What is meant by an exchange sacrifice in chess? When a chess player gives up his rook for either his opponent’s Bishop or Knight, that is an exchange sacrifice. Why is this swapping of pieces called an exchange sac? Rooks are generally valued at 5 pawns and the two minor pieces are considered to be worth around 3 pawns. These rules of thumbs have many exceptions and the following position arising from the Catalan Opening is one of them.
In the following blitz game played at ICC with White to move, the strongest move turns out to be Rd6. Note that e7 Bishop guards the d6 Square, but what makes the exchange sacrifice possible is all the weak dark squares on the Black KingSide. The White Queen residing at h6 would dissuade any reasonable person from giving up a dark square guardian like the prelate at e7. The very strong Stockfish chess playing program at the Internet Chess Club reveals either checkmate or grievous loss of material if the exchange sacrifice is accepted immediately. Black can wait a few moves and accept the sacrifice, but White still maintains a strong positional bind. Many people who sacrifice in a chess game rush to get the material back and the game can turn into a draw.
The opening was a closed Catalan where Black wasted a lot of time making his bad c8 bishop “good” which gave White the time to strengthen his position.
Read John Watson or Jeremy Silman for a deeper understanding of when to part with material in a chess game. Silman does a beautifully inimitable job of describing material as JUST one of the features or imbalances in a position AND how to exploit that imbalance in your favor!