Vitiugov victorious in Prague Masters

by Macauley Peterson
3/16/2019 – Nikita Vitiugov won the 1st Prague Masters with a last round draw against Richard Rapport, that was enough to keep his half point lead intact. The 'Polish derby' between Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Radoslaw Wojtaszek ended drawn, and so with a last round win Vidit snuck into second place. It was the centrepiece of a new chess festival in Prague that proponents hope will continue for many years to come. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

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The end of the start of a new tradition

There are several similarities between the 1st Prague Chess Festival and the Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, and that's no accident. The Dutch traditional chess celebration was a model for organiser Petr Boleslav ever since he visited in 2013. Boleslav is the vice president of the Novoborský šachový klub (commonly referred to internationally as AVE Novy Bor — AVE is the general partner) and, along with president Roman Mužík, is the driving force behind the festival. Echoes of Wijk aan Zee include the major concept like parallel tournaments (Masters, Challengers, Opens for various skill levels) and small details like the use of theme music to signal the start of each round (they decided to skip the Tata gong, though). Activities are spread throughout the venue, but it's a large hotel rather than a coastal village.

Chess is well in evidence all over the Don Giovanni hotel — in the lobby alone there's a prominent "games" room, which is converted into a commentary room for Czech locals, and at the bar a daily chess cocktail. The first floor has rooms for the lower boards of the Open, a book stall and skittles area, while the second floor houses the main conference room where the Masters, Challengers and the top boards of the various Open sections are all situated.

Open playing hall

Round 9 of the Open began Saturday morning at 9:00 | Photo: Macauley Peterson

World Teams trouble

Radoslaw Wojtaszek, a long time member of AVE Novy Bor, advocated for a strong round-robin tournament to be held in Prague for several years, so it was distressing when FIDE announced the dates for the World Team Championship just two months in advance. By that point all the players contracts had been signed, including for key members of the Polish team — Wojtaszek and Jan-Krzysztof Duda — which had qualified to the World Teams thanks to their strong performance in the Batumi Olympiad. Wojtaszek promptly informed the Polish Federation that he was committed to playing in Prague, and they opted to take a pass on the invitation. The spot eventually went to the fourth reserve team of Ukraine.

Other players were also impacted, such as Harikrishna and Vidit for India — both Novy Bor team members — but ultimately only Wei Yi was forced to cancel his attendance in the Masters to compete for China's unsuccessful bid at the World Teams. The Russian team has such a deep bench, that the eventual Masters winner Nikita Vitiugov was not selected. In the Challengers group, however, Krishnan Sasikiran was originally slated to play, but he was needed to represent India in Astana instead.

Vitiugov displaces Duda in Round 7

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who recently surpassed Wojtaszek as Polish number one, took the early lead with wins over Rapport, Laznicka and Navara. Round seven would prove to be the turning point as Vitiugov scored a crucial win over Duda to take a half point lead for himself into the final two rounds.


Nikita Vitiugov | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

In a Najdorf, White achieved an advantage in the centre, while Black searched for queenside counterplay. Play initially followed Vitiugov's recent German League game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave just two weeks ago through the first ten moves.

"Actually he kind of surprised me with Nadjorf", Vitiugov said after the tournament, "but the funny thing was that I played with him a year ago in the Czech Extraliga and that time he played only Najdorf after 1.e4 and we had a very complicated game, a draw. A year later the Najdorf came as a surprise for me. I expected something more solid like Petroff because he played it quite [well] in Wijk, and I thought a draw is fine for him in this situation." 


Here Vitiugov played 24.xd6, and now 24...e8 was necessary. After 25.e5 xb2 Black limits the damage. However, Duda immediately played 24...xb2 and had a number of problems after 25.d5. White threatens 26.e7 and after 25...♘xd5 26.♛xd5 Black cannot defend f7 any more. Duda continued 25...xc2, but after 26.a3 he also had to worry about back-rank mates and was forced to give up a piece.

Jaroslav Svoboda, the co-owner of the Czech Inn Hotels, which the Don Giovanni, was the guest of honour for the seventh round and made the symbolic first move on the board of the only other decisive game of the round, between the two top Czech players David Navara and Viktor Laznicka.

Jaroslav Svoboda

It's nice to have friends who are both chess fans and hotel owners! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

The lively game opened in Scotch and trended in favour of Navara. 


The black e3-pawn is a bit annoying for White, but the black pieces look a little uncoordinated, with two knights on the rim. The knight on h4 is almost trapped and Navara siezed the advantage with 23.f5. After 23...d7 24.f6 gxf6 25.d5 there was no safe square left for the rook. Laznicka considered 25...e5 as the lesser evil, but after 26.xe5 fxe5 27.c4 White was clearly ahead. 

Richard Rapport also entertained the crowd with his unorthodox opening play against Boris Gelfand. 1.d4 f6 2.c4 c6 3.f3 b5!?:


Rapport played the same in 2017 in the FIDE Grand Prix against Eljanov. But who invented it? The first examples in the Mega Database come from the year 1986 with 2285-rated Andrei Deev taking the black side. In 1992, the first GM — Ian Rogers — gave it a go at the Lloyds Bank Open. In 2013, Luke McShane won against Rainer Buhmann in the German League. 


Richard Rapport | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Gelfand played 4.c5, but did not get much out of the opening. In the middle game, the Israeli gained some advantage, but could not convert it to a win, and a drawn knight ending ensued.

Results of Round 7


Click or tap any result to jump straight to the game via

Round 8

The penultimate round was played in the Masters on Thursday. All games ended peacefully in draws, but not all draws were peaceful. A particularly wild game was that between Sam Shankland and Richard Rapport.


Move the pieces on the live diagram!

White has just dropped a pawn on f4 and continued 21.g5 with the intention of 22.f2. 22...h6 would have been a winning continuation now, but Black went in for a slug-fest with 22...xe5 instead: 22.dxe5 d4 and now 23.f2 would have been a good retort, with ideas like 23...xe3 24.x3 and Black will have to contend with the attack against f7.

Rapport opted for 23.e4 aiming for f6 but was in trouble after Shankland found the counterpunching 23...a4, threatening to take on e3. After 24.ad1, Black actually played 24...xe3 (increasing the pressure with 24.♞d5 was called for) and was surprised to find that after 25.xe3 fxe3 26.d8+, White has a perpetual check if the queen is captured. Shankland avoided the draw with 26...e8 but then had to contend with 27.f6+ f8 28.g5 threatening mate on h6!


Forced is 28..g8 29.d6+ e7 30.xh7 g7 31.xe7 xe7 32.g5 and Black is down a queen for rook. That could be the end of the story, but it is not. There is still the matter of the black e-pawn. Amazingly Shankland managed to drum up sufficient counterplay to earn a draw, with the final position looking like this:


Results of Round 8


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Round 9

By contrast the final round was a bit of a let down. Vitiugov came into the final round knowing that a draw would probably be enough. "I was trying to be just solid and play a normal game of chess...I think it was an equal game and nothing special happened."

Vitiugov Rapport

Organiser Petr Boleslav makes the final first move in Vitiugov-Rapport | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Duda and Wojtaszek

Duda and Wojtaszek get set for their last round game | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Duda or Wojtaszek were the only players with a chance to catch him, but the game between the Polish teammates, also petered out to a move repetition draw in just 24 moves.

This result left an opening for Gelfand and Vidit to improve their results to a tie for 2nd-5th. Both capitalised on stumbles from their opponents, Harikrishna and Navara.

IM Sagar Shah takes a look at Navara vs Vidit in some detail:



A sudden change of fortune turned an OK tournament into a second place finish for Vidit | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Results of Round 9


Click or tap any result to jump straight to the game via

In his remarks at the closing ceremony, Vitiugov jokingly dedicated his win to another Polish Novy Bor teammate, Mateusz Bartel, who once called himself the "oldest member of the club", forgetting that Nikita had joined at the same time.

When the players were advised to feel free to suggest improvements for next year, Sam Shankland, who was disappointed with his play on the eve of the U.S. Championship next week, provoked raucous laughter by shouting out, "ten times bigger prize fund!" But Boleslav got an even bigger laugh from the assembled guests with his retort, "and without Sam!"

Prize giving

Shankland (at right) with Vitiugov and Vidit. David Anton, winner of the Challengers can be seen (far left) behind Rapport | Photo: Vladimír Jagr

All involved in the Prague Chess Festival are keen to see it return, bigger and better next year, as they seek to lay the groundwork for a new tradition of elite chess in the Czech capital.

Final standings


All games


Round 9 Videos

More video playlists available on Prague International Festival's YouTube Channel

André Schulz contributed reporting


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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