20-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda has won the 2018 Polish Championship by a full point after a run of four wins in a row that included beating defending champion Kacper Piorun and Polish no. 1 Radek Wojtaszek. Duda almost stole that title as well, but finished just 0.2 rating points behind Wojtaszek on the live rating list. Jolanta Zawadzka won the women’s title for a 4th time after a nail-biting playoff against Anna Warakomska.
For the second year in a row the Polish Chess Championship was held in a stunning venue – the Trading Room of the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
This time it also had close to the strongest possible line-up (Dariusz Swiercz, studying in Saint Louis, was absent), with both 2700 players Wojtaszek and Duda competing. There was once again high quality live coverage (in Polish), and decent prizes – 1st place was 20,000 PLN, or around $5,500. That pales in comparison to the $50,000 Sam Shankland won by becoming US Champion, but was enough that some could look on in envy:
Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo: “By the way, the Polish Women’s Championship has almost double the first prize of the Overall (mixed) Spanish Championship”
That’s partly due to the policy employed since 2016 of having exactly equal prizes for the open and women’s sections, a move that caused some controversy when it was first introduced. The sponsors seem happy, though, with Lotto sponsoring the open event and Budimex the women’s since at least 2014.
For a glimpse of how the event looked check out Keti Tsatsalashvili’s video of her visit to the venue in Warsaw:
Last month Jan-Krzysztof Duda turned 20, and the great hope of Polish chess almost crossed multiple milestones at once. If he’d won in the final round he’d have added the rating points to become:
He only scraped a draw, though, which meant he had to settle for merely winning his first Polish Championship!
Replay all the games from the 2018 Polish Championship:
As you can see, his start wasn’t fast, and it could easily have been slower. In the very first round he played a variation that had seen him get crushed by David Anton, and although Bartosz Socko chose a quieter option on move 13 things didn’t go any better. This is the position after 26.Nd3:
Duda said after the game he realised that he should probably play something like 26…Nd7, but the position after 27.Nf4 e5 28.Nd5 struck him as too miserable to contemplate. Therefore he gambled with 26…Ng4?!, which he suspected wasn’t a great move. He admitted he was hoping his opponent might chicken out with 27.Ne5, but instead Socko correctly went for it with 27.fxg4! fxg4 28.Nf4 Qh1+ 29.Kf2 Rxf4+ 30.gxf4 Qxh2+ 31.Ke1 g3:
This dash for the line by the g-pawn was the brilliant point of Black’s combination, but there was a fatal flaw Duda had already spotted by this stage – 32.Kd2! g2 33.Rxe6! is winning for White. He also wasn’t looking forward to the endgame after 32.Qxh2, but instead Socko declared an amnesty with 32.Rxe6? when after 32…Qg1+ 33.Kd2 Qd4+ it surprisingly turned out that the white king couldn’t escape from perpetual check.
Perhaps that was the sign that it was going to be Duda’s year, though he went on to draw the next three games as well, including an epic 88-move encounter with Michal Krasenkow where he couldn’t quite win a 4 vs. 3 minor piece ending. The dam broke in Round 5 against Aleksander Mista, though, where he repeated the line against the Sicilian Dragon that saw him get mated by Hikaru Nakamura in Gibraltar (and that Magnus had famously won against Gawain Jones in Tata Steel Chess, despite blundering a piece). The computer wasn’t entirely convinced by his play, but this time he did manage to win a complicated queen and bishop ending a pawn up.
That was the perfect warm-up for the big clash of the tournament, the all-2700 battle between Polish no. 1 Wojtaszek and his young apprentice Duda. Surprisingly, perhaps, they’d only played a handful of classical games before, with Wojtaszek winning a big clash in the 2014 Polish Championship. 15-year-old Duda led the event by a full point with two rounds to go, but lost to Wojtaszek and had to settle for bronze while Radek took gold. Wojtaszek had positionally outplayed Duda in the 2015/2016 Bundesliga season, while Duda hit back with a spectacular tactical win a season later. Both those wins were for the white pieces, and it was Wojtaszek who had White this time round, though his opponent came armed with some psychological trickery… playing the sharp and risky variation Wojtaszek had tried himself the day before against Grzegorz Gajewski.
Wojtaszek varied on Gajewski’s play on move 10, but was soon burning up time. For a while it seemed Duda might seize the initiative, but then the game looked doomed to end as so many big clashes do, with a quiet draw:
The a-pawn is blockaded and it won’t be so easy for the black king to make inroads on the kingside, but by this point Duda had again been applying some psychological pressure by repeating twice and then varying just when he could take the draw. Wojtaszek seemed to want to force matters and went for 41.g4!? Ke7 42.f5!?, after which his position crumbled with startling speed until we reached the final position:
Wojtaszek resigned here, which puzzled spectators looking at a computer evaluation of -1.55 i.e. bad, but maybe not resignable. Radek agreed he should have played on when quizzed about the game a few days later, but only to make clear to everyone that White was lost.
Wojtaszek’s tournament went from bad to worse as he was crushed by Aleksander Mista in the next round. Radek's wife Alina Kashlinskaya, who commentated live on many of the rounds, then resorted to desperate measures:
That seemed to work, as he won a nice game against Krasenkow the next day, but that couldn't salvage a tournament in which 3-time Polish Champion Wojtaszek finished in only 5th place. It was a tough homecoming after Shamkir. He commented on Facebook:
The Polish Chess Championships have just ended.
I’d love to pass over my performance in silence… I played badly, got into time trouble and blundered i.e. I did precisely everything that a chess player should avoid 😊 Luckily I now have a lot of time to train calmly and draw conclusions – and no doubt there will be a lot of those.
Congratulations to all the medallists and above all to Jan-Krzysztof Duda on his (no doubt not last) Championship!
That game must have boosted Duda’s already healthy confidence, and he brushed Daniel Sadzikowski aside in the next round:
Daniel could have put up much more resistance, but the final stages were very accurately calculated by Duda. Here there’s only one clearly winning move – 32.e5! – but that was enough.
Kacper Piorun won the 2017 Polish Championship, but you might be tempted to dismiss that as a lesser achievement given Wojtaszek and Duda skipped the event. He proved it was no fluke, though, with a run of four wins in a row from Rounds 2-5 that left him 1.5 points clear of the field. He was enjoying himself, and perhaps no more so than in this position from Round 5 against Bartosz Socko:
Socko has White but is in dire trouble, and has just played 28.h3 to avoid an immediate mate. That allowed Piorun, whose name means “lightning” in Polish, to start with 28…Qf1+ and go on to check his way to the pawn on b2 and the knight on c3. The game only ended on move 53, but it was pure torture for White.
After that Piorun slowed down and drew his games, though, and he went into Round 8 just half a point clear of Duda. He had the white pieces and would have become champion with a round to spare if he’d won, but instead he gradually lost his way in a Four Knights game and, in the opinion of his young opponent, had too negative an opinion of his position:
White should still draw after a move like 21.Be5, but instead Piorun played the strange 21.Qb7?, which after 21…Bc6! already left him fighting for equality. In fact there wasn’t much of a fight, since Piorun continued to go astray and soon found himself in a difficult endgame that he lost without a glimmer of hope.
Suddenly Duda had a half-point lead going into the final round, with only himself and Piorun still fighting for gold. His opponent was 4-time Polish Champion Mateusz Bartel, who had entertained everyone with brilliance and blunders in a first eight rounds in which he conceded a single draw. His highlights included the only win of Round 1, a truly spectacular game against Aleksander Mista:
That game won Bartel the best game prize and a spa weekend from one of the sponsors of the tournament, Dr Irena Eris. Then in Round 3 he got to live every chess player’s dream by tempting Daniel Sadzikowski into a known trap:
Bartel mentioned afterwards that it was nice that such coffeehouse tricks occasionally work at as important a stage as the World Cup. There was another predecessor game, though, with all 19 moves in Bartel-Sadzikowski having been played two days earlier in Norway! 13.Qa4+ is the killer:
The lows outbalanced the highs for Mateusz, who went into the last round on the back of three wins and four losses. That didn’t dampen his spirits, though, and by move 6 (!) he’d managed to follow Alexander Morozevich and a few other intrepid chess players in playing …g5, …e5 and …f5. In a way that was good news for Duda, who was being given a chance to get the win that would have taken him into the world Top 20, but it wasn’t the youngster’s best game. He admitted to missing multiple moves such as 20…a5!, and by move 22 he was in desperate trouble:
Duda’s queen and other pieces are hopelessly boxed in and he was in danger of simply getting suffocated, so he took a 17-minute think and decided to go for a pawn sacrifice: 22.Nd3!? Nxf3 23.Be2. He later managed to exchange some pieces on f3, but if not for 36…Rxh2? Bartel might have spoiled the final day of the new champion. Instead it was a draw in 42 moves.
Bartel had an interesting view later on his Facebook page:
The champion, completely deservedly, was Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who nevertheless… didn’t impress me at all this time round. I think Jan’s potential is enormous, but his play here was extremely unconvincing. If his mediocre form looks like that, though, and in such condition he gains rating (starting on 2724!), then all you can do is be grateful and wait for more 😊 We can expect a fierce rivalry for first place on the rating list, since Duda and Radek Wojtaszek are currently at the same level of grandmasters from the extended world elite. I regret that at the end, after a very interesting game, I didn’t manage to become the first player to beat the “fresh” Polish Champion.
Bartel’s point is that by that stage it wouldn’t have altered the outcome of the tournament if he’d beaten Duda. Piorun had Black against Aleksander Mista and must have thought he needed a win to have a real chance of a playoff. The problem with that was that although Mista scored 0.5/5 with Black he made it 4/4 with White! Duda was following that game closely and said he probably saw the win quite a bit sooner than the player with the white pieces.
Piorun wasn’t punished for that attempt, though, and took the silver medal anyway, while Jacek Tomczak, who had taken silver in 2017, picked up bronze:
This is likely to be a big year now for Duda, who despite having started university is knocking on the door of the elite. He noted he’ll play in the French Top 12 that’s coming in a week’s time, but his main efforts are focused on Dortmund in July, when he gets his first taste of super-tournament action:
It’s not just Kramnik and Giri that are a threat, since he noted himself he has a 0:3 score against Nepomniachtchi.
The women’s section was more of a thriller, with four players going into the final round on 5.5/8. 8-time Champion Monika Socko was held to a draw, while WGM Jolanta Zawadzka and WIM Anna Warakomska both won, with Anna beating the other 5.5 player, Karina Szczepkowska, with Black.
That left the final standings as follows (click on a result to open that game with computer analysis):
Or actually, at first it was Anna who was on top on tiebreaks. The level scores meant a playoff with an unusual format, but one perhaps worth adopting more widely. The players would play two 15+10 rapid games, but if the scores were level after those games the mathematical tiebreaks would be used, so Anna would win. That upped the suspense, since it meant a win for Anna in the first game would end the playoff there and then, while Jolanta knew she had to win at least one of the games.
Both games followed a similar pattern, with Anna winning the opening battle but then going astray. She had already been drifting before Jolanta played 27…Qg4:
Here she picked up the b3-bishop, and then stopped… Probably she spotted that 28.Bc4 can be met by either 28…e4 or 28…Nb4, but her eventual move of 28.Bc2?!, a couple of minutes later, was worse, and ran into 28…e4! After 29.Re1 e3! 30.Qf3? exf2+ Black was completely on top, with the only problem seeming to be that Zawadzka couldn’t find a clear way to give mate. After taking a long think on move 35 it seems she correctly concluded there was no need, and simply went on to pick up material. As so often when you do that, though, by the end the computer was counting down to mate anyway.
That meant Anna had to win the next game, but again, there was the added spice that if she did win the game she’d also clinch the title herself without any more games being played. The game had everything, with the initiative swinging from side to side. Just when it seemed that Jolanta had everything under control Anna again managed to pose problems, and she was threatening to win with her a and b-pawns just as she’d done in the classical game earlier in the day.
It was too much for time trouble, though, and 39…Qxa2 allowed a nice finish:
40.Rh8+! Bxh8 41.Qh7+ Kf8 42.Qxh8+ Ke7 43.Qe5+ Kf8 and here 44.Nh7+ is the way to give mate, but Jolanta only needed to repeat with 44.Qh8+ to win her fourth Polish title.
Let’s end this report on the Polish Championship with another comment from Mateusz Bartel, who felt the aggressive play of the participants made it a real show (he gave special mention to Aleksander Mista, who drew only one game):
I ended the 2018 Polish Chess Championship without any sporting success – eighth place in the table is a result far below my expectations. I can’t, though, say that I just have bad recollections of the tournament.
First of all, and I thank the Polish Chess Federation for this again, I had the chance to play in this championship. It was my 16th final and I can say with a clear conscience that it was clearly the strongest and most interesting. It’s a long time since there’s been such a compelling and intriguing Polish Championship.
That feeling was shared by the spectators, with GM Jonathan Tisdall commenting during the final round: