Chasing the King (Part 2)

Chasing the King (Part 2)‎

GM BryanSmith
23 | Middlegame

Last week I showed a couple of examples of a king hunt. This week we will see another example of a deposed king being chased across the board. First it somewhat willingly steps into the center, with the leader of the white pieces hoping that his overall advantages in position will see him through.

Rashid Nezmetdinov was born in 1912 in what is now Kazakhstan. Although he learned how to play chess relatively early, he rarely played in chess tournaments until after World War II - partially because of his competing interest in checkers. Thus he did not become a master until he was 35 years old - and most of his greatest victories took place at an age where - nowadays - a chess player as seen as past their prime. Nezhmetdinov was famous for his creative, sharp, attacking style.

The game I will show is considered by many to be his greatest game. This was his game against Lev Polugaevsky from a tournament in Sochi, 1958. Polugaevsky was one of the top players in the world. We will look at the game in stages.

An old-fashioned line was played, where White was willing to sacrifice time, losing a tempo with his queen, to get the purely theoretical chance of exploiting his "bind". At the same time, Black's pieces gained great activity, on the dark squares in particular. This was transformed into very real chances of attack on the kingside, where the black pawns were very mobile. Combined with the entrenched knight on e5, Nezhmetdinov gained a strong attack.

White occupied his key square, d5; and with the surprising 17.g3! he was able to gain a central preponderance and even fight for the initiative on the kingside. But this came at a cost - the kingside was severely weakened, which resulted in the king being chased out to e3. Now we stand at a critical moment - it appears that the black position is collapsing. His pieces seem strewn around the board illogically. But Nezhmetdinov's attacker's eye has spotted some hidden tactical weaknesses in Polugaevsky's position, and now he carries out the crushing blow...

The queen sacrifice has lead to a unique situation, where the white king is sitting in the middle of the board, without a single move. However, the task of actually checkmating it is far from simple, and some study-like variations now arise.

This was far from the "simple" kind of king hunts featured in part 1 of this article. Nezhmetdinov faced a strong player who had his own creative ideas, and took his own risks for positional gain. It might appear, after nineteen moves, that White's central play would triumph. Only Nezhmetdinov's fantastic play from that point to the end of the game showed who really held the chances. And so, willy-nilly, the white king was induced to walk across the board to the a5 square, as the seemingly discordant black pieces came together with remarkable harmony.

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