The “King-hunt” is the most thrilling aspect of chess. Other players gather round, a buzz reverberates around the tournament hall or club room, and the victorious player is left with a persistent warm glow after spilling some regal blood. Often quite spectacular in character, these combinations associated with “the hunt” never fail to thrill and invariably appear in print.
In his classic book The Art of Sacrifice, the brilliant tactician, Rudolf Spielmann, described this type of sacrifice as being "aimed at driving out the enemy king to expose him to attack on a board full of pieces.” And twenty years ago, the original classic tome on the subject, The King-Hunt, by William Cozens, was revised and updated with algebraic notation by Dr. John Nunn - who is a renowned king-hunter in his own right - and published by Batsford, that included many of the most exciting king-hunts over the last 150 years.
It is not unusual to conduct a king-hunt from one end of the board to the other before the final, fatal blow is delivered - such as a couple of weeks ago, when we wrote on Wei Yi’s brilliant hunt of Lázaro Bruzón’s king in Danzhou that made headlines around the world. However, there are a few very unique cases in chess of the monarch going on such walkabouts to win, the most famous case being Nigel Short’s spectacular win against Jan Timman in Tilburg 1991.
And another such voluntary walkabout occurred in round 4 of the ongoing 48th Biel GM tournament in Switzerland, as the young Czech grandmaster David Navara again showed us just how creative a player he is, with this wonderful win in today’s game - a win aided by his opponent coming unstuck in a time scramble, because he used up a lot of his time trying to fathom what was happening in the game.
David Navara - Radaslow Wojtaszek
48th Biel GM, (4)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 The Sicilian Najdorf has often been a byword for ultra-sharp variations and well-prepared home lines - perhaps none more so than this game! 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.h3 Be7 9.g4 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Bg2 Nxe3 12.Qxd8+ Bxd8 13.fxe3 Bh4+ 14.Kf1 Nc6 15.Nc5 Bc4+ 16.Kg1 0-0-0 17.b3 Bg5 18.Re1 Bh4 19.Rb1 Bg5 20.Kf2 Bh4+ 21.Kf3 e4+ 22.Kf4 g5+ 23.Kf5 Rhe8 24.Rhd1 Re5+ 25.Kf6 Rg8 It looks as if Black is luring the White king into a mating net here but, as Navara admitted, this was all his home analysis, and joked "that if the game ended in a quick draw, I would be disqualified for pre-arranging it, and if it was not drawn I'd be disqualified for following computer help..." It certainly takes nerves of steel to continue as he does. 26.bxc4 Rg6+ 27.Kxf7 Re7+ 28.Kf8 Rf6+ 29.Kg8 Rg6+ 30.Kh8!! (See Diagram) And this was his home-prepared king walkabout not just to safety, but also with winning chances! Admittedly, faced with this over-the-board, I would bet most players with White here would have bailed out with the draw by repetition after 30.Kf8 Rf6+. 30...Rf6 The most obvious alternative here is the threat of mate-in-one with 30...Bg3 - but it fails to 31.Rd5! Be5+ 32.Rxe5 Nxe5 33.Rxb7! Another tactical trick - and with it, White will have the better minor pieces and more pawns, easily winning. 33...Rxb7 34.Nxb7 Nxc4 35.Kxh7 and soon e4 will fall, with White easily winning the ending. 31.Rf1 Bf2 32.Rxf2 Rxf2 33.Rf1 Rxg2? A mistake, but can you blame him? First it was important to occupy the eighth rank with 33...Re8+ 34.Kxh7 Rxg2 and Black has chances here - but in the game, he doesn't. 34.Rf8+! Kc7 35.Nd5+ Navara goes for the immediate return of his material - but amazingly he had much better, with 35.N5xe4!! the point being White has not only captured another pawn, but he's also retained all the threats with the many knight forks on offer. Black is now forced to return all the material and then some, with 35...Kd7 36.Nf6+ Ke6 37.Ncd5 Rf7 38.Re8+ Kd6 39.Kg8! Rxf6 40.Nxf6 with a hopelessly lost ending. 35...Kd6 36.Nxe7 Kxc5 37.Rf5+ Kxc4 38.Nxc6 bxc6 39.Rxg5 Rg3?! With the time-control now looming large and playing a part in the game, Wojtaszek errs as he had a draw in hand with 39...Rxc2 40.Kxh7 Re2 41.Ra5 Rxe3 42.h4 Rh3 43.h5 e3=. 40.h4 h6? The final mistake, and right on the time-control (how many times do we see this in chess?) - as in the previous note, Black was drawing with 40...Rxe3. But now that moment has gone. 41.Rg6! The best square for the rook, as it does two things at once: Attacks c6 and protects the all-important g-pawn. 41...Rxe3 42.Kg7 Rg3 43.Kxh6 e3 44.Kg5! Now we see the real reason for White capturing the h-pawn with his king, as now, if Black pushes his e-pawn, White will simply play Re6 and use the king to push home his passed pawns. 44...Kd5 45.Kf4 Rh3 Better would have been 45...e2 - but Black is still struggling to salvage the half point here after 46.c4+! Kxc4 (46...Kd4 47.Re6 Rg2 48.Kf3 Rh2 49.Kg3! again winning the rook and pawn ending, as White not only has the e-pawn under guard, he also has his opponent's king cut-off and now ready to push the passed g- and h-pawns.) 47.Rxc6+ Kd5 (47...Kd3 48.Rd6+ Kc4 49.Re6) 48.Rc1! Ra3 49.Re1 Rxa2 50.h5 wins. 46.h5 c5 And we basically get into the same winning rook ending as in the previous note, after 46...e2 47.Rg5+ Kd4 48.Re5. 47.Rg5+ Kd4 48.Re5 1-0