Polish star Jan-Krzysztof Duda pulled off a stunning late charge to clinch the $210,000 Oslo Esports Cup, the first Major of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour season. This win will be a booster for Duda before the Candidates Chess 2022 of which we already know the pairings.
The 24-year-old took full advantage as both World Champion Magnus Carlsen and India’s boy wonder Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa – the two hot favourites – crashed dramatically at the final hurdle. On a day of high-pressure chess, Duda stayed calm as everyone around him panicked. Round 7 started with four players in with a chance, but out of them only Duda managed to win a match in regulation time.
He takes home $35,000 – $2,500 per point scored – and the Oslo Esports Cup NFT trophy. Duda also has the honour of ending Carlsen’s run of Tour victories.
Carlsen and Praggnanandhaa both lost in just three games as they came up against opponents in inspired form. That left Vietnam’s speed specialist Liem Quang Le with a last chance to take the title in a high-stakes final game that decided everything.
More: Oslo cup participants / Live games / Round 1 / Round 2 / Round 3 / Round 4 / Round 5 / Round 6 / Carlsen – Praggnanandhaa 3:0 / Carlsen and Pragg neck in neck before the final round of the Oslo Esports Cup
Liem, who beat Duda earlier in the tournament, needed to win his match against Jorden van Foreest within the regulation 4 games to take the title. Tiebreaks weren’t enough.
But Webster University’s chess coach could only manage a draw as van Foreest held firm to hand Duda the title. It was a blockbuster end to an event of the highest-quality.
Duda said: “It’s very nice to win the tournament, actually, I didn’t believe I had a real chance before today, before now. I’m just happy to play good chess here, most of the time. It’s quite surprising to me to win this event, and I find it quite lucky because of today’s results. I’m just very happy and pleased with my play.”
Liem was left fighting for second-place in a tiebreak worth $2,500. The managed it in style breaking through in the second blitz game with the brilliant 24.fxe6 offering a queen sacrifice. Liem secured his second runners-up spot of the Tour so far.
Before that, Pragg and Carlsen falling out of the running had been a huge double shock. The two front-runners throughout the 7-day event were expected to decide the event between them.
When Carlsen stumbled as he entered the arena for game 1, Grandmaster David Howell said it was a bad sign for superstitious chess players. And so it proved.
Pragg, who led the field until Round 5, collapsed first losing his first two games to Dutch star Anish Giri. The youngster kept his hopes alive by hanging on for a draw in Game 3, but it was over when he lost the final game.
Carlsen, meanwhile, came up against an opponent in inspired form and playing exceptional chess. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is one of the world’s most dangerous players and unstoppable when in the mood. This was one of those days. Carlsen found himself in massive trouble in game 2 after giving up a pawn in the endgame with 36.a5 as he pushed for the win. It was a risk that left Mamedyarov with doubled passed pawns on the a-file and the computer said the Azerbaijani was winning.
With Carlsen’s knight tied down and Mamedyarov’s piece now dominating the board, the champ was in a hopeless position and crashed to a rare endgame defeat. It was a huge result for the tournament standings and Carlsen now needed a comeback.
At this point, with 2 games played and 2 to go, Duda suddenly emerged in pole position to win.
In Carlsen’s crucial third game, the champion found himself desperately trying to get up off the floor. Yet another big mistake with 41…d5 left his c-pawn hanging and his bishop boxed in. Mamedyarov capitalised and it was game, set and match. Carlsen resigned and offered a handshake.
The Tour leader, stuck on 12 points, had almost-certainly failed to win a third event in a row. “It’s not nearly good enough,” he said. “I have no energy in my body whatsoever.”
Over to Duda and Liem. A win for either of them could clinch it.
At that moment Liem was locked in a chaotic third game with van Foreest that could have gone either way. Liem eventually escaped with a draw, but he was playing with fire. While this was happening, Duda was 2-0 up against the lowest-rated player in the event, world number 237 Eric Hansen, and just needed just a draw to secure the match.
As the tension rose, the Pole had to tread carefully in the endgame. He wobbled – a lot – but Hansen couldn’t convert what looked like an advantage and Duda saved the draw to take the match 2.5-0.5.
It meant Liem, at that point level 1.5-1.5 with van Foreest, with one final game where everything would be decided. Win, and Liem was champion. Any other result, and Duda would take the title.
Duda, watching from the sidelines, said he would sit back and “enjoy the show”. Liem pushed hard early on creating a chaotic position but van Foreest gradually took control before it ended in a draw. Not enough for Liem, but Duda was in dreamland.