The Superbet Rapid & Blitz Poland, the second event of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour, concluded today with the crowning of GM Jan Krzysztof Duda, who won his final game in a nail-biting finish where any one of four contenders could have taken the top spot. His winning score of 24 points was enough to edge out the field by half a point and claim the $40,000 prize for first.
Tiebreakers were narrowly avoided when GM Levon Aronian drew with GM Fabiano Caruana in the final round. GM Viswanathan Anand also recovered well to join Aronian in second, while Caruana finished in fourth (with a 102-point gain in his FIDE blitz rating!).
Despite being outrated by more than 100 points even to the second-lowest seed, it must be mentioned that IM David Gavrilescu‘s performance in the blitz portion is to be commended, his 6.5/18 equalling that of super-GMs Richard Rapport and Radoslaw Wojtaszek.
The final day of the Superbet Rapid and Blitz Poland was set up for a grandstand finish, with Anand and Duda clinging to the top spots while blitz demolishers Caruana and Aronian spearheaded a fearsome chasing pack that promised to challenge for the title.
Duda, who finished the penultimate day 1.5 points shy of Anand’s score of 19, started with a bang and bowled over the Indian GM in the very first round! Signs of fatigue for the legendary Anand were present in this game and an ominous sign of things to come for one of the four contenders.
After a sublime showing in the rapid tournament, Anand slumped to an overall blitz score of 9.5/18. The slow start made a comeback nearly impossible, considering that his adversaries seemed to be winning game after game. Anand’s toughest loss of the day came at the hands of Korobov, who found a shrewd exchange sacrifice that allowed him to turn a central block of pawns into a decisive advantage.
Anand did in fact recover, scoring vital wins over Rapport and Wojtaszek in the dying rounds, but alas, the momentum of the leaders did not allow a fairytale ending for the Indian superstar.
Yesterday’s hero Caruana asserted himself early with a second win over Rapport, this time with the black pieces, and looked to be continuing his superhuman form from the first day of blitz. The American GM had probably forgotten what it felt like to draw or lose after his recent run of results.
In the very next round, Caruana was brought back down to Earth by Wojtaszek and was punished after prolonging castling while playing White against the Nimzo-Indian Defense. Although chess is very much an individual game, Wojtaszek’s compatriot Duda would have been thankful for the halting of Caruana’s momentum, the result becoming a very important one in hindsight.
The loss did not deter Caruana though and a hat trick of wins against Duda, Korobov, and Gavrilescu forced the other contenders to win on demand if they endeavored to maintain the lead. Caruana took his live FIDE rating to 2846, four points away from GM Hikaru Nakamura, who holds the number-one spot. At the end of his game against Gavrilescu, he had garnered a whopping 102 rating points, which must be a record amongst GMs in this time control.
Aronian also kept up his scorching run, scoring 3/4 to kick off the day. One of his key wins was against Rapport, who had become a punching bag for the top four players in the blitz portion of the tournament, juxtaposing his dominance in the rapid games.
Although Aronian was able to score fine wins against Anand and Shevchenko early in the day, it was his round-25 miniature against GM Wesley So that stood out. In the Bishop’s Opening: Berlin Defense, Aronian won a pawn early and looked to consolidate, but shockingly gave So the opportunity to muddy the waters by offering an exchange. Aronian had one last trick up his sleeve and played two brilliant moves in a row that left So in a completely lost position. Aronian briefly touched a live rating that rose above Nakamura’s in blitz, temporarily giving him the number-one spot.
Heading into the second-to-last round, Aronian sat atop the leaderboard with 22.5 points, half a point ahead of his closest opponent, Duda. Having won a piece early against GM Anton Korobov, Aronian looked to be coasting into the final round with a lead but blundered spectacularly, opening the door for Korobov to secure a threefold repetition and gift Duda equal first with one round to go. Agonizingly, Aronian was due to play the tournament’s most in-form player, Caruana, while Duda was to be paired against GM Kirill Shevchenko, who had scored fewer points than the young IM Gavrilescu in the blitz.
Korobov was certainly the leaders’ curse on the final day, and after earlier spoiling Anand’s party, he managed to take down Duda when it seemed that the Polish GM was poised to run away with the event. An unbelievable moment came when the Ukrainian, with seconds on his clock, played a queen sacrifice that had commentators Pruess and Krush questioning whether the DGT boards were broken!
They were in fact, not broken, and the move 54.Qf4?? was on the board. With six seconds left on the spot, Duda missed one chance to win and lost the game.
The lead changed hands many times throughout the day, but it was Aronian and Duda that shared first heading into the final round on 23 points. The other two contenders from the start of the day, Caruana and Anand, were closer, sailing in the leader’s slipstream on 22.5.
As far as final rounds go, this one could not have been more enticing, with four possible winners and the mathematical possibility of a three-way tie for first! Aronian got off to a flying start, getting a much better position against Caruana on the white side of the Sicilian Najdorf. Meanwhile, Anand had managed to execute a tactical masterclass against his second, Wojtaszek. The result put immense pressure on the leaders to win their games or risk tiebreaks.
((Photo of Aronian vs. Caruana)
Finally, Duda appeared to be getting ground down by Shevchenko, and at one point both players made a serious tactical oversight that would have shut Duda out of the game. Commentator Pruess modestly calculated the complex line in real-time, sending out a message that he is ready for his upcoming IM Not A GM Speed Chess Championship match against IM Polina Shuvalova on May 25.
Try your luck at what could have been in the game!
After looking over and seeing that Aronian’s advantage had dissipated and a draw against Caruana had been sealed, Duda decided to keep the game against Shevchenko alive with mere seconds on the clock. Chaos reigned for the next minute and, after explosive play from both sides, it was the Polish GM who emerged victoriously, claiming first place by half a point and $40,000 for his efforts.
Day 5 Standings
All Games Day 5