Jan-Krzysztof Duda wins the FIDE World Cup

Jan-Krzysztof Duda has won the 2021 FIDE World Cup after a brilliant win over Sergey Karjakin in the final classical game. The 23-year-old Polish star didn’t lose a single game all tournament, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen describing the player who beat him in the semi-finals as a “richly deserved winner”. Magnus himself wrapped things up in style to take 3rd place by beautifully crushing Vladimir Fedoseev for a second day in a row. He was happy to have won eight classical games and lost none during the event.

You can replay all the games from the 2021 FIDE World Cup using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet. 

Duda in historic triumph

Jan-Krzysztof Duda began the 206-player FIDE World Cup as the 12th seed, and while no-one would ever consider him an easy opponent, few could have predicted the player who began the event as the world no. 18 would triumph, and even less so that he’d do it in such dominant style.

Magnus Carlsen summed things up afterwards:

First of all, huge congratulations to Duda for winning the World Cup. Considering the line of opponents he beat in the last four rounds, never losing a game and obviously then never being in a must-win or desperate situation, is a massive achievement. He’s a richly deserved winner.

As well as not losing a game, Duda also only twice needed tiebreaks, and both times, against Alexander Grischuk and Magnus himself, he wrapped things up in the first two rapid games. 

Jan-Krzysztof, whose triumph managed to knock Olympic stars off top billing in the Polish media, was as shocked as anyone, commenting:

I’m great. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, at least in classical chess.

Duda is a European Rapid Champion and most memorably pushed Magnus all the way in the 2018 World Blitz Championship by winning 11 of his last 13 games. 

In another recap of the final game, with Nigel Short, Duda commented:

I’m extremely happy and exhausted. It’s obviously the tournament of my life, at least in classical chess, and I haven’t expected this — never, ever! — and I don’t know why it has happened, to be honest. I have honestly no idea! 

What ranks as the greatest individual achievement in Polish chess history (and Poland can boast of such stars as Rubinstein, Tartakower and Najdorf) also saw Duda qualify for the 2022 Candidates Tournament, and when asked if he would now try and fight for the World Championship title he responded:

Yeah, why not? If I will have such good form like here then I’m probably unstoppable!

His results in Sochi have seen him return to just below his peak (2758 and world no. 12 in December 2019) on the live rating list, and he’s also up to 4th on the rapid list.

The man just above him is World Cup specialist and 2016 World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin, who was the player Duda beat to clinch the title. The final game looked amazingly smooth for Duda, but it turned out both players were running on empty. Karjakin later tweeted:

Duda himself commented:

He was definitely lacking in energy, but so was I. I had insomnia, I couldn’t sleep at night, and I also was kind of feeling dizzy in this game, but it was very fortunate that I got such a position.

1.d4 from Duda in the game already suggested that he wanted to make it harder for Sergey to try and shut the game down for a draw, though it was a move Jan-Krzysztof had to fight to play!

The hockey star was perhaps suggesting the “Polish Opening” (or “Orangutan”) 1.b4. Then Duda drew attention to the position after 9.Rd1.

The important thing was not to play 9.Bd3, a move which I played a dozen times, which is like the most stupid move order, and I played like this against Sasha Grischuk here as well.

As on the previous day, Sergey already started to think in a known position — Duda’s compatriot Radek Wojtaszek played the move against Jorden van Foreest in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year — and Duda felt 9…Nc6 instead of the immediate 9…Be6 was already a small inaccuracy. After 10.Qa4 Be6 11.Bb5 it seems Sergey made a move that already left him on the ropes. 

As you can see, 2018 US Champion Sam Shankland labeled 11…Qb6? as a blunder in his 1.d4 Chessable course, and though it seems neither player had seen the US star’s analysis, Duda went for the recommended refutation, later explaining:

I just decided to take on f6 and d5, because it felt like very simple play for me, for two results only, and I was totally in control and a bit more active. 

After 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nxd5 Bxd5 14.Rxd5 we reached the following position.

In fact White hasn’t really won a pawn since you can capture on b2, but it tells you all you need to know about that move that the computer recommends simply playing a pawn down after 14…a6!?. Sergey clearly played 14…Bxb2!? with a heavy heart, after almost 20 minutes of thought, before Duda then deviated from Sam’s line with not 15.0-0 but 15.Ke2, reasoning that the king would be closer to the centre in any endgame.

We did soon get an endgame (Duda was critical of his opponent’s 17…Qb4?!), but perhaps it was better labeled a queenless middlegame, since the hugely more active white pieces gave Duda play against the black king. He barely hesitated to launch a pawn storm with 20.g4! 

The expectation both of Duda and the spectators was that Karjakin’s “Minister of Defence” skills would kick in at some point and Jan-Krzysztof would face fierce resistance, but it never happened. Perhaps the white position was just too good, with Duda also alert to find better moves than he’d planned. For instance, when he went for the following position he hadn’t seen the killer blow.

Duda’s original intention was 25.Re4, with one of his threats to play Rh4 and Rdh1 and hint at mate along the h-file. Instead, however, he now found the exchange sacrifice 25.Rd7!, when after 25…Nxe5 26.Nxe5 White will be able to play Nxg6 or Nxf7 next, and regaining the exchange is the least he can hope for.

Duda thought he was winning on the spot, and admitted to being annoyed when Karjakin played the best defence 25…Bd8!, though by this stage the best defence was nowhere near good enough. Duda kept playing almost perfectly with 26.Rb5! Na5 27.Bd5 (27…Rxd8! is even better, but it’s a matter of taste) 27…Rc7 and now a simple little tactic to pick up a crucial pawn, 28.Bxf7+!

Karjakin’s agony didn’t last long, as after 28…Kg7 29.Rxc7 Bxc7 30.Bd5 he simply resigned, and Duda was the Champion. With perfect timing Magnus Carlsen congratulated the winner while still playing his own game.

In a sense, it was a new era in World Cup history.

But mainly it was just a fantastic result for Duda and his long-term coach GM Kamil Mitoń. 

Duda was congratulated by both the Prime Minister and President of Poland — the latter his namesake.

The winner’s prize was $88,000 ($110,000 minus FIDE’s 20% cut), career-best earning for the Pole, though the $68,333 he took home for five days’ play at the 2018 World Rapid and Blitz perhaps compares favourably to his three weeks in Sochi. In any case, the coveted spot in the 2022 Candidates Tournament is more important.

That’s why Sergey Karjakin has no reason to be too disappointed with his lacklustre display in the final. The 2015 World Cup winner afterwards continued a meme started by Anish Giri and continued by Vidit of reflecting on his rating gains from the tournament (8.4 is Magnus’ gain). 

That left just one game unfinished.

Magnus Carlsen clinches 3rd place

“I’m becoming a bit of an expert in 3rd place matches, and to be honest I’m enjoying them more and more!” said Magnus, who this year has beaten Wesley So and Ding Liren to take 3rd in Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events. Or course 3rd wasn’t what he was gunning for, but Magnus had partly played the World Cup to gain practice playing classical chess again, and in those terms it had gone well — in all his matches he either won both games (not strictly required to qualify!) or made two draws.

Magnus summed things up:

This is the first time I’ve won rating I think since the summer of 2019, probably, because then I was winning rating in every tournament and I equalled my highest rating ever, and I don’t think I’ve gained rating since. So obviously 11/14 is a great score, something I’m very happy with, and I think also 3rd place here is something that on average I should be satisfied with. When you reach the semi-finals obviously you want to win, but winning seven matches in a row against tough opposition is not something you can do on demand. Another time I would probably have managed, I think the situation I was in in the semi-finals was that I had probably considerably more than a 50% chance of winning the tournament, but you don’t always succeed, and this time I think I lost to somebody who deserved to win.

But anyway, I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t think it’s win or bust every time, and especially in such a format I don’t think you can have that mentality, and thus I’m very happy both with the result and the practice that I’ve gotten that I really needed, and the chance to win some games. I won eight games here, and generally I’ve struggled to win in the last tournaments that I’ve played, so I’m happy with that.

His point about rating gains was correct, apart from some tiny gains from playing much weaker opponents in the Norwegian League.  

Magnus also ended the World Cup on a high, since if his second game against Vladimir Fedoseev wasn’t quite the masterpiece of the first it was still a fantastic game with a thematic finish — in fact as Magnus put it, “it’s kind of funny that it ended up with the exact same themes as yesterday”. 

There was a curious moment after 1.e4 c6.

Magnus in fact made exactly the same point about his early thinks after the game, explaining:

So what was happening is that he plays everything, so it’s hard to prepare for, so I was just deciding whether I should play a quiet game or just go for a position where we play for three results, and finally I decided that I’d played enough quiet games in this tournament when I was up 1:0, so I thought, let’s just play and we’ll see!

There may be parallel universes in which Magnus blundered something later on and had to come back to play tiebreaks against Fedoseev on Friday, but in this universe everything went like a dream for the World Champion. The writing was already on the wall when Fedoseev shuffled his king to f8 to defend the g7-pawn. 

The moment it became clear that Magnus was likely not just to beat but crush Fedoseev again was when Magnus sacrificed his rook for a bishop on f5, just as the day before he’d sacrifice a rook for a bishop on f4.

Magnus hadn’t missed that echo:

I was always better and it’s kind of funny that the exchange sac happened on the same square, so f5 and then f4 yesterday, and sort of the same bishop, but the theme here was that once I give up this exchange I just gain control of all the key squares, so even though he probably doesn’t have to collapse immediately, it should be winning, and at the end I was just very happy to find this idea with Bg4, caging in the rook, so I didn’t even have to calculate any lines.

The way Magnus went about things was almost sadistic, since e.g. 37.Bxe6+ might win faster, but his approach produced another beautiful picture of dominance after 47.Bg4!

The black rook’s last escape square on the h-file has been taken away, and there’s no hope along the back rank since the black king can’t move from f8 or g8. The black bishop has to stay on the d8-h4 diagonal to prevent Bg5, though it’s noteworthy that one of the way’s for White to win is to calmly bring the white king to f5, when Bg5 can’t be stopped.

The only real option for Black is perhaps 47…Rh6, but after 48.Bxh6 it’s a simple win for White. Fedoseev instead tried 47…b5 48.Kf3 b4 49.axb4 (49.Bc1?? is about the only way to spoil things) 49…cxb4 before resigning.

There was praise from around the chess world for Carlsen’s last two games, including from Wesley So during a Chessable Masters interview. The US Champion had just had the idiom “to go bananas” explained to him and perhaps hadn’t grasped the finer details:

I think in the FIDE World Cup Magnus played like a banana, because the way he crushed Fedoseev was just pretty impressive! 

So the top seed had finished 3rd and the FIDE World Cup was finally over after almost a month of close to non-stop action. There were only two winners, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexandra Kosteniuk, with Sergey Karjakin, Tan Zhongyi, and Anna Muzychuk also picking up Candidates Qualification. Personal triumphs aside, it was defeat for the remaining 304 players, with Anish Giri reflecting.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage of the event here on chess24 and will stick around for all the upcoming action. We’re at the semi-final stages of the Chessable Masters, with Levon Aronian and Vladislav Artemiev needing to win on demand today against Liem Quang Le and Wesley So for a chance to reach the final. You can watch all the action live here on chess24 from 16:45 CEST!

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