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Beating Magnus Carlsen was Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s path to a sensationally FIDE World Cup win last year – and once again that proved to be the Pole’s path to capturing the Aimchess Rapid title last Friday, as he fought off a spirited comeback from Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the final of the $150,000 event, to take his second Meltwater Champions Chess Tour title of the season.

Duda looked to be in cruise-control with an emphatic 3-1 first-match win in the best-of-two match final.  But far from being down and out, Mamedyarov immediately struck back with a vital win in the first game of the second day.  But with the momentum in the match switching dramatically to the Azeri, Duda managed to hold his nerve that allowed him to regroup to go on to win the blitz tiebreak for game, set and match.

“I’m extremely happy and joyful that I’ve managed to win the tournament,” said a visibly relived Duda after his deserved victory on Friday. “But today’s performance was very, very bad I think and I would like actually to forget about the games I played in [the] rapid…”

Despite the second win of the Tour (one Regular and one Major), and still one Major event left to play in San Francisco in November, it’s impossible for Duda – or even Indian teenage prodigy, R. Praggnanandhaa – to now catch Carlsen in the standings, as he’s already sealed the overall Tour title. 

However there’s still the little matter of that last event looming on the Tour calendar, and Carlsen will be all out for revenge over Duda for the bragging rights to winning two of the three Majors – both hold one apiece – held during the season. So far, Carlsen has qualified for that San Francisco event that starts on November 14, along with Duda, Arjun Erigaisi, Mamedyarov, Praggnanandhaa, Liem Le with two more players yet to be named.

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Aimchess Rapid Final, (1.2)
Reti’s Opening
1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 It’s the Reti, with accepting the gambit challenge, which can transpose into a number of openings, and here, generally it is a Queen’s Gambit Accepted – but Duda takes us into unknown territory with a hybrid Nimzo-Larsen Attack. 3…Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.b3 c5 6.Bb2 a6 7.Ne5 This grip on the e5-square – and the dominance of the long a1-h8 diagonal – becomes a theme for the game and Duda striking first blood in the final showdown proves crucial. 7…Nbd7 8.f4 g6 9.a4 Bg7 10.0-0 0-0 11.a5 Just stopping any …b5 awkwardness – but the fact remains that Mamedyarov will have to play …b5 soon in order to free his game, despite the fact it will handicap him with those loose queenside pawns. 11…Nd5 12.Nd3 Bxb2 13.Nxb2 b5 In a difficult position, this is a gamble – but a gamble Mamedyarov has to take in order to free his game and secure the d5 outpost for his knight. 14.axb6 N7xb6 15.Be2 Bb7 16.Na3! The knight is heading to c4 where it will not help target those loose queenside pawns but look to potentially swing into the ideal e5 outpost. 16…Nb4 17.Qc1 Qe7 18.Nac4 Nxc4 19.Nxc4 There’s not much in the game, but Duda just has that little edge due to Mamedyarov’s awkwardly loose queenside pawns. If he can hold that line, he will have good survival chances. 19…Rfd8 20.Qc3! Now a second problem for Mamedyarov opens up, as Duda takes control of both the long a1-h8 diagonal and the vital e5 outpost for his knight – ultimately, those coupled with Black’s loose queenside pawns prove to be too much of a headache for Mamedyarov. 20…Rac8 21.Rf2 Two equally good options were 21.Ra5 and 21.Rfc1 – but with Rf2, Duda brings another element into the game with an imaginative kingside assault. 21…f6 22.h4 There are many who would have simply concentrated on Black’s queenside pawn weakness – but rightly or wrongly, Duda adds to the mix with his cunning kingside assault. 22…Be4 Mr Engine wants to hold up the kingside pawn-storm with 22…h5 – the silicon beast might well be right, but the human reaction will view it with suspicion as it weakens the pawns around the Black king. 23.g4! With g5 coming next, Duda rips open the long a1-h8 diagonal but, more crucially, he’ll establish that superb e5 outpost for his knight. Oh, and lest we forget, Black still has long-term problems about what to do with his queenside pawns. 23…Qg7 Mamedyarov would love to trade queens, as this will be something of a relief to his position – but Duda isn’t interested right now, only willing to do so on his terms. 24.g5 f5 25.Ne5! Nc6 The Ne5 is too strong and to challenge its authority, the a6-pawn can’t be saved – and no better was attempting to salvage something going forward with 25…Bd3 as 26.h5!? Bxe2 27.Rxe2 Nc6 28.h6 comes with a big advantage. 26.Rxa6 Nxe5 27.Qxe5 Qxe5 28.fxe5 Rxd2 29.Bc4 Rd1+ 30.Rf1 Rd2 31.Bxe6+ Kh8 32.Rfa1 Rg2+ Marginally better was the immediate 32…Re8 so that now 33.Bc4 Rg2+ 34.Kf1 Rh2 and White still has work to do to convert a win. 33.Kf1 Rf8 If 33…Re8 34.Bf7! Rb8 35.Rd6 Rh2 36.Ra7 is very strong for White. 34.Bc4 Rh2 35.e6! [see diagram] A very clever concept from Duda, who quickly works out that the best way to win is by simply giving up what was perceived to be a very powerful passed pawn. 35…f4? It’s all now getting a little desperate now for Mamedyarov, who had to be regretting not initially playing …Re8, as now White has an easy win due to the mating threats to the Black king – but nevertheless, …Re8 even now had to be played. 36.e7 Re8 37.exf4 Kg7 The point to Duda’s e-pawn push is that it can’t be captured due to the mate with 37…Rxe7? 38.Ra8+!! Bxa8 39.Rxa8+ Kg7 40.Rg8#! 38.Ra7 Quicker and more accurate was 38.R1a5! Rh1+ 39.Kf2 Rxe7 40.Ra7! Rxa7 41.Rxa7+ Kf8 42.Rf7+ Ke8 43.Rxh7 and White should have no problems seeing through the win with two extra pawns and the more active rook. 38…Rxh4?? Pure panic in the time scramble – the only hope was 38…Rh1+ but after 39.Kf2 Rxa1 40.Rxa1 Rxe7 41.Re1! forcing 41…Kf8 otherwise Bd5 wins. 42.Rd1! Ra7 43.Rd8+ Ke7 44.Rh8 Kd6 45.Rf8! Re7 46.Rf7 and the trade of rooks with the resulting B+P ending is totally won for White. 39.Kf2! In his haste to beat the clock, Mamedyarov has missed this move that now wins with ease for Duda. 39…Rxf4+ 40.Ke3 1-0 And Black resigns as there’s no coming back from 40…Rh4 41.Bb5 etc.

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