It’s Greco, not Greco-Roman!

Greco-Roman [adj. of or having both ancient Greek and Roman characteristics.]

Many players refer to the traditional Bxh7+ sacrifice against Black’s castled position as “The Greek Gift”.

This, they proudly claim, pays homage to the giant wooden horse left at outside of the city of Troy. When the Trojans pulled it inside their gates, the Greek soldiers inside the wooden horse remained hidden until nightfall. They then emerged during the night and massacred the inhabitants.

They also opened the gates so more Greek soldiers could take part in the slaughter. Not a pinnacle of military might, but an underhanded and shrewd tactic.

Others point out the term Greco-Roman also pays homage to the ancient civilizations.

Both explanations are wrong. First, the sacrificial material left at the city of Troy, was a horse, not a bishop. And “Greco” refers to the Italian player/promoter, who was born about 3,000 years after the fall of Troy.

I prefer to call the underhanded and shred tactic, the “Greco sacrifice” or simply the “Bxh7+ tactic”.

Let’s go to the first example of this sacrifice. First of all, it does seem to be a manufactured game, or rather study material, as there are subtleties involved that would seem out of place during Greco’s time (the game was more of either that of a slow crawl, or attacking like a demon.)

Rome, 1619?
1.e4 e6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bd3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.h4
(Here’s where the subtly occurs. White is not castling to make eventual use of the h-file. Most players then, as now, would castle in this position. How do we know that White can castle in a time a time when castling was not widely known? Well, Black castles the next move. So we know White could also castle, if he wanted to do so.) 5…O-O (To make the Bxh7+ sacrifice possible, or at least playable, the knight on f6 needs to move. So…)

6.e5! Nd5 7.Bxh7+ Kxh7 8.Ng5+ Bxg5 9.hxg5+ Kg8 10.Qh5 f5 11.g6 Re8 12.Qh8mate 1-0

Here is are two more typical examples, without the h-pawn push. :

Phoenix, 1972
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Bd3 O-O 9.Bxh7+ Kxh7 10.Ng5+ Kg8
(10…Kg6 11.h4 f5 12.h5+ Kh6 13.Nxe6) 11.Qh5 Re8 12.Qxf7+ Kh8 13.Qh5+ Kg8 14.Qh7+ 1-0

“erikido23” (1728)-“april1973” (1671)
10 minute game, July 17 2015
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Bxc5
(This move I consider suspect as the bishop seems better placed on e7. To make matters worse, Black’s pawn grab on b2 by his queen loses valuable tempi.) 7.Bd3 Nc6 8.Bf4 Qb6 (This move forces White to castle. But it also forces Black to justify this queen move. For after White castles, his knight threatens to move to a4. Another possibility is 8…f6?!, as in Curdo-Tabell, corres., 1959. That game continued as 8.Bf4 f6 9.Qe2 a6 10.O-O-O Ndxe5 11.Nxe5 fxe5 12.Qh5+ g6 13.Bxg6+ Kd7 14.Nxd5 Bd6 15.Nb6+! Qxb6 16.Rxd6+ Kxd6 17.Rd1+ 1-0) 9.O-O Qxb2 10.Nb5 (The knight goes to a better square and threatens to invade Black’s defences.) 10…O-O 11.Rb1 Qxa2

12.Bxh7+ Kh8

[Of course not 12…Kxh7? 13.Ng5+ Kg6 14.Qg4 f5 15.Qg3, and White wins.

Here are some lines.

12…Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Kg6 14.Qg4 f5 15.Qg3;

(A) 15…Rh8 16.Ne4+ Kf7 17.Ned6+ Ke7 (17…Bxd6 18.Nxd6+ Ke7 19.Qg5+ Nf6 20.Qxg7+ Kd8 21.Qxf6+ Kc7 22.Qxh8 +-) 18.Qxg7+ Kd8 19.Bg5+ and mate next move.

(B) 15…Nf6 16.Ne4+ Kh7 17.Qh4+ Kg8 18.exf6 dxe4 19.fxg7 Kxg7 20.Bh6+ Kg8 (20…Kf7 21.Qh5+ Ke7 22.Bg5+ Kd7 23.Rfd1+ Bd4 24.Qh7+ and mate next move) 21.Qg5+ and mate next move. Even worse, at least for Black, is 12…Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Kh6 14.Qd3 f5 15.Qh3+ Kg6 16.Qh7#.]

13.Ng5 Ncxe5 14.Qh5 Nf6 15.Qh3 Nc6 16.Nc7 [Another possibility is 16.Nd6! Bxd6 (16…Rg8? 17.Ndxf7#) 17.Bxd6 Rd8 18.Nxf7#] 16…Rb8 17.Ne8 e5 18.Bf5+ 1-0

Since Greco’s time the theory of this tactical theme has been greatly enhanced. White, to achieve his goal of mating the enemy king, would sometimes have to sacrifice, trade, or give additional material to make this tactic work.

Emil Schallopp-George H. Gossip
Manchester, England, 1900
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Be7 7.d4 O-O 8.Bd3 Bg4? !9.Rb1 b6 10.O-O c5 11.h3 Bh5 12.Bxh7+! Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Bxg5 14.Qxh5+ Bh6

15.Bxh6 [Even stronger is 15.Rf6!! Nd7 (15…gxf6 16.Qxh6+ Kg8 17.exf6) 16.Rxh6+ gxh6 17.Bxh6 Rh8 (17…Rg8 18.Bf8#) 18.Rf1 Qe8 19.Rxf7+ Qxf7 20.Qxf7+ Kxh6 21.Qe6+ +-.] 15…gxh6 16.Rf6 Kg7 17.Qxh6+ Kg8 18.Qg5+ Kh7 19.Rh6mate 1-0

Kurt Pahl-C. Deiszner
Berlin, 1920
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Nxc3 6.bxc3 c5 7.d4 Nc6 8.Be2 Be7 9.O-O O-O 10.Qe1 Be6 11.Qg3 Kh8 12.Bd3 c4 13.Bxh7
(Not a check, but Black is more or less forced to take the Greek bishop.) 13…Kxh7 14.Ng5+ Bxg5 15.Bxg5 Qd7 16.Bf6 gxf6 17.Rf4 Bg4 18.Qh4+ Kg7 19.Rxg4+ Qxg4 20.Qxg4+ Kh6 21.Rf1 Rg8 22.Qh4+ 1-0

Skaperdas (2197)-Hatzileonidas
Korinthos Open
Greece, July 25 2000
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nce2 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.f4 Be7 8.Nf3 O-O 9.a3 c4 10.Ng3 Nb6 11.h4 Bd7 12.b4 cxb3 13.Bd3 Qc8

14.Bxh7+ Kxh7 15.Ng5+ Kg8 16.Qh5 Bxg5 17.hxg5 1-0 (White mates on the h-file.)

BRD, 1971
[Black forgets that most of the time in the French …Nc6 is a mistake. This game also illustrates that point as it leads to a disaster.]
1.d4 Nf6 2.f3 d5 3.e4 dxe4 4.Nc3 e6 5.fxe4 Bb4 6.Bd3 Nc6? 7.Nf3 O-O?
(11…e5 would prevent the catastrophe that is about to unfold.)

8.e5! Nd5 9.Bxh7+ Kh8 10.Ng5 g6 11.Qd3 (While 11.Qg4 would also work, it is also a bit slower.) 11…Kg7 12.O-O f5 13.Qh3 Qe8 14.Nxd5!? (14.Nxe6, with the idea of Qh6 seems better.) 14…exd5 15.c3 Ba5 16.Ne4 f4 17.Qh4 dxe4 18.Bxf4 Rxf4 19.Rxf4 Qd8 20.Rf6! Bf5 21.Rf1 Nxd4 22.cxd4 Bb6 23.Kh1 Qxd4 (Better is 23…Qd7.But White still wins after 24.Bxg6! Rh825.Qg5 +-.) 24.Rf7+ 1-0

Not all Bxh7+ tactics need to end in mate. Winning back the material, with interest, or simply having an overwhelming attack, can also win the game.

Stopa (2462)-Vanloon
US Open
Irvine, CA, Aug. 5 2010
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 cxd4 6.axb4 dxc3 7.bxc3 Qc7 8.Nf3 Qxc3+ 9.Bd2 Qc7 10.Bd3 Nc6
(This certainly invites the Bxh7+ sacrifice. But White wants to improve his position and gain a few tempi before attacking the h7-pawn.) 11.Qe2 Nge7 12.b5 Nb8 13.O-O O-O 14.Bb4 Re8 15.Bd6 Qb6 16.Bxh7+! (There we go! ) 16…Kxh7 17.Ng5+ Kg6 18.Qg4 Nf5

19.Ra3! (The threat is strong, and Black will find it impossible to stop all the threats.) 19…Qd4 (19… Nxd6? 20.Ne4+ Kh7 21.Nf6+ mates.) 20.Ne4+ Kh7 21.Rh3+ Nh6 22.Ng5+ (If not the king, then the queen with an overwhelming position!) 1-0


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