The King Hunt, Revealed

The King Hunt, Revealed

| 12 | Tactics

To me, the term king hunt invariably conjures up an image of a bygone era, when chess was played over coffee and cigars at the Café de la Régence. With defensive tenacity largely considered a hindrance to the game's beauty, spectacular combinations and sacrificial king hunts abounded.

Take, for example, the following well-known encounter between Austro-Hungarian master Ernst Falkbeer and an obscure amateur.

Beautiful? Absolutely. But ridiculously one-sided all the same. With the inexplicably greedy 14.Nxc7+, Matschego set himself up for a devastating attack. His next move (15.Nd5) added insult to injury, enabling Falkbeer to round off the attack with a gorgeous queen sacrifice-cum-king hunt. 

Modern chess is all about gritty defense and precise calculation, and such lopsided displays of attacking mastery are exceedingly rare. This is not to say, however, that brilliant king hunts are a thing of the past

If this were the case, Alexei Shirov would have announced his retirement long ago and Mikhail Tal would have never become world champion. So without further ado, I present to you a guide to modern king hunting! 

The 17-year old GM Avital Boruchovsky is one of Israel's most impressive young talents. In 2012 — rated only 2333 — he turned in a magisterial performance at the European Individual Championship, defeating three grandmasters en route to a fantastic 2650 performance. In the final round, facing Russian GM Boris Savchenko, Avital decided to go for it all. 

One of the finest attacking performances in recent years. Boruchovsky's play was not perfect, but that is beside the point. Just try to play through this game without breaking into a grin. See what I mean? 

By virtue of their sacrificial nature, king hunts demand mental composure and ultra-precise calculation. The slightest misstep will nullify hours of hard work, leaving your opponent with a decisive material advantage. Just such accuracy and concentration are evident in the following spectacular attacking display, a game that GM Eduard Gufeld considered his Mona Lisa. 

Unfortunately, I cannot resist the temptation to showcase my own meager contribution to the field. On a stormy Thursday in September 2009, I decided to play a few blitz games on the Internet Chess Club before doing my homework. I ended up playing only one game, simply because I was too astounded to continue. 

Definitely more lucky than good, but I was quite happy to find that 17.Rb5 and 20.Qd3+ were the only ways to keep the king hunt going. Hopefully, you enjoyed playing through it as much as I enjoyed creating it!  

Sometimes, it is important to remind ourselves that the romantic side of our beloved game is still alive and well. Treat every game as an opportunity to paint your own personal Mona Lisa.


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