Duda started the two-day, 11-round tournament like a runaway
train, notching six wins in six, included beating grandmasters Mateusz Bartel,
Grzegorz Gajewski and Nikita Vitiugov in consecutive rounds. He drew in Round 7,
but then got back to winning ways against Olexandr Bortnyk in Round 8 before crucially
defeating the Latvian leader Igor Kovalenko in Round 9.
That made Duda the sole leader with two rounds to go, but when he lost to Ukrainian star Andrei Volokitin in Round 10 it was suddenly out of his hands. The crucial deciding game against Czech no. 1 David Navara was perhaps not the greatest game of chess ever played, but featured some unforgettable drama.
Spanish IM David Martinez has annotated it for us:
In order to understand this game we need to grasp the situation. We're in the last round on Board 3 and both Duda and Navara have 8.5/10. Playing on Board 1 are Gajewski and Volokitin with 9 points each. So in order to have any chance of winning the event, or at least sharing first place, one of the players had to win this game and hope that the other game ended in a draw - which is what happened. As we'll see, although the game started off solidly, both players went all out to win.
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. ♘c3 dxe4 4. ♘xe4 ♗f5 5. ♘g3 ♗g6 6. ♘h3 This isn't the main line but it's a good option for rapid chess or against rivals who aren't too booked up. The knight is heading to f4 and can create some problems after the h-pawn advances.
19... e5 A natural break.
32. ♕f4⁉ A creative move from Duda. He destroys his pawn structure in order to complicate the ending. The decision isn't good, objectively speaking, but you can still praise it!
37... ♖e5 38. ♗d7 ♖e1+ 39. ♔c2 ♘e4 40. ♖d5 c4 41. ♗xb5 ♖e2+ 42. ♔c1 ♘xc3? Navara decides to play for a win, though in reality his position is much more difficult to play since the white pawns are faster.
42... ♖e1+ would have forced a draw.
55... ♘xb5 he brings his king to h3, which not only gives him no winning chances... but loses on the spot!
Afterwards Duda was quoted as saying:
I treated this as a fun event, because rapid chess with 15 minutes a game is a great form of entertainment. I played ok and I also had some luck. Even though it’s only rapid chess the title of European Champion means a lot.
The toughest game wasn’t that unfortunate tenth one but the ninth, when I faced Igor Kovalenko. The Latvian had 100% up to that point. I won and that was a watershed moment. The level was very high and it was very close. That’s most obvious from the fact that at the end no less than four players finished on top with the same number of points. That rarely happens in tournaments.
The final standings at the top were as follows:
The rapid event could be watched on an exceptionally well-filmed Livestream broadcast with English commentary:
At 1:03:55 there’s an interview with Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo, who eventually finished 37th in Blitz and 12th in Rapid. We've transcribed it below:
Is this your first time here?
Vallejo: In Wroclaw, yes, but I’ve been to Poland many times. The first time was in 1991 when I was 9 years old and played the U10 World Championship.
How do you like it so far?It’s a very big party of chess. I’m really enjoying it, though it’s a pity that my first day was very bad. In the blitz I was really collapsing and was totally out of energy after a few rounds, and I even missed a mate-in-1 over three moves – I had a move, Qf2 mate, and I didn’t make it. After the game I was so shocked.
You finally won the game?
No, I lost. I was completely winning even without giving that mate but I managed to blunder all my pieces. I was totally out of energy. I really played horribly.
So it’s a sign for the weaker players that we’re all human?
Over such a long tournament – the days are very long and we play almost 10 hours because the breaks are very big – you get super tired, and I think the younger participants have a big edge compared to the rest of us. I’m already not so young any more, and not in very good shape, probably, so I’m really struggling.
Are you surprised that so many young players are at the top? Duda, Bortnyk…
I’m not surprised at all, actually. As I told you, I think it’s a big advantage for the young players. Such a schedule is very packed, we play lots of games every day, and especially after a few rounds you feel exhausted. If you’re 18 or 15 it’s a big advantage compared to being 30-something or 40-something. Of course it’s much worse.
Still, those people weren’t considered favourites… could you say a few words about the results? We had Poland’s Jan Krzysztof-Duda in second place in the blitz and Ivan Salgado in third.
Well, I know Ivan very well because he’s Spanish but the other players are famous as well. I know Duda is a good player. If this tournament was played one week later with the same players the results might just be totally different. It’s a bit of luck and how you feel on that day, how you slept. There are a lot of factors in such a strong tournament with so many rounds. The results are really a little bit random, I would say – once you’re a strong player, of course. If you’re not a strong player then you don’t have an option, but if you are a strong player I think you can perform very differently from one day to another.
We saw you playing in a jacket and then later on you played in t-shirts. Did you warm up a bit?
Actually it sometimes gets a bit cold in the playing hall and I needed to take a huge jacket – actually it’s a bit too much, but I’m travelling and had been in Moscow, so it’s the jacket I have. I have a huge jacket and a small one – with the small one I was a bit cold so I took the huge one, but when you’re in a bit of time trouble with the huge one it’s not really comfortable to move the pieces. You can knock over all the pieces, so I took it off for the last few minutes just to play a bit faster.
There was some concern before the event that moving from the traditional venue in Warsaw to Wroclaw might be messing with a successful formula, but it turns out there was no need to fear. The traditional pre-Christmas European Rapid and Blitz Championships went from strength to strength!
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