(This is a lesson from the Chess Mastery Course, add your email in the box to the right to get future lessons! Also, you can download this lesson as a pdf from the downloads page).

Lesson 2: The Nd5 sacrifice

This lesson is on a thematic sacrifice in the Sicilian Defence involving White playing Nc3-d5 when Black has a pawn on e6.

There are two types of situation:

1) capturing the Knight leads to White regaining the material quickly in a forced line and leaves him (or her, I’ll use ‘him’ for ease of writing) with a positional edge.

2) White sacrifices the Knight for a pawn and an attack. With energetic play, this often leads to a win but if Black is given time or space to develop, White’s advantage will disappear and Black will win thanks to his material advantage.

We will be concentrating on the second situation but give the following examples of the first.

1) Combination

Engel – Oeser, 1942

Nd5_118.Nd5! if exd5 19. exd5+ Be7 20. dxc6 and White has gained a pawn and it’s a protected passed pawn just 2 squares away from Queening.





Richter – Reinhardt, 1935


One of the points about this move is that d5 is a great square for the Knight, if Black doesn’t do something about the Knight then it can often stay on d5 and limit Black’s options. For example, if he plays 11…Be7 we can just take the Bishop, giving us the advantage of the Bishop Pair.

Now 11…exd5 12.exd5+ Be7 13.Nf5 wins the Bishop as 13…Ng8 14.Nxd6+

This leaves Black a pawn down with a backward, isolated pawn on d6 and some King safety issues as 13…0-0? 14.Nxe7+ wins the exchange.

Reti – Meyer, 1919

Nd5_314.Nd5 and if 14…exd5 15.exd5 and the Knight can’t escape capture without leaving the e-file open and losing the Queen to a discovered Bg5+ Ne7 16.d6 Bxg2 17.Kxg2.


Richter, – Groneberg, 1950

Nd5_48.Nd5 with the Nc6 pinned exd5 9. exd5+ wins the material back immediately with the advantage of the weak d6 pawn and open e-file for White.





Reti – Tartakower, 1919

if 11…exd5 12.Nxc6! Bxc6 13. exd5+ gives White the advantage.





The following is an important example of when playing Nd5 is not a good idea:
Bastrikov – Terpugov, 1954

Nd5_612…exd5 13.exd5+ Ne5 14.f4 f6 the position of the Bg5 allows Black to counter and stay ahead in material

15.Kh1? Getting out of the way of a possible Bc5 after the d-pawn recaptures on e5 [15.fxe5 dxe5 and the Queen has to move because of Bc5; 15.Bh4 Be7 16.fxe5 dxe5 17.Qe4 g5]

15…0-0-0 16.Bh4 Ng6 and Black has got his King to safety and emerged a piece up.

What was the problem here? Mainly that by playing f4 to regain the Knight, White blocks off the escape route for his Bishop. Also, White should have seen that he would still lose material with 15. Kh1 and found another way out with 15. Rad1! 0-0-0 16. fxe5 dxe5 17. d6! when he is only losing a pawn after exd4 18. dxc7 Kxc7 19. Bf4+

2) True Sacrifice

The great thing about this sacrifice is it involves real attacking play. White exchanges one of the elements of chess, force (material) for two others (time and space). He must use these wisely to win.

Becoming familiar with these positions will improve your all-round attacking skill. Understanding how to keep your opponent under pressure is at least as important as an eye for combinations. If possible, play these positions against another player (or a computer set to 2000 Elo strength) as both colours to get an idea of the aims and problems for both sides.

The Nd5 sacrifice is effective when White has a big lead in development. White normally has a Rook (sometimes Queen) on the e-file, in line with the Black King and offers the Knight in exchange for opening this file and displacing the King (blocking with Be7 leads to ruin).

Black must now try to develop his pieces and keep his King safe but usually has very few squares available. Exchanges will generally favour Black.

Time is a big factor for both sides. If White doesn’t keep Black tied up defending against threats then he will lose the initiative and be in trouble on account of the material deficit. Black will look for moves that create space for his pieces (including flight squares for his King) and force White to defend a piece/pawn at the same time.

White has several mini-plans or options to be aware of:

1. Open the c-file with c3/c4. The c-file is half-open already. Opening the c-file and controlling it and the e-file with Rooks leaves Black’s King trapped on the d-file ready to be mated.
2. Play Nd4-c6. Again, this limits the King’s movement as well as Black’s other Queenside pieces. Black will often be forced to exchange Knights on c6 which will bring the d5 pawn to that square, controlling b7/d7 and still restricting Black. The pawn can become a promotion threat in some positions. Timing is very important with this move.
3. Attack f7. This square can become weak if Black develops a piece along the 7th rank and obstructs the Queen’s defence of it. Exchanging a Bishop for a Black Knight on f6 leaves the f-pawns doubled and isolated. White can attack with a move like Qh5. Getting a Queen to f7 allows White to attack along both the 7th and 8th Ranks, giving Black’s King nowhere to go to.
Game 1: Stein – Furman, 1969
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.g3 b5 7.Bg2 Bb7 8.0-0 Nf6 9.Re1 d6 10.a4! encouraging Black’s next move 10…b4 11.Nd5! 

Nd5_7attacking the Queen and b4 pawn.


Can Black decline the sacrifice? 11…Qa5 12.Bd2 and Black has to take the Knight or lose the b-pawn; 11…Nxd5 12.exd5 e5 blocks in the dark-squared Bishop and gives Black problems developing. The c6 pawn limits both the Queenside Knight and Bishop, the e5 pawn is pinned so White can keep the Knight centrally placed, the b4 pawn is loose (and playing …a5 will concede the b5 square) and White can keep a big advantage by active play. For example, 13.Be3! Be7 (13…exd4 14.Bg5+) 14.Nf5 Bf6 15.Qg4 g6 16.Qc4!


White sacrifices the Knight for a pawn and an attack on the King. White has much better development, control of the open e-file and Black’s King is going to be stuck in the centre. Played correctly, this is close to a won position for White but if Black is allowed to develop sufficiently then the tables can be turned quickly.

12…Kd8 Not 12…Be7? when 13.Nf5 wins the piece back giving White a dominating position and an extra pawn. 13…0-0 (13…Ng8? loses quickly to 14.Bg5 as f6? 15.Nxg7+ Kd7 (15…Kf7 16.Ne6 threatening the Queen and mate in 1) 16.Qg4+ Kd8 17.Ne6+) 14.Rxe7 Nbd7 15.Bg5]

13.Bg5! natural and strong. The Bishop restricts the most free Black minor piece and threatens to double and isolate the Kingside pawns. Just as important though, is vacating the c1 square for a Rook – opening the c-file would be very dangerous for Black.

13…Nbd7 14.Qe2?! threatening mate in 1 [14.Nc6+ is the strongest move]

14…Kc8? 14…Qc5! is best, making space for the King on c7 with tempo by making threats against the d4 Knight and d5 pawn. With the King on c7, the Rooks will be closer to connecting too.

15.c3! b3 clearly 15…bxc3 16.Rac1 is going to be crushing.

Nd5_816.Nc6! immobilising the King and threatening Qe8+

16…Bxc6 16…h6? 17.Qe8+! Nxe8 18.Rxe8+ Qd8 19.Bxd8 and the discovered check is devastating.

17.dxc6 Ne5 White is still down a minor piece for a pawn, the pressure must be kept up.

18.Ra3 18.Bh3+ first is stronger 18…Kb8 19.Ra3

18…d5? played in order to vacate d6 for the Bishop but the d5 pawn is an easy target now. 18…Rb8 holding on to the b-pawn and forcing White to relocate his Rook is interesting but 19.Qxa6+ Kd8 20.Raa1 is still good for White

19.Rxb3 Bd6 20.Bxf6 gxf6 21.Bxd5 Nxc6 22.Qg4+ 22.Qf3! keeps Queens (and the pressure) on and wins material.

22…Qd7 23.Qxd7+ Kxd7

Nd5_9So the Queens are off and White only has 2 pawns for the piece, however, White’s Rooks are much more active, Black’s King is open to being forced around by checks and the Black pawns are isolated and weak. Compare them to White’s 2 pawn islands and the passed c-pawn.

24.Rb7+! 24.Bxf7? Na5! and Black is winning as the Rook is trapped 25.Rb6 Kc7

24…Bc7 25.Bg2! 25.Bf3? Ne5

25…Rad8 25…Ne5? 26.Rd1+ Kc8 27.Rb3! and the King is trapped on the c-file with the Rook en prise. 27…Ra7 28.Bh3+

26.Bh3+ and White continues to make use of the exposed King to swap off pieces and create passed pawns which win the game.

26…Kd6 27.Rd1+ Kc5 28.b4+ Kc4 29.Bf1+ Kb3 30.Rxc7 Rxd1 31.Rxc6 Kxa4 32.Kg2 a5 33.bxa5 Rhd8 34.Rxf6 R8d7 35.a6 Rc1 36.Bd3 Rxc3 37.Bxh7 Kb5 38.Be4 Ra3 39.Bb7 Kc5 40.h4 Kd4 41.Rf5 Re7 42.h5 Re5 43.Rf4+ Kc5 44.h6 1-0


Game 2: Van Schoor, – Borja, 1960
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 b5 8.0-0 Bb7 9.Re1 d6 10.Nd5! Nd5_10

10…exd5 11.exd5+ Kd8 [11…Kd7 leaves the b8 Knight with nowhere to go]

12.Bg5 Bc8 with the idea of keeping the Knight out of f5 after Be7

13.Bxf6+ gxf6 14.Qh5



Nd5_11This attack on f7 means that Black can’t put a piece on d7 or e7 as it would obstruct the Queen’s defence of the pawn. As you can see, this doesn’t leave Black with many moves!

14…Ra7 Defending the e7 square from invasion by a Rook after White doubles Rooks on the e-file and Black plays Bg7.

15.Re3 Qd7? A waste of time. 15…Bg7 could have been played as 16.Rc3 doesn’t achieve anything.

16.Rae1 Bg7 17.Re6!? Re4 could have been played straight away but this is a tempting move. Black can’t take the Rook 17.Re7? allows Black to exchange off and emerge with a material advantage and more freedom for his pieces (including King).


Nd5_1217…Qc7 17…fxe6? 18.Nxe6+ Ke7 19.Nxg7+ Kf8 20.Ne6+ Ke7 21.Qh6 Rd8 22.Qg7+ Ke8 23.Nc7#!

18.R6e4 f5? Black has very few playable moves as this shows

19.Nxf5? this releases some of the pressure 19.Qh4+ f6 20.Re6! Rf8 21.Qf4! the threats and the pressure keep piling up! 21…Bd7 (21…Rh8 22.Rxd6+ Bd7 23.Ne6+) 22.Re7 Rg8 23.Ne6+]

19…Bxf5 20.Qg5+ a zwischenzug (in-between move) so that the Bishop can be retaken with check after Kc8


Nd5_13This looks tempting, the Queen and Rook defend against the 7th rank and White will not capture with check, however it creates a hole on e6, shuts in the g7 Bishop and the King is still in the centre. Notice how the removal from the board of the light-squared Bishop allows White to use other lines of attack and involve the Bishop that has been sat on g2.

Black should have taken the opportunity to get his King to safety and get his Knight into the game with 20…Kc8 21.Qxf5+ Nd7 22.Qxf7? Ne5

21.Qxf5 Qf7 22.Bh3 mate threat

22…Rd7 22…Nd7 23.Re7 Qxe7 24.Rxe7 Kxe7 25.Qe6+ and White’s advantage will be in the lack of mobility for Black and the advanced d-pawn.

23.Qf4 [23.c4! is very strong. White will open the c-file and double the Rooks there as c8 cannot be adequately defended. 23…bxc4 (23…b4 24.c5! dxc5 25.d6! with Qxc5 and Qa5/b6+ to follow.) 24.Rxc4 h5 25.Rec1

Nd5_1423…Qxd5? now White wins back the material and Black still has poorly placed pieces. The game finishes quickly. 23…f5 makes life easier for Black although White is still better after 24.Bxf5 Bxb2 25.Qe3 (25.Bxd7 Qxf4 26.Rxf4 Nxd7) 25…Rb7

24.Bxd7 Nxd7 25.Rd4 Qb7 26.Qxd6 Re8 27.Rxe8+ Kxe8 28.Qe6+ Kd8 29.Qg8+ 1-0


One thought on “The Nd5 Sacrifice in the Sicilian”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook