“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,” so wrote the young U.S. GM Daniel Naroditsky in his introduction to an entertaining 2015 article on the subject of king hunts for Chess.com. Modern chess, by contrast, he goes on to add, “is all about gritty defense and precise calculation, and such lopsided displays of attacking mastery are exceedingly rare.”
Yes, perhaps something of a rarity these days in the modern game – but, as Naroditsky notes, they are not exactly extinct. For all the growth in precise opening theory and modern-day defensive techniques, every so often or not we are all enthralled when we come across a king hunt – and one of the finest I’ve seen in recent years occurred late last week in the latest edition of the Chinese League, held in Tianjin in north-east China, between Shaoxing and Hangzhou, when perhaps all eyes were more focused on the closing rounds of the European Team Championship in Greece.
Back in 2015 in China, Wei Yi’s brilliant hunt of Lázaro Bruzón’s king in Danzhou made headlines across the globe. But now Ding Liren has become the new national hero, not only recently becoming the first Chinese player to make it to the Candidates tournament, but also now set to make the global chess headlines after he sensationally took his opponent’s monarch on a long march up the board to a forced mate.
Chinese #1 Ding has now become the new darling of the Chinese chess scene, and Beijing will no doubt make sure he has all the resources he needs to better prepare himself for next year’s Berlin Candidates, where he has the unique possibility to make history for his country by becoming the first Chinese player to play for the world title.
And later this week American fans could well get a sampler for that potential world title match-up, as World Champion Magnus Carlsen opted to select Ding Liren to be his opponent for the marquee match-up in the “Champions Showdown” that will run 9-14 November at the Saint Louis Chess Club.
(Photo) The aftermath of Ding Liren’s brilliancy | © Qipai
GM Bai Jinshi – GM Ding Liren
Chinese Chess League, (18)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 0-0 5.Bg5 c5 6.e3 cxd4 7.Qxd4 There’s the better and more solid alternative of 7.exd4 d5 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Be2 that was seen earlier this year in the Grand Chess Tour encounter Mamedyarov, S (2800)-Carlsen,M (2832) Paris 2017. 7…Nc6 8.Qd3N A novelty, but it turns out to be a risky one – as we will soon see. Previously seen here has been 8.Qh4 with the idea of exchanging off the queens with 8…h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11.Rc1 – and this is certainly safer than keeping them on the board! The trouble for White is, with Black having a small lead in development and his king already safely castled, any opening up of the position can see the White king and queen caught in the middle of the board. 8…h6 9.Bh4 d5 10.Rd1 g5 11.Bg3 Ne4 12.Nd2 Nc5 13.Qc2 d4 14.Nf3 e5 15.Nxe5 dxc3!? Admittedly, this is very hard to resist playing and certainly complicates matters – and always remember that complicating matters normally favors the higher-rated player. 16.Rxd8 cxb2+ 17.Ke2? Calamity! A grievous error, but one that at least provides us with today’s entertainment! White simply had to play 17.Rd2 and after 17…Rd8 18.Nf3 Bg4 19.Qxb2 and, when the dust settles, it will not look so bad for White after 19…Bxf3 (Unfortunately there’s no time to pile on the pressure down the d-file with 19…Rd7?! 20.a3 Ba5 21.Be2! Arguably, the main idea behind this simple move that resolves everything could well have been what White missed in trying to fathom out the complications, and why he opted instead for 17.Ke2? Now Black is forced down the line of 21…Rad8 22.0-0! Rxd2 23.Nxd2 Rxd2 24.Qxd2 Bxd2 25.Bxg4 and White retains a big material advantage.) 20.gxf3 Rxd2 21.Qxd2 Bxd2+ 22.Kxd2 Rd8+ 23.Kc1 Nb4 Where White has the bishop-pair and a pawn – but Black has more than enough compensation to mitigate the advantage with his solid pawn structure and active pieces. Regardless, it seems that trying to comprehend all the ensuing complications from Ding’s queen sacrifice has simply swayed White’s decision to play 17.Ke2, believing his king simply slips away from the danger zone. 17…Rxd8 18.Qxb2 Na4! 19.Qc2 Nc3+ 20.Kf3 And with it, Bai Jinshi probably thought his king was safe – but he hadn’t seen what could well be a leading candidate for Move of the Year and ultimately Game of the Year. 20…Rd4!! [see diagram] The rook enters the fray with an almighty blow, as it can’t be taken…and leaving it there, only helps the king hunt with the immediate deadly threat of 21…g4+ mating. 21.h3 h5! The deadly threat of …g4+ is still hanging in the air. 22.Bh2 g4+ 23.Kg3 The alternative 23.hxg4 hxg4+ 24.Kg3 Rd2 leads to much the same. 23…Rd2! 24.Qb3 Ne4+ 25.Kh4 Be7+ 26.Kxh5 Kg7! There are a few winning moves here for Black, such as 26…Rxf2 – but this is by far the prettiest and the most aesthetic, as the White king is caught in a wonderful mating net! 27.Bf4 Bf5 There’s only one way now to stop the immediate threat of …Rh8 mating. 28.Bh6+ Kh7 29.Qxb7 Rxf2!! The point being if 30.Qxa8 Ng3 is mate! 30.Bg5 Rh8! In the days of yore, the Master – while perhaps relishing the moment by sipping from his brandy glass and puffing on a cigar at the Café de la Régency – would announce a mate-in-seven with a certain glee to the huddled crowds excitedly gathered around his board, after playing this move. 31.Nxf7 Bg6+ 32.Kxg4 Ne5+! 0-1 And in those days of yore, it would have been really bad form to resign as Bai Jinshi does here before the Master can deliver the coup de grâce to the enthralled crowd looking on, but he simply doesn’t wish to be further humbled at the board by 33.Nxe5 Bf5+ 34.Kh5 Kg7+ 35.Bh6+ Rxh6 mate! But my, what a humdinger of a game from Ding!