WR Masters: So, Aronian and Esipenko score with white

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/17/2023 – Wesley So, Levon Aronian and Andrey Esipenko kicked off the WR Chess Masters with wins, as they defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Praggnanandhaa and Vincent Keymer respectively. Out of the three, So was the first one to leave the playing hall with a full point to his name. Aronian and Esipenko needed to work harder to convert their superior endgame positions against resilient opponents. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Too much practice vs. lack of practice

Wesley So needed 48 moves to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in round 1 of the WR Chess Masters, but he already had a clear advantage after move 15. Talking to Anastasiya Karlovich after his win, So was asked about his busy schedule, since he arrived in Düsseldorf not long after playing 13 rounds of classical chess at the Tata Steel Masters. So noted:

I played in Wijk aan Zee, which is an extremely long tournament, and I would have just chosen one or the other, but since everything fell into place, I played in both. But I love playing chess.

So went on to reflect about how it is sometimes difficult for him to sit at home for long periods of time, which linked to his assessment of the win he had just obtained over Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Duda was also invited to play in Wijk aan Zee, but had to retire shortly before the tournament began. In the game, the Polish GM apparently mixed the move order in the opening, allowing So to get a big advantage early on.

As respectful as ever, So said about his opponent:

Jan-Krzysztof hasn’t played classical chess in a long time — [he has been] playing speed chess mostly online, and rapid — so it’s just a first game in a nice, long tournament. [...] Classical chess is very different: it takes a while to make the mental shift. Also, preparation is different and training is different.

Indeed, in the second semester of 2022, after playing the Candidates in June, Duda only played 5 classical games in the Olympiad and 2 games in the Bundesliga.

So was one of three players who won their first games at the newly established German tournament. Levon Aronian and Andrey Esipenko also scored full points with white, as both converted favourable endgames into victories against Praggnanandhaa and Vincent Keymer, respectively.

Anish Giri and Gukesh drew an interesting 82-move game, in which the Dutchman had the upper hand in a position with rooks and opposite-coloured bishops.

WR Chess Masters 2023

The elegant playing hall in Düsseldorf | Photo: Lennart Ootes

So 1 - 0 Duda

Duda apparently tried to surprise So in the opening, since he usually does not play this line with black. So turned out to be ready to face it though, and when he noticed his opponent might have mixed something up, he did not hesitate to invest time on his clock to find the refutation.


Although 12...Bc6 has been played in the past (in fact, the game followed a predecessor until move 18), So realized that he might take advantage of Duda’s move order in this volatile position. According to So, giving up the b-pawn with 12...0-0 is the way to go.

White spent over 20 minutes on 13.Rd1, which prompted his opponent to spend more than 15 minutes on 13...Qb6, a move that the engines clearly dislike (13...Qa5 is stronger).

And after 14.Bxc6+ Bxc6, So played the flashy-and-effective 15.Bh6


As pointed out by Douglas Griffin on Twitter, this is an idea that has been known for almost half a century:

A tactic that has been very well known for over four decades. (The games Portisch-Radulov & Ribli-Ljubojević, played in the Buenos Aires Olympiad of 1978). Quite incredible that Duda should have been unaware of this.

Duda already knew he was in deep trouble and replied with the ugly-looking 15...Bf8, further delaying his development. Five moves was all that White needed to convert his strategic advantage into a more tangible superiority.


A great technical player, So traded queens and entered a superior endgame via 21.Qxe7+ Kxe7 22.Rxb7+. White had the better pawn structure (note the isolated black pawn on the d-file) and the more active pieces. Duda, nonetheless, continued fighting until move 48.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian 1 - 0 Praggnanandhaa

Like So, Aronian found himself in a better endgame with the white pieces by move 23. In this case, a rook endgame with a vastly superior pawn structure.


This is the position after 23.Rc2. As ever, converting a better rook endgame into a win was no easy task, especially while facing a player as resilient as Praggnanandhaa. Aronian did manage, though: Pragg threw in the towel after reaching the following losing pawn endgame.


50.Kb3 — and not 50.Kc3 nor 50.c6 — ended the game in White’s favour.

Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian about to play white against Praggnanandhaa | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Esipenko 1 - 0 Keymer

It was a long day at the office for Esipenko (aged 20) and Keymer (18). Their confrontation lasted over 7 hours, as Esipenko needed to work hard to get a technical win from the white side of this endgame setup.


The endgame tablebases give this position (after move 62) as a draw.

Remarkably, Keymer continued to find the most trying defences until move 88, when he erred decisively. Esipenko, on his part, found the fault in his opponent’s play, and went on to win a 101-move marathon encounter.


101.Rxf8+ put an end to the prolonged struggle.

Vincent Keymer

Vincent Keymer | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Results - Round 1


Standings - Round 1


All games



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.