Surprise winners of the European Rapid and Blitz

by Georgios Souleidis
12/18/2017 – The European Rapid Chess Championship in Katowice ended with a surprise. The 68th seed IM Maxim Vavulin from Russia won with ten points from eleven games for the gold. Silver goes to Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) and bronze to Pavel Ponkratov (Russia). In the blitz championship, Grandmaster Sergei Zhigalko was the 24th by rating, but the 28-year-old from Belarus finished first with 18 / 22. Right on his heels were Luke McShane (England) and Peter Michalik (Czech Republic) both with 17½ / 22. | Photo: Official site / Walusza Fotografia

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Vavulin and Zhigalko

The Blitz and Rapid Chess European Championships in Katowice were a great success for the organizers and the European Chess Union (ECU) in terms of attendance, with both events drawing over 1,000 players. Among them, 19 players sported blitz ratings over 2600, and 28 players topped 2600 in rapid Elo. Katowice is the tenth largest city in Poland about 80 Km northwest of Krakow, but has it's own airport, and is readily accessible from across the continent. The tournaments were held at Spodek ("saucer" in Polish) a multipurpose arena complex originally constructed in 1971, but now part of a newly refurbished "Cultural Zone" in the city, which is part of the UNESCO "Creative Cities" network.


IM Maxim Vavulin, the 19-year-old Russian has an Elo rating of 2575 in classical chess but just 2485 in rapid chess, giving him a starting rank way down at number 68 in the tournament. Winning outright is an impressive achievement! However, right up to the last round it looked like the Polish national star Jan-Krzysztof Duda was headed to victory. The young Duda, who is inexorably advancing up the world rankings, dominated the tournament almost at will, and led after nine rounds with a perfect score. In the penultimate round he drew against his compatriot Radoslaw Wojtaszek, before meeting Vavulin in the fateful eleventh round.

Maxim Vavulin and Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Maxim Vavulin (left) defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda to take the rapid title | Photo: Official site / Walusza Fotografia

Vavulin opened with 1.e4 and Duda responded with the French defense. Vavulin chose an obscure variation with 3.Bd3. IM Lawrence Trent referred to the opening in the live broadcast as "absolute garbage, but it's good for a rapid game". 

Replay the final round 11 (commentary by IM Lawrence Trent and WIM Anna Kantane)

Commentators Trent and Kantane anchored the coverage | European ChessTV

The Fort Knox Variation in the French Defence

If you're one of those French Defence players who has been desperately searching for a reliable and easy-to-learn system against White's two main 3rd moves (3.Nd2 or 3.Nc3) then this is the 60 Minutes for you! The Fort Knox variation (3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7!


The "garbage" meant that Duda was out of the book and after falling into a bad line after a dozen moves moves he was a pawn down with a clearly worse — nearly lost in fact — position. Vavulin took full advantage and prevailed. By the way, I've taken a close look at this line in ChessBase Magazine 178 where we covered the variation black chose as well. Duda, was visibly eager to forget the experience, and disappeared quickly from the arena.

Full playing hall

More than a thousand chess players came to Katowice | Photo: Official site

Coincidentally, Vavulin's one and only loss in the rapid tournament game against the winner of the Blitz Championship, Sergei Zhigalko! Vavulin expanded aggressively on the kingside with a closed centre, but in the maneuvering that followed he fell into a nasty combination.


42.c5! dxc5 43.Rxc5 Suddenly the queen has no squares! 43...Qe6 44.Nxf5+ exf5 45.Qxe6 Rxe6 and Zhigalko picks up the rook on c8, with an easily winning ending. Replay the full game:

Sergei Zhigalko 1-0 Maksim Vavulin

Commentary of Round 5

GM Marcin Tazbir and WIM Anna Kantane | European ChessTV

Full Commentary of Day 2

IM Lawrence Trent and Kantane anchored the coverage European ChessTV

Full Commentary of Day 1

Full live webcast of Day 1 | European ChessTV

Final Standings (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.
1 Vavulin Maksim 10,0
2 Duda Jan-Krzysztof 9,5
3 Ponkratov Pavel 9,5
4 Zhigalko Sergei 9,5
5 Moranda Wojciech 9,5
6 Fedorchuk Sergey A 9,5
7 Wojtaszek Radoslaw 9,0
8 Gazik Viktor 9,0
9 Fressinet Laurent 9,0
10 Demidov Mikhail 9,0
11 Alekseev Evgeny 9,0
12 Andriasian Zaven 9,0
13 Tomczak Jacek 9,0
14 Brunello Sabino 9,0
15 Krasenkow Michal 9,0
16 Klekowski Maciej 9,0
17 Georgiev Kiril 9,0
18 Kovalenko Igor 8,5
19 Fridman Daniel 8,5
20 Ponomariov Ruslan 8,5 1161 players

All rapid games



Belarus, the home country of tournament champion Sergei Zhigalko, is not known well in the "West". Internationally, the country is still ranked number 19 — not surprising for a state that once belonged to the former Soviet Union. Within Belarus, Sergei Zhigalko is number one, four spots ahead of his brother Andrey, who is also grandmaster.

Zhigalko was once the Under-14 World Champion in 2003, a tournament in which a certain Magnus Carlsen placed ninth!

Sergei Zhigalko

Sergei Zhigalko, European Blitz Champion | Photo: Turnierseite/Walusza Fotografia

Zhigalko's 18 points from 22 games, came despite his dropping both games in Round 3 against a 20-year-old Polish Candidate Master Jerzy Kyć, rated just 2312.


Play out the moves on the live diagram

30.c4! Be6 (30...Bxc4 runs into 31.Rc3 with a deadly pin, but after) 31.Re3, black would struggle to defend the e-pawn and Zhigalko took 31...Bxc4 anyway, which was basically conceding the game, which ended 32.Rc3 Qb7 33.Rxc4 Rxc4 34.Bxc4 e4 35.h4 h5 36.Qxg6+ 1-0

After losing his white game in the round as well, it was a bit of a Swiss gambit for the Belarussian GM, but after roaring back by scoring 11 points from his next 12 games, he then beat Duda and Laurent Fressinet 1½ : ½ each in the final two rounds to take clear first.

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Snr   Name FED Elo Pts.  Wtg1   Wtg2   Wtg3 
1 24 GM Zhigalko Sergei BLR 2586 18,0 0,0 301,0 326,0
2 5 GM McShane Luke J ENG 2702 17,5 0,0 301,0 323,0
3 21 GM Michalik Peter CZE 2598 17,5 0,0 298,0 319,0
4 6 GM Duda Jan-Krzysztof POL 2682 17,0 0,0 316,0 337,5
5 3 GM Navara David CZE 2712 17,0 0,0 313,0 336,0
6 11 GM Kovalenko Igor LAT 2641 17,0 0,0 312,0 332,0
7 19 GM Fressinet Laurent FRA 2608 17,0 0,0 309,0 332,0
8 37 GM Aleksandrov Aleksej BLR 2554 17,0 0,0 292,0 316,0
9 52 GM Tomczak Jacek POL 2527 17,0 0,0 292,0 314,0
10 20 GM Ponkratov Pavel RUS 2599 17,0 0,0 291,0 313,0
11 53 GM Gajewski Grzegorz POL 2515 17,0 0,0 286,0 311,0
12 83 GM Jakubowski Krzysztof POL 2439 17,0 0,0 282,0 305,0
13 85 IM Valsecchi Alessio ITA 2431 16,5 0,0 273,5 294,5
14 1 GM Andriasian Zaven ARM 2755 16,0 0,0 306,0 328,0
15 43 GM Jaracz Pawel POL 2544 16,0 0,0 304,0 321,0
16 30 GM Bosiocic Marin CRO 2572 16,0 0,0 296,0 320,0
17 13 GM Georgiev Kiril FID 2629 16,0 0,0 296,0 320,0
18 61 IM Schneider Ilja GER 2503 16,0 0,0 294,0 315,0
19 40 GM Tari Aryan NOR 2550 16,0 0,0 292,0 314,0
20 29 GM Dvirnyy Danyyil ITA 2573 16,0 0,0 291,0 314,0

... total of 1086 players

Commentary on Round 11

GM Marcin Tazbir and WIM Anna Kantane | European ChessTV

Blitz games of Round 11


Replay all 882 available games

50 straight hours

Jacek Gajewski and Wojciech Waruga took on a fairly insane task, but one which apparently has earned them a new Guiness World Record for the "longest chess marathon". They played against each other continuously (taking only periodic 3-minute breaks) for 50 hours in a row, breaking the previous record of 48 hours, set in May by Bob Jansen and Niels Ondersteijn in Tilburg, Netherlands.

Klaus Besenthal contributed to this report
Translation from German and additional reporting by Macauley Peterson


Georgios Souleidis is an International Master with a degree in media and communication studies. He is an experienced journalist, author, photographer, chess trainer, editor-in-chief for the German Bundesliga, YouTuber, a regular contributor to the chessbase website, German chess magazine SCHACH, and previously blogged on his own site


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