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Reports Apr 28, 2022 | 9:04 PMby Colin McGourty

Duda wins Oslo Esports Cup as Carlsen & Pragg collapse

Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda is the shock winner of the Oslo Esports Cup after his last round victory over Eric Hansen proved enough to claim the title when Magnus Carlsen and Praggnanandhaa crashed to defeat. Both leaders at the start of the day lost two games, with Magnus falling to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov while Anish Giri took down Praggnanandhaa. Liem Le could still have taken the title ahead of Duda, but fell just short of the 3 points he needed when he failed to beat Jorden van Foreest in rapid chess. 

You can replay all the games from the Oslo Esports Cup using the selector below. 

And here's the live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev, including a pre-show with Tania, Judit Polgar, Maurice Ashley and Sagar Shah...

...and from David Howell, Jovanka Houska, Kaja Snare and Simon Williams in Oslo. 

Use the code ESPORTSCUP to get 40% off when you Go Premium! 

The main action on the final day of the Oslo Esports Cup was over fast, and almost no-one could have predicted how it would go!

Carlsen and Praggnanandhaa fall at the final hurdle

We were expecting a 2-horse race, but the horses, World Champion Magnus Carlsen and 16-year-old Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa, not only lost, but lost in just three games and could have no complaints.

Magnus admitted he was under pressure right from the start against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who came into the final match after comeback wins in his previous two matches.

I have to say he played well, put me under pressure from move 1, and I had zero to give today, just nothing.

Magnus had been unwell at the start of the tournament, and explained how it affected him as the event dragged on.

I think one day, one game is always fine, but day after day it takes a toll, and the last three days I’m feeling a bit healthier, but I have no energy in my body whatsoever. I still should play better, but on a day like today, when my opponent plays really well, then it’s not so easy, and today’s performance was just not nearly good enough.

The first game saw Magnus needing to dig deep to hold a draw a pawn down with the black pieces after what he called a “sloppy” move early on.

Shakh seized the chance to play 15.Ne5! Rfd8 16.Ng4! and ruin Carlsen's pawn structure by capturing on f6.

Magnus then had White in the second game, but emerged with another difficult position. Things seemed to have stabilised near the end, but then he took a rash decision.

Shakh’s knight is coming to d6 to attack the c4-pawn, but the attempt to play actively with 36.a5?! didn’t help Magnus’ cause. After 36…bxa5 37.Nxc5+ Kd6 38.Na4 Nc7 39.e4?! Shakh found 39…Ne6! and was suddenly on the verge of victory.

Magnus put up fierce resistance but in the end he fell to defeat when he failed to find a study-like draw.

Magnus played 58.Nf4+ Kxe5 59.Nd3+ Kxf6 and it was soon time to resign, but instead 58.Ng3!!, a move Peter Leko said looks ridiculous on the surface, was the chance. After 58…Kxe5 59.h5 Kxf6 60.h6 Kg6 Magnus has 61.Nf5! and suddenly it’s a fortress!

The black king can’t take the knight as h7 would follow with the pawn queening, while the back knight is tied down to defending the pawns on the a-file.    

It wasn’t a day when such things would work out for Magnus, however, and in the third game his opening went completely wrong.

He later rejected a chance to trade queens and try to take the match to a 4th rapid game, but he had in the back of his mind that to score the maximum 3 points for a win in rapid chess he had to win the 3rd game as well.

Yeah, it was dumb! I saw the standings were a little bit more favourable to me, except my own game of course, after game 2 than game 1, but I still thought realistically I had to win both games. But there’s a right way to try and do that, and there’s a wrong way to do it, and certainly I didn’t do the right way, but also, if I exchange the queens, I’m still worse, so I think my position is even worse after what I do than if I’d exchanged, but regardless I think the damage was already done!

Magnus failed to find some ways to limit the damage, but then, in one of the best positions he’d had all game, he collapsed.

Black has hopes of holding, but Magnus played 40…d5??, seemingly expecting the rook to take on c3 or move along the 4th rank, while when Mamedyarov simply played 41.Rxc5 there was shock and horror from Magnus. It was a reaction we were familiar with from the rook blunder against Jorden van Foreest, while the queen blunder against Liem Le also comes to mind — it's been that kind of tournament for the World Champion.

Magnus stumbled on for a few moves, but it was hopeless, with Shakhriyar failing to play the four games he’d hoped for the day before, since he’d wrapped up a 2.5:0.5 victory in three!

Shakh said it had been his best match of the event, with no big mistakes or bad positions. He noted:

Of course we have big motivation when we play against Magnus, because it's a big honour to play against the World Champion. He’s the best in the world, and every match we need to play very serious to try to show our best. Just today he played not very well, not like every time, and for this reason he lost.

Before the start of the day a loss for Magnus would have been wonderful news for Praggnanandhaa, but the 16-year-old also suffered and lost by the same scoreline, for a second day in a row.

Anish Giri shrugged off his loss to Liem Le the day before to play a fine match, with his bold decision to play the King’s Indian in the first game of the day handsomely rewarded. Pragg looked nervous as he went for the dubious 23.c5!?

23…Kh8!? (23…Nxe6! 24.dxe6 d5!) wasn’t the most forceful response from Anish, but Pragg’s coach Ramesh, who had joined our live broadcast, noted that 24.Bg4?! from Pragg was an example of a mistake the youngster sometimes makes of switching plans in response to his opponent, even when it’s not strictly required. 

After 24…Nxg4 25.fxg4 Giri didn’t play the most forceful 25…e4! but he was still firmly on top after 25…Rf6 and went on to wrap up a convincing win.

That things weren’t going right for Pragg was clear in the second game after 19.a3.

The move that was crying out to be played was 19…Rxb3!, giving up the exchange to create a passed b-pawn, and it gets the computer’s stamp of approval. 

Pragg thought for 4 minutes but rejected that in favour of 19…Rb5?! 20.b4, and it seemed as though Caissa would exact deserved punishment before Anish stumbled with 41.Rc5?! (41.Re7!) and allowed Pragg an unlikely escape with 41…Bf1!

Suddenly White couldn’t both keep the two extra pawns and defend the squares around his king.

Peter Leko had made a prediction before the day began that Pragg would finally play all four rapid games in a match, and that looked to be on the cards after 19 moves of the 3rd game.

20.Rae1, mass exchanges on e4, and the players would have gone to a 4th game where Pragg would need to win with the black pieces. 

Instead he went for a disastrous pawn grab that Anish gratefully accepted, 20.Nb5? Rd8 21.Nxa7?, before springing the trap with 21…Nb3! 22.Rb1 Nd4 23.Re3 Ra4 and it was game over. The knight on a7 is trapped!

It was a very tough end for Pragg, but he’d won four matches, earned $30,000, and once more impressed the chess world with his talent and maturity.

Duda triumphs as Le falls just short

The shocks suffered by the favourites meant it was a day when we had different heroes. Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Liem Quang Le started just one point behind, and both seized the chance to leap-frog the leaders.

Duda was facing bottom-placed Eric Hansen and was expected to win, but not quite as crushingly as he did with the black pieces in the first game. It’s fitting that when White resigned on move 27 he still hadn’t managed to castle, despite giving up a piece.

Duda’s day only got better as the leaders struggled while he scored an almost effortless win in an Anti-Berlin. He said afterwards:

I had a stable advantage, maybe not very big, but it was relatively easy for me to play with no risk whatsoever, which was kind of very suitable in the situation I was given, and I managed to convert it. I guess it should be defensible, but it’s very difficult, because the strongest side can push forever, basically.

That meant Jan-Krzysztof only needed a draw in one of the next two games to clinch 3 points, and while he did get the draw in the next game it was only after Eric came close to crafting a fine positional win. “Too tense and too long for my taste,” was how Duda described the 86-move draw.

So Duda, who had kept a low profile through most of the tournament after losing to Magnus in Round 1, was suddenly out in the lead after winning five of his matches, picking up 14 points and earning $35,000. He wasn’t quite home and dry, however, since the other loss was to Liem Le — who beat both Magnus and Duda. If Le won his last-round match in rapid chess he’d also reach 14 points and win the trophy on the tiebreak of their head-to-head result.

Liem Le got off to a perfect start against Jorden van Foreest, spotting he could grab a pawn on g6.

After 17…fxg6 18.Rxe6! Qf7 19.Rae1 Rxe6 20.Rxe6 the attacked knight on d6 can’t move as Re8+ would then win the black queen.

Jorden got payback in the second game, however, since he spotted a winning tactic of his own!

After 35…Kf8 (if the king goes to the h-file Qh5 is checkmate) 36.Qd8+ Qe8 Jorden had 37.Ng6+, winning the black queen, with checkmate to follow.

Liem Le then summed up what happened in the remaining two rapid games:

It was pretty close! If today I didn’t screw up in the 3rd game maybe I had some chances, but I was also very lucky in the 4th game, so I could say the result was fair, but I really enjoyed playing the tournament and playing against the best guys like here — it’s always a pleasure.

Le was an exchange up and winning the 3rd game, but there was also a fleeting chance for Jorden to win an endgame that got out of hand. Going into the 4th game Le had to win on demand with the black pieces to win the tournament, but Duda could soon breathe a sigh of relief as it was only Jorden with winning chances.

In fact near the end Jorden would have sealed the deal if he’d spotted a cute tactic.

The trick was 57.Nf8+ Kg8 58.Be5!

The bishop guards the h2-square, so the black rook can’t stop the h-pawn queening after e.g. 58…Kxf8 59.h7. It’s the kind of tactic that’s trivial when you spot it, but Jorden didn’t, even at a second time of asking, and the match went to tiebreaks.

Duda could finally celebrate!

I’m very happy, of course. That’s kind of unexpected to me right now, that I won this. I didn’t even think that it’s possible honestly, yesterday, so everything worked out today. But I’m in general quite happy with my play here. Maybe I’m not a random winner at all!

We can only endorse those words, while there was also nothing random about the performance of Liem Le, who still had a tiebreak to play. The first game against Jorden was a tense draw, but the second saw Liem storm to victory in brutal fashion. The queen sacrifice 24.fxe6! was a fitting end to the event.

After 24...Bxg3 25.exf7+ Bxf7 26.Bxf7+ Jorden would have to give back the queen, but the game might go on a while. Instead after 24…f6 25.Bxf6! he simply resigned.

That win was crucial, as it meant Liem didn’t just tie with Magnus and Pragg but finished a point above them, earning $32,500 for his 13 points.

So the Oslo Esports Cup had ended with a surprise no. 1 and 2, but in fact Le and Duda had both been starring in the tour so far and now, despite Magnus still being top overall after winning the Airthings Masters and the Charity Cup, he’s not out of sight.

All that was left was for Duda to receive his trophy.

Jan-Krzysztof revealed that he had skipped a Candidates Tournament training camp to play in Oslo, and all his focus will now turn to the event that starts June 17th in Madrid. It might be a lucky omen that he got no. 1 in the seedings!

The chess world keeps turning with a Chess Bundesliga weekend coming up and the TePe Sigeman tournament starting Tuesday in Malmo, Sweden. Jorden van Foreest is the top seed, but you’d rule out the likes of 6th seed Arjun Erigaisi or last seed Hans Niemann at your peril!

The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour will be back May 19th when a new mini-cycle of two Regulars and then a Major begins. The incentive to play in the 2nd Major in August is strong, since the venue is set to be a new one for a major chess event — Miami, Florida!

We hope you enjoyed the Oslo Esports Cup and stick around for all the upcoming events.

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