, 1620

1.e4 e6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bd3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.h4 0 -- 0 6.e5 Nd5 <D>


Take note of the positions of the bishop on d3 and the knight on f3, the two essential ingredients to the “Greek Gift.” The h4 pawn comes into the picture when g5 is guarded by the enemy bishop. In case of ...Bxg5 the h-file is then opened by hxg5. Have a look:

7.Bxh7+! Kxh7 8.Ng5+ Bxg5

[8...Kg8 9.Qh5 forces mate; 8...Kg6 9.Qd3+ f5 10.exf6+ Kxf6 11.Qf3+ Kg6 12.h5+ Kh6 13.Qd3 the king is not going to survive long]

9.hxg5+ Kg6 10.Qh5+ Kf5 11.Qh7+ g6 12.Qh3+ Ke4 13.Qd3# 1 -- 0

Take note of the date, 1620. Between then and now this sacrifice has occurred countless number of times. Vladimir Vukovic’s famous The Art of Attack in Chess devotes one whole chapter to it (Chapter 6, “The classic bishop sacrifice”) because it “is the oldest and most explored of all the sacrifices involved in the attack on the castled king.”

Well, this sacrifice is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but it is so well-known that nobody falls into it anymore, right? The opposite is true, your humble scribe personally has pulled it off hundreds of times in blitz play in the Internet servers. Well, that is blitz play when speed is of essence. How about in tournament play? How about in world championship play? Well, the 3rd game in the Tan Zhongyi vs Anna Muzychuk Women’s World Championship match in Tehran, Iran shows us that it is possible.

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Muzychuk, Anna (2558) -- Tan, Zhongyi (2502) [C11]
Wch Women 2017 Tehran (6.3), 01.03.2017

1.e4 e6

In reply to 1.e4 Tan Zhongyi usually plays either the Pirc (1...e6) or the Sicilian (1...c5). Her surprise for the world championships is the French Defense. She obviously put a great deal of work into this new opening and it was a success -- except for this game. Black falls for a tactic which any native French player would have spotted immediately.

2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qd2 0 -- 0

A few columns ago, I showed you how the Indian Baskaran Adhiban defeated world championship finalist Sergey Karjakin in this line: 8...a6 9.a3 0 -- 0 10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Qf2 Nd7 (Adhiban’s novelty) 12.Nd4 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 f6! Black’s position is ok and he went on to score a stunning victory. Karjakin,S (2785)-Adhiban,B (2653) Wijk aan Zee 2017 0 -- 1 31.

9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.0 -- 0 -- 0 Qa5 11.a3 Be7?!

The usual continuation is 11...Rb8 but here Black is facing difficulties, for example 12.Bxc5 Nxc5 13.Qe3! Bd7 14.f5! exf5 15.Rxd5 White is obviously better. Guerra Mendez,J (2523)-Jerez Perez,A (2398) Barcelona 2015 1 -- 0 30.

Ino Sadorra defeated Wesley So with this move in the US Chess League, Internet Chess Club, in late 2015. What is interesting about this is that in his notes to the game Ino points out a sacrifice that he avoided and it is exactly the sacrifice that Tan Zhongyi allowed! I’ll show you this game below.

12.Bd3 a6 13.h4

When you have Bd3 and h2 -- h4 together then the Greek Gift Sacrifice with Bxh7+ and Ng5 is impending. For some reason this possibility escapes Black.


It looks like the only move here for Black is 13...f6. By the way, in Ino Sadorra’s notes he recommended 13...Nc5 here for Black. It has the idea that the d3 square is covered so the white queen cannot attack the black king from there. But d3 is not the only avenue to the enemy king and White can still use the same sacrifice. 14.Bxh7+! Kxh7 15.Ng5+ Kg8 (15...Kg6 16.h5+ Kh6 (16...Kf5 17.g4+ Kxg4 18.Qg2+ Kf5 19.Qh3#) 17.Bxc5 Qxc5 18.Qd3 White is completely winning) 16.Qe2 g6 17.h5 the attack is winning.

14.Bxh7+! Kxh7 15.Qd3+! Kg8 16.Ng5 f5 17.Nxd5!

This whole line is given by Ino Sadorra in his comments to his game vs Wesley So!

17...b4 18.Nxe7+ Nxe7 19.Bd2?!

During the game I thought that the text was very strong, but later on it turned out that it is an inaccuracy. The most efficient way to proceed is 19.Qd6! bxa3 20.bxa3 Black will be losing back all her material gains and the attack is still as strong as ever


The only defense is to play 19...Nd5! with the idea of ...Ra7 and then sacrificing back the piece with ...Nd7 -- f6!, For example 20.Qf3 (20.Nxe6? Nxe5! 21.Qd4 Bxe6 22.Qxe5 Rfe8 Black has turned the tables and it is her attack which is stronger) 20...Ra7 21.Qh5 N7f6! 22.exf6 gxf6 and surprisingly White’s attack is over. Having said that, I submit that this defense is so incredible that neither player can be faulted for overlooking it.


Now the Black position can no longer be held.

20...Qc5 21.Bxb4

Here, I felt the first misgivings on the state of Muzychuk’s nerves. Why didn’t she play the obvious and much stronger 21.Qxe6+ Kh8 22.Bxb4 -- was she perhaps afraid of 22...Rxb4 23.axb4 Qxb4? But then 24.Nf7+ Kg8 (24...Kh7 25.Rd6!) 25.Nd6+ Kh7 26.Qxe7 is completely winning for her.

21...Qxd6 22.Bxd6 Ng6 23.Nxe6 Re8 24.Bxb8 Rxe6 25.g3

White is still winning though, so maybe Muzychuk’s choice is better. But I wonder -- if even an idiot like myself could see it...

25...Bb7 26.Rh2 Nc5 27.Rd8+ Kh7 28.Bd6 Ne4 29.h5 Nh8 30.h6 Nf7 31.Rd7 Rxd6 32.Rxf7 1 -- 0

Here is the Sadorra game.

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So, Wesley (2767) -- Sadorra, Julio Catalino (2501) [C11]
USA tt ICC INT (9), 20.10.2015

This game was played on board 1 of the US Chess League match hosted by the Internet Chess Club between the “Minnesota Blizzards” and “Dallas Destiny.” Wesley for Minnesota, Ino for Dallas.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qd2 0 -- 0 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.0 -- 0 -- 0 Qa5 11.a3 Be7!?

Sadorra: “I decided to prepare a sideline that doesn’t give White what he wants, and that my opponent didn’t have any experience with.”


Now at this point I will turn you over to Ino as he describes his preparation. Take note of the position after move 17 in the second paragraph below:

“In my preparation, one of the lines I examined was the natural-looking 12.Nd4 and I planned to meet it with a typical maneuver in French/Caro structures. 12...Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Nb8! I think the first time I saw this idea was from the game in Szelag-Radjabov 1999, where Black was almost winning after Nd7 -- b8! 14.Bf2 Nc6 15.Ne2 Qxd2+ 16.Rxd2 Bd7 then I studied this possible ending a little bit more to learn the best plan for Black. Overall Black is fine: 17.Nd4 Nxd4 18.Bxd4 a5!= preventing b4 before playing b5.

I also prepared against Negi’s recommended attacking idea: 12.h4 a6?! (12...f6!? I believe this is the best way to meet White’s kingside aggression) 13.Bd3 b5? (13...Nc5 14.Kb1 Qc7 15.g4 b5 16.Ng5 with an attack) 14.Bxh7+ Kxh7 15.Ng5+ Kg8 16.Qd3 g6 (16...f5 17.Nxd5! RPA: Compare this position with the one after White’s 17th move in Muzychuk vs Tan. Exactly the same, right?) 17.h5 White is winning.”

12...Rd8 13.Nd4 Nxd4 14.Bxd4 Nb8!?

Ino: “I didn’t see anything concretely wrong with this idea so I played the previous 2 moves relatively quickly. After this move, he spent a good amount of time -- revealing that he was not familiar with this idea or line of play.”

15.Bf2 Nc6 16.Qe1 Rb8 17.Nb5 Qxe1 18.Rxe1 a6 19.Nd4 Nxd4 20.Bxd4 Bd7

“By this time, I was already ahead by about 30 minutes on the clock and I kept up this pace because I thought the position simply required natural moves.”

21.c3 Bb5 22.Bxb5 axb5 23.Rhf1 Rdc8 24.Rd1 Ra8 25.f5 Bc5 26.Bxc5 Rxc5 27.Rd4 exf5! 28.Rxf5 Re8 29.Kc2 g6 30.Rf6 Rxe5 31.Rb6 Re7 32.b4 Rc6 33.Rxb5 Rec7 34.Kb2 Rxc3 35.Rd2 Re3 36.Rbxd5 Rcc3 37.Ra5 h5! 38.Ra7 h4!

Ino: “This rook pawn push was inspired by Magnus’s 31.a4 -- a5 -- a6 against Dennis Wagner in this year’s World Rapid Championship!”

39.Rf2 Rb3+ 40.Ka2 Kg7 41.h3 g5 42.Rxb7 Rxa3+ 43.Kb2 Reb3+ 44.Kc2 Ra2+ 45.Kxb3 Rxf2 46.b5 Rxg2 47.b6 Rg1 48.Kc2 Re1 49.Rd7 Re6 50.b7 Rb6 51.Kd3 g4! 52.hxg4 h3 53.Rd5 Rxb7 54.Rh5?

The losing move. Wesley should have brought his king closer before putting the rook on h5.

54...Rb6! 55.g5 Rb8! 0 -- 1

This is what Wesley overlooked. The rook is going to h8 and White’s king is too far away to handle Black’s h-pawn. If 56.Rxh3 Rb3+ skewers the rook.

Can Tan Zhongyi live down the shame of falling for an elementary tactical trick? Of course she can! She did go on to win the match and is now the Women’s chess champion of the world. So there.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.