The king hunt is dead! Long live the king hunt!
‘To me, the term ‘king hunt’ invariably conjures up an image of a bygone era, when chess was played over coffee and cigars at theCafe de la Regence,” U.S. GM Daniel Naroditsky wrote on chess. com. Modern chess, by contrast, “is all about gritty defense and precise calculation, and such lopsided displays of attacking mastery are exceedingly rare.”
Rare, perhaps, but, as Naroditsky was quick to note, not exactly extinct. For all the advances in opening theory, king safety concepts and defensive technique, every so often even a top player finds his one indispensable piece chased and harried across the board, a forlorn Louis XVI (without his queen!) being pursued by murderous sans-culottes far from his cozy chambers in Versailles. Had the king hunt disappeared from the modern game, Naroditsky observed, “Mikhail Tal would have never become world champion.”
The fine Ukrainian GM Oleg Romanishin — who had a career plus score against Tal, for what it’s worth — remains a dangerous attacker at the age of 65. At the 9th Lublin Union Memorial tournament earlier this month in the southeastern Polish city, Romanishin finished a creditable second behind Polish GM Marcin Dziuba and offered up a nice variation on an ancient theme with a royal rundown of Polish FM Marcin Molenda’s king in their final-round game.
The drama in many king-hunt games comes when one side sacrifices heavy material to flush the opposing king out into the open. Here in a Symmetrical English featuring an early queen trade, Romanishin as White finds another way to get the Black king out of his comfort zone. The unfortunate position of the Black king on the open d-file puts Molenda in an uncomfortable spot after 11. Rd1+ Nd7?! (better to clear out with 11… Kc7 12. Nc3 Bf5 13. Be3 Nd7) 12. Na3 Rb8 13. Bf4 e5 14. Bg5+ f6 15. Be3 Ke7 16. Nb5 b6 (a6 17. Na7 f5 18. Rd2 e4 19. Rad1 is also strong for White) 17. Nxa7 Bb7 (see diagram), and White finds a clever way to force the Black king forward.
Thus: 18. Bc6! (much less convincing is 18. Bxb7 Rxb7 19. Nb5 Ra8 20. Nd6 Rbb8) Nf8 (both 18…Bxc6 19. Nxc6+ and 18…Rhd8 19. Bxb7 Rxb7 20. Nc6+ drop the exchange) 19. Bxb7 Rxb7 20. Nc8+! Ke6 (there’s no retreat — both 20…Ke8 and 20… Kf7 run into 21. Nd6+) 21. Rd6+ Kf5 (Kf7 22. Rc6 Ke8 [Rd7 23. Nxb6 Rb7 24. a4 is very strong] 23. Rd1 Rd7 24. Rc1 b5 25. Bxc5 is dominating), and the Black king has become a general unwillingly leading his troops from the front.
If Molenda’s king could ever find shelter, perhaps he could rally the troops, but White never really gives him the chance — 23. f3+ Kh5 24. g4+ Kh4 25. Kg2 (threatening 26. Bf2+ Kg5 27. h4+ Kh6 28. Nd6 Rd7 29. g5+ fxg5 30. Nf5+ Kh5 31. Ng3+ Kh6 [Kxh4 32. Rh1 mate] 32. hxg5+ Kxg5 33. Be3+ Kh4 34. Rh1 mate) h5 26. h3 f5 27. Nd6, and the noose is in place.
The trapdoor drops with the efficient 27…Rd7 28. Nxf5+ gxf5 29. Bf2+ Kg5 30. h4+ (the point of the knight sacrifice is revealed: the White rook now prevents the king from retreating to the sixth rank) Kf4 31. e3 mate.
Romanishin-Molenda, 9th Lublin Union Memorial Tournament, June 2017
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 c5 5. O-O cxd4 6. Nxd4 Nc6 7. c4 Nxd4 8. Qxd4 d6 9. c5 dxc5 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Rd1+ Nd7 12. Na3 Rb8 13. Bf4 e5 14. Bg5+ f6 15. Be3 Ke7 16. Nb5 b6 17. Nxa7 Bb7 18. Bc6 Nf8 19. Bxb7 Rxb7 20. Nc8+ Ke6 21. Rd6+ Kf5 22. Rc6 Kg4 23. f3+ Kh5 24. g4+ Kh4 25. Kg2 h5 26. h3 f5 27. Nd6 Rd7 28. Nxf5+ gxf5 29. Bf2+ Kg5 30. h4+ Kf4 31. e3 mate