Duda leads in Prague

by Antonio Pereira
3/11/2019 – Five rounds of the Prague Chess Festival have been played so far, both in the Masters and the Challengers. Jan-Krzyztof Duda leads the main event on 3½ out of 5, but has Nikita Vitiugov and Radoslaw Wojtaszek breathing down his neck a half point behind. The Challengers had women's world champion Ju Wenjun in the lead until round four but, after her loss against Praggnanandhaa, she now shares first place with three other players. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr / Official site

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A most welcome newcomer

The Czech Republic's strong chess tradition has produced rather unique, alluring events throughout the years — the Chess Train tournament, the matches that face David Navara and Viktor Laznicka against international grandmasters and the Czeck Chess Tour, among the most attractive. So, it was very good news for us chess fans when organisers from the Central European country announced they would start what we can only hope becomes a tradition, the Prague Chess Festival.

Two round robin events á-la-Wijk aan Zee take place in parallel, a Masters tournament and a Challengers, which also gives the winner the chance to qualify for next year's main competition. In fact, Jeroen van den Berg, director of the Tata Steel Tournament, visited Prague to give a lecture and transmit his experience as a top level organiser.

Of course, an Open event is also taking place, with almost two-hundred players registered, ranging from 1097 to 2610 Elo. A chess celebration all around.

A good old crosstable board | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

But now to the games...

Fearless Duda

Jan-Krzysztof recently surpassed Radek Wojtaszek as Polish number one in the ratings list, and has proven that he has big ambitions for the future, showing his strength particularly in last year's World Blitz Championship. In Prague, he started with three Blacks in five games, and has only drawn once so far, winning three and losing one to arrive in the rest day as the sole leader.

His first win came against Richard Rapport. The Hungarian had the white pieces, did not quite manage to get much from the opening — despite having a visually more attractive position — and then made an over-optimistic decision before the time control:


Richard gave up a knight for two pawns with 37.cxe5+ fxe5 38.xe5, a choice that would cost him the game in the long run, as Duda slowly but surely went on to get a 94-move win — not without hiccups, it must be said.

Duda satisfied | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Duda beat tail-ender Viktor Laznicka in the next round, but then fell victim to Pentala Harikrishna's powerful opening play. The Indian had Jan-Krzysztof thinking from move four, giving up a pawn but developing a quick initiative. The computer considers Duda's position to be practically lost already on move 13:


Perhaps 13...b6 was better than the leader's 13...e6, but it is hard to criticise his decision given how damaged his position already is. The following quasi-forced sequence left White a piece up (you can move the pieces on the diagram above): 14.a5 b6 15.xb6 f4 16.h4 e7 17.xe7 xb6 18.xc8 xc8 19.xf4.

Harikrishna closed the deal in 28 moves.

Van den Berg making the first move in the game that would give Harikrishna a very nice win | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Duda was sharing the lead after this loss, but bounced back with a 40-move victory over local hero David Navara. His first draw came in round five, when he played Black and shared the point with Boris Gelfand from a Catalan.

Vitiugov and Wojtaszek in the hunt

Both Nikita Vitiugov and Radoslaw Wojtaszek are on 3 out of 5 after getting a single win and drawing the rest in the Czech capital. Their successes coincidentally came in round two, with Vitiugov getting the "Best Game of the Day" prize for his win over Harikrishna. Like the Indian would do in his next round game against Duda (showed above), Nikita overpowered his opponent right from the opening:


The Russian recovered the piece he had given up with 17.e6!, as the rook on h8 is now vulnerable to a discovered attack if the knight moves. The game followed 17...xe6 18.xe6 g8 19.f4 and White's positional edge was enough to get a win after 30 moves.

Nikita defeated Hari | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Meanwhile, Wojtaszek inflicted Rapport's second straight loss. The Hungarian faltered by playing a picturesque queen move:


After 30...e6, it is true that White cannot capture the queen due to mate on b1 with the rook, but after 31.c7 b1+ 32.f1 Wojtaszek is the one with the initiative. Rapport gave up a rook to look for a perpetual, but his opponent eventually escaped the checks and got the win after 49 moves.

Radek Wojtaszek | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Boris Gelfand, Sam Shankland, Vidit Gujrathi and Harikrishna are all on 2½/5 after winning one and losing one in the first five rounds. Shankland and Vidit have yet to face the leader in the second half of the competition.

Standings after Round 5


All games


Four leaders in the Challengers

A highly attractive line-up has been put together for the inaugural Challengers event, with four local players facing the likes of Ju Wenjun, Alexei Shirov, David Anton and young Praggnanandhaa. After four rounds, the women's world champion was the sole leader, but she found herself under-prepared in the Petroff against Pragg and ended up losing a rather technical struggle.

Ju was joined in the lead by Peter Michalik, David Anton and Jan Krejci. After the Chinese's loss no player is left undefeated in 'Group B'. 

Ju Wenjun received flowers on women's day | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

The first winner in Prague, as stated in the official site, was Polish grandmaster Mateusz Bartel, who got the best game prize of round one for his devastating kingside attack against Praggnanandhaa. You can play through the moves shown below the diagram and replay the nice winning sequence:


29...f4 30.fc2 g3 31.xg3 xg3 32.f1 f3! 33.xd5 xd5 34.xd5 fxg2 0-1.

Pragg and Bartel | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

The Masters will rest on Monday, but the Challengers have a shorter schedule and will continue playing daily until Thrusday, with no rest in between.

Standings after Round 5


All games



Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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