Sergey Kasparov, The Exchange Sacrifice: A Practical Guide. (Russell Enterprises, 2016.) 256 pp., $24.95.
Belarusian grandmaster Sergey Kasparov (no known relation to the 13th World Champion) is a prolific author of opening books, but as far as I'm aware this is his first book on a different chess subject. The book covers the theme of sacrificing a rook for a bishop or knight - the "exchange sacrifice" of the title - more specifically, the positional exchange sacrifice (often but not always with the materially weaker side gaining a pawn as further compensation). In other words, Kasparov examines cases where the sac doesn't result in material gain or a forced mate, but only in enduring compensation of one kind or another.
What that kind amounts to is the basis for chapters 3-12 of the book. The first two chapters are a little odd, or at least the second one is. Chapter 1 is "The Exchange Sacrifice in the Games of Tigran Petrosian", and chapter 2 replaces the last two words with "Anatoly Karpov". These titles are written with lawyerly precision: technically true but somewhat misleading. Most chess fans, especially those acquainted with Petrosian, would think that these chapters look at successful exchange sacrifices by those players. In Petrosian's case, they'd be mostly right. Most of the exchange sacs in that chapter are by Petrosian, and in almost every one of those cases he wins or draws. In the Karpov chapter, by contrast, he is often on the receiving end of an exchange sac, and his overall results in the chapter are relatively poor. (Maybe S. Kasparov has inherited some of G. Kasparov's antipathy towards the 12th World Champion?) There's also a noteworthy omission from the chapter. One of Karpov's best games, from what was unquestionably the best tournament of his career, was his victory over Veselin Topalov from Linares 1994. This game featured not one but two exchange sacrifices, and even if the author felt that the second one was more of a sham sac leading to clear gains, the first exchange sac merited inclusion in the volume.
After those chapters the material is organized by objective subject matter. Chapter 3, "Domination", covers exchange sacs where a "player tries to compensate for his material losses by optimizing the positions of his pieces which in turn become considerably more active than their counterparts"; in these situations "the sacrifice does not lead...to anything specific."
The subject matter of Chapters 4-5, "Fighting for the Initiative", "Trying to 'Muddy the Waters'", and "Utilizing an Advantage" are what one would expect from the chapter titles. But what of Chapter 7, "Simply the Best"? There is no thematic unity here, nor any guideposts that would help players generalize from the examples. The only common thread is that in each case the exchange sacrifice was the best move--but isn't that what we're normally aiming for in any case? (Not always, but usually.)
After this the chapter headings return to comprehensibility: Chapter 8 is "Launching an Attack Against the King", and Chapter 9 covers the flip side: "Reducing Your Opponent's Offensive Potential". If the ...Rxc3 sac in the Dragon and other Open Sicilians leaps to mind when you think of exchange sacrifices, you'll feel a sense of resolution and relief in Chapter 10, "Destroying a Pawn Chain" - though the title is a misnomer. (Pawns on [for example] a2, b2, and c2 may constitute a pawn island, but they are not a pawn chain - that occurs when pawns are connected by bonds of protection [e.g. pawns on c3, d4 and e5 constitute a chain].) Chapter 11, "Building a Fortress", is the longest chapter in the book, and it is followed by the finale, Chapter 12, "Activating Your Bishop".
The book concludes with 16 exercises. In each case the task is to evaluate an exchange sac, and this brings up an important point about the book. Kasparov is not giving a primer that could be titled, "Winning With the Exchange Sacrifice"; he is exploring the topic and examining the sacrifice in its many manifestations. There are no promises that it will or even should succeed. This is a strength of the book, not least because we will all sometimes be on the receiving end of the "gift".
The book uses a complete game format, and in all there are 197 games in the book. That's a lot of games, and I don't know how many amateurs will find the topic so riveting that they'll want to read through the book from cover to cover. It is a useful book, as there are few if any books dedicated solely to the subject, and Kasparov's upbeat writing style helps as well. If you find the topic interesting, get it; if not, don't. And if you're not sure, or if you're simply curious about the book, have a look at this excerpt. (Or at least try to. It's messed up at the moment, but I've contacted the publisher and a proper file will hopefully be uploaded very soon at the same URL.)