The 2016 Polish Championships succeeded in attracting almost all the best players in the country to play in 10-player round-robins, with the men’s event managing an impressive Elo average of 2610, while the women hit 2349.
Radek Wojtaszek is Poland’s undisputed no. 1, but until this year he’d only won the national championship twice, and not only because he’d sometimes skipped the tournament. Perhaps his most dramatic game this year occurred in the first round. Maciej Klekowski went astray with 14.e4?:
That allowed Wojtaszek the dramatic blow 14…Nc5!!, when after 15.dxc5 dxe4 White can’t get out of the fork with 16.Qxd8 since after 16…Rxd8 both the d2-bishop and the f3-knight are attacked. Apparently that’s a trick that had previously caught Magnus Carlsen’s eye:
Wojtaszek had won an important pawn, but that was far from
the end of the story. The half an hour Radek took before going for that idea resulted
in both him and his opponent getting into serious time trouble later in the
game, and Maciej Klekowski found an inspired knight sacrifice that gave him
connected passed pawns and put him right back in the game:
Alas, here Maciej didn’t play 37.Qd5! (or 37.Qe5) when all three results are still possible, but 37.Qg6?, when after 37…Qb5+! the c-pawn was dropping and the outcome of the game was clear the moment Wojtaszek made it to move 40.
Wojtaszek followed up that win with two more in the next three games and went on to lead from start to finish, though he did have one stumble. 4-time Polish Champion Mateusz Bartel, who was surprised to find himself the oldest man in the event at 31, played the same opening he’d used to beat Vladislav Artemiev and draw with Boris Gelfand in the recent Aeroflot Open. As he wrote on Facebook:
As it turns out, the idea of 6.Nb3 in the Najdorf is far from as stupid as it looks! After getting good (great) positions in Moscow against Artemiev and Gelfand, today I got a big advantage against Radek Wojtaszek – and it’s hard to find a better specialist on the opening.
Wojtaszek had of course prepared a deviation, but he still got hit by a monster shot, 10.Nd5!
Bartel revealed afterwards that although the computer likes 10…exd5 11.gxf6 dxe4 for Black, his plan was a move the computer doesn’t show immediately – 12.Rg1!, when the natural 12…Qxf6 runs into 13.Na5! Wojtaszek instead went for 10…Nxd5 after a 47-minute think, but he later miscalculated in a tricky position and was soundly beaten. Surprisingly, although Bartel finished as the tournament’s one unbeaten player he only won one more game and had to content himself with a bronze medal – just as he did at the 2016 Aeroflot Open and the 2015 European Championship.
Friendship ends on the chessboard: here Radek and his wife Alina Kashlinskaya cheer on a team in the Warsaw Basketball League with Mateusz, his wife Marta and his brother Michal
Wojtaszek went on to win two more games and claim the title with a three-fold repetition against second-placed Kacper Piorun in the final round. Piorun, the 3-time World Chess Solving Champion, confirmed his current rating as the Polish no. 2, and played what Wojtaszek considered the game of the tournament against 17-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the penultimate round:
1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 5. ♘c3 a6 6. ♗g5 ♘bd7 7. f4 ♕c7 8. ♕f3 b5 9. O-O-O ♗b7 10. ♗d3 g6 11. ♘d5 ♘xd5 12. exd5 ♗g7 13. ♘c6 ♗f6 14. h4 ♖c8 15. ♗e4 h6 16. h5 gxh5 17. ♖xh5 hxg5 18. fxg5 ♖g8 19. gxf6 ♘xf6 20. ♖f1 ♖f8 21. ♖h3 ♘xe4 22. ♕xe4 ♗xc6 23. ♖c3 ♕d8 24. dxc6 e6 25. g4 d5 26. ♕d4 a5 27. a3 ♕d6 28. ♕b6 b4 29. axb4 axb4 30. ♖c5 ♖g8 31. ♕b7 ♕c7 32. ♕xb4 ♖a8 33. ♕f4 ♕xf4+ 34. ♖xf4 ♔e7 35. b4 ♖gc8 36. c4 dxc4 37. ♖fxc4 ♖a6 38. b5 ♖b6 39. ♔c2 ♔d6 40. ♔c3 ♖bb8 41. ♔b4 ♔c7 42. ♖d4 ♔b6 43. g5 ♖c7 44. ♖d7 ♖bc8 45. ♖xc7 ♖xc7 46. ♖c3
The shock result was 2015 Polish Champion Grzegorz Gajewski finishing in clear last place - a mirror image of his result a year ago, when he’d scored four wins and no losses. Now it was four losses and no wins!
There was an explanation, though – Gajewski had come straight back from seconding Vishy Anand in the Candidates Tournament.
He admitted on the live broadcast:
I didn’t have any great hopes after a one-month stay in Moscow… Maybe if the goal had been achieved and Vishy had qualified I’d have arrived happy, but as it was I just arrived tired. Maybe you couldn’t see that at the start because I didn’t lose, but in the first round I was already lost and in the second I was worse - I made some sort of crude oversight in every game.
Gajewski revealed the schedule of a second for a top player:
Generally you go to sleep at 2, 3 or 4 am, you get up in the morning and then until the game you prepare. Then during the game itself you can’t rest too much either due to the emotions and wanting to see if what was meant to happen happens – and if it doesn’t then you look at who went wrong, and who’ll win. It’s like that for 3-4 hours, and then after the game there's dinner and a conversation and then the same again. The rest days are actually worse than the non-rest days!
Grzegorz wasn’t complaining though:
It’s a great thing and very useful for me, but I think you need some kind of week-long break to recover.
Gajewski admitted to being stunned by Anand’s continued motivation and passion for chess, which partly showed in how he reacts to losses:
First, he has the typical sporting anger that the best all have, but second he has the purest form of love for chess, in the sense that after every defeat he’ll sit down for two hours on the same day and analyse and try to understand why he made a mistake. What impressed me most was his urge to draw conclusions from those defeats and not forget about the games. After a loss some other players don’t want to look at chess again that day. They have dinner, go to the sauna, play football – anything, just not to think about chess.
At least Grzegorz has someone to console him for the result in Poznan. His wife Joanna Majdan-Gajewska went on a run of six losses in a row to also finish bottom, dropping 48 rating points despite a good finish.
Radek Wojtaszek was also at the centre of controversy during the tournament, though it wasn’t for this!
As commentator Marcin Tazbir admitted, this was one of two April Fool’s jokes sprung during the live commentary (the other caught more people out, with the microphone accidentally left on as Duda’s coach Kamil Miton gossiped about his player and those around him).
The actual controversy, though, revolved around the innovation in 2016 of following in the footsteps of tennis by offering the same prizes for women as for men. During the live commentary Wojtaszek played the role of Novak Djokovic by criticising that decision, suggesting the fact that the women were weaker players made it unfair they should earn the same amount. He added:
There’s an argument that women's games are cooler, because more happens, but more happens just because the level is lower.
He pointed out that the Women’s World Championship is unlikely to be played for the same amount of money as Carlsen-Karjakin.
The interview was memorable for taking place against the backdrop of a game between Karina Szczepkowska-Horowska and Monika Socko, which Radek noted showed, “what the fight for gold looks like among the women”.
Karina had the initiative in a 4-rook ending, could have taken a draw at almost any moment, but instead overlooked the danger of Black doubling on the 2nd rank:
Here Karina was forced into 64.f4 to prevent mate, but even after she gave up a pawn a draw was by far the most likely outcome. Alas – or fortunately for Monika – Black went on to win in 102 moves. When commentator GM Marcin Tazbir (2510) pointed out such incidents also happen in his games, Radek half-joked, “and that’s why you’re a commentator and not a participant!”
Karina later hit back at Wojtaszek:
Today I won so I can come and answer that question, because I really didn’t like what Radek Wojtaszek said during my game against Monika, claiming that the level of our game proved that the prizes shouldn’t be equal.
As Monika said, Radek isn’t a sponsor of our prizes and it strikes me that he spoke incorrectly and out-of-place. In my view, if this is a Polish Championship then why should we have lower prizes. It’s the same status of event and the fact that blunders occur in our games – well, look at the games by the men, like Radek in the first round, or Radek against Darek (Swiercz). He can criticise, but let him take a look at himself.
The women’s tournament finally came down to a thrilling finale, in which 3-time Champion Jolanta Zawadzka needed to win to catch Monika Socko (when the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaker would have decided the title). She came very, very close:
Here the computer claims 46.g4!! and an invasion by the white king should be winning for Jolanta, but after 46.Bf2 the game fizzled out to a draw. That still left Zawadzka in second place, while a last-round win gave Iweta Rajlich clear third place:
Afterwards the broadcasters came up with the idea of getting the winners to interview each other! Here’s a transcription:
Wojtaszek: How do you rate your success?
Socko: Well, it’s undoubtedly a success for me, but unfortunately I can’t be happy with the way my play went. 7 points from 9 games is of course a great result, and was enough to win the title of Polish Women’s Champion, but I’m a little unsatisfied when it comes to preparation and the way my games actually went. Those games should, after all, have been at a slightly better level.
Wojtaszek: So modest! It strikes me that everyone will forget about form, but I wanted to ask which gold that is for you and how many more you’re planning.
Socko: That’s my seventh title as Polish Women’s Champion. I just learned that until now only Iweta Rajlich had seven titles, because Hanna Erenska had 5 titles and therefore at the moment Iweta and I are record holders (although Krystyna Holuj seems to have won the event 9 times). I’m happy with that. Now, Radek, maybe you can tell me which title that is for you and how the tournament went for you?
Wojtaszek: That’s my third gold, and in fact I got my first gold in Poznan as well, at my first attempt, so it brings back memories – again Poznan, again gold! I would say, in turn, that my form was ok here. One loss, but that didn’t really knock me off balance because my opponent, Mateusz, played great. I’m glad that despite us being in the same situation – the young are putting us under pressure – we’re still holding on.
Socko: The young, and also being favourites – as we know, it’s not easy to play as a favourite. I don’t know about you, but for me, that doesn’t go so well.
Wojtasek: But we always handle it!
Socko: Yes, somehow we managed! So I congratulate you again!
Wojtaszek: The same to you.
David Llada has photographed both the winners (click the photos for larger versions):
Finally, check out this video recap of the whole event, from the preparations to the closing ceremony:
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