- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

Let’ s cut right to the chase.

In an age of super-calculating chess computers and opening variations two dozen moves long, there’s something exhilarating about an old-fashioned king hunt. In the romantic early years of modern chess, when masters felt personally obliged to accept gambits and offer wild sacrifices, the king hunt was a far more regular feature of top-level chess.

Today’s elite grandmasters, more pragmatic, prepared and precise, almost never get caught with their monarch flushed out into the center of the board, driving that metaphorical white Bronco while a host of enemy pieces try to run the quarry to ground.

Fortunately, the mating chase is not extinct, as can be seen from two games taken from last month’s Chicago Open. Swiss GM Vadim Milov took first place in a speed playoff with three other grandmasters, but a lot more fun was being had on the lower boards.

Illinois IM Jan Van de Mortel finished just a half-point out of the winner’s circle, drawing GM Alex Stripunsky in the last round. But Van de Mortel’s best effort came against Ohio Master John Bidwell earlier in the tournament.

Players who favor the Closed Sicilian tend to prefer quieter positions, but Bidwell as White sends some wildly mixed signals with the hyperaggressive 4. g4!?. Black sees White and raises him with 5. Nge2 d5! 6. Nxd5 (h3 d4 7. Nd5 e6 8. Ndf4 Nge7 is very pleasant for Black) Bxg4, whereupon White raises the ante once again with 7. f4??!.

White’s already skating on thin ice after 8…Qh4+ 9. Kd2 Bf3, when the natural 10. Rg1 leaves him open to 10…Bxe4! 11. dxe4 0-0-0+ 12. Nd5 exd5 13. e5 Nxe5! 14. fxe5? Bh6+ 15. Kc3 Qc4 mate. On the game’s 10. Ng2 Qd8 (threatening 11…Bxe4) 11. Ke3 Bh5 12. c3 Nf6 13. Qe1 Qb6 14. Ng3, it appears White actually has assembled the makings of a credible defense.

But the odd opening strategy tells when White makes a defensive oversight: 14…c4+ 15. Kd2? (mandatory, if still unsatisfactory, was 15. d5 e5 16. Nxh5 exd4+ 17. Kf3 Nxh5 18. Bxc4 g5 19. Bd5 gxf4, when the White king remains under pressure) 0-0-0 16. e5 Ng4 (with the idea of 17…cxd3 18. Nxh5 Bh6 19. Ng3 Ncxe5 and the walls come tumbling down) 17. d4 (see diagram).

Now a series of sacrifices puts the White king on the run, with no safe harbor in sight: 17. Rxd4+! 18. cxd4 Nxd4 19. Kc3 Bf8! (a deadly repositioning — White can only block the check at b4 by creating another defensive hole at b3) 20. a3 Qb3+! 21. Kxd4 Bc5+! (the sacrifices in such positions almost play themselves; if 22. Kxc5, then 22…b6+ 23. Kd4 [Kd6 Qb5 24. Bxc4 Qd7 mate; or 23…Kc6 Qa4+ 24. Kd6 Qd7 mate] Nf6+! 24. exf6 Bf3+ 25. Ke5 Rd5 mate.

White refuses the bishop, but can’t refuse the next piece offer: 22. Ke4 Nf6+!, and Bidwell resigns because of 23. exf6 Qf3+ 24. Ke5 Qd5 mate.

Black’s unfortunate king takes an even longer journey in Florida FM Ray Robson’s attractive win over New York master Peter Bierkens. After castling king-side, Bierkens’ king eventually will be forced across the board, eventually run to ground on a5.

Black’s defensive setup is far more credible here, but he gets caught with too many pieces on the wrong side of the board and his best defensive asset — the knight on f6 — driven from its post. Robson sacrifices an exchange and then a piece, and the Black king again is on the run.

Thus: 17. e5 Nh5 18. Rxh5! gxh5 19. Bxh7+! Kxh7 20. Qxh5+ Kg8 21. Qg4+ Kh8 22. Qh5+ Kg8 23. Re3! (White has no interest in a perpetual check) Nf8?! (the disruptive 23…Bh4! may be Black’s last best hope, as he has holding chances after 24. Rh3 Qxc4! 25. Kg1 [Qxh4?? Qf1 mate] Qc6) 24. Rh3, when 24…Ng6 is already too little too late after 25. Qh7+ Kf8 26. f5! Red8 27. fxe6 Bh4 28. Bh6+ Ke8 29. Qg8+ Ke7 30. Qxf7 mate.

Black tries 24…Bh4 25. Rxh4 Ng6 26. Qh7+ Kf8, but the line-clearing 27. f5!, bringing the bishop into the game, seals his fate.

The king must flee after 28. Bh6+ Ke7 29. Bg5+, because 29…Kf8? allows 30. Bf6 Re6 31. Qh8+! Nxh8 32. Rxh8 mate. After 31. Bxe7 Rxe7 32. e6+ Kc6 33. Nd4+!, the only remaining mystery is how many pieces White will get to sacrifice before the king is finally cornered.

The White rook on h4 and the queen on f5 lead to some unusual mating patterns. There followed 33…Kc5 34. Qxf5+! d5 (Kxc4 35. Nc6 mate) 35. Na4+! Kb4 (Kxc4 36. Qf1+ Kb4 37. Nc6 mate; or 35…Kd6 36. Qf4 mate) 36. a3+! (one more piece is thrown on the pyre; if now 36…Ka5, White mates with 37. b4+ Kxa4 38. Qc2+ Kxa3 39. Qb3 mate) Kxa4 37. Qc2+, and Black fell on his sword in view of the inevitable 37…Ka5 38. b4 mate.

Chicago Open, Chicago, May 2006

BidwellVan de Mortel

1. e4c512. c3Nf6

2. Nc3Nc613. Qe1Qb6

3. d3g614. Ng3c4+

4. g4Bg715. Kd20-0-0

5. Nge2d516. e5Ng4

6. Nxd5Bxg417. d4Rxd4+

7. f4e618. cxd4Nxd4

8. Ne3Qh4+19. Kc3Bf8

9. Kd2Bf320. a3Qb3+

10. Ng2Qd821. Kxd4Bc5+

11. Ke3Bh522. Ke4Nf6+

White resigns

Chicago Open, Chicago, May 2006

RobsonBierkens

1. e4c520. Qxh5+Kg8

2. Nf3e621. Qg4+Kh8

3. d4cxd422. Qh5+Kg8

4. Nxd4a623. Re3Nf8

5. Bd3Bc524. Rh3Bh4

6. Nb3Be725. Rxh4Ng6

7. c4d626. Qh7+Kf8

8. Nc3Nf627. f5exf5

9. 0-0Nbd728. Bh6+Ke7

10. f4b629. Bg5+Kd7

11. Qe2Bb730. Qxf7+Ne7

12. Bd20-031. Bxe7Rxe7

13. Rae1Re832. e6+Kc6

14. Kh1Rc833. Nd4+Kc5

15. Rf3g634. Qxf5+d5

16. Rh3Qc735. Na4+Kb4

17. e5Nh536. a3+Kxa4

18. Rxh5gxh537. Qc2+Black

19. Bxh7+Kxh7resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]washington times.com.

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