Polish Players Star As Duda, Aronian, So Share Early Lead

Polish Players Star As Duda, Aronian, So Share Early Lead


The second leg of the Grand Chess Tour, the Superbet Poland Rapid & Blitz 2023, commenced on Sunday with three rounds of rapid chess culminating in GMs Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Levon Aronian, and Wesley So sharing the lead on 2.5/3.0 and with five points after the first day.

Right behind them on 2/3 and four points sits GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek, who stole the show in front of a live audience in his home country after stunning GM Magnus Carlsen in round one after the world number-one tried to take him off the beaten path.

The Superbet Poland Rapid & Blitz will continue with round four-six of the rapid portion on Monday, May 22, at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

How to watch

You can watch live games of the Superbet Poland Rapid & Blitz 2023 on our Events Page. The rounds start each day at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

The second leg of the Grand Chess Tour has returned to Warsaw this year at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews after a 2022 edition that saw local hope Duda eclipse the world-class field. This year, however, the addition of Carlsen would make a tournament victory all the more satisfying.

The full list of participants. Image: grandchesstour.org.

Although he is not a recurring participant in this year’s Grand Chess Tour, Carlsen was selected as one of five wildcards for the event. The others are Wojtaszek, GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac, GM Kirill Shevchenko, and Aronian, who replaced World Champion GM Ding Liren, who withdrew due to fatigue. The crowd in the tournament hall swelled before the round started, which was anticipated because both Polish participants would play Carlsen on day one.

Duda approaches patient fans after the day’s play. Have chess players become rock stars? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The first round was full of colorful games and featured four decisive results in favor of White. Carlsen, who appeared at the board later than the other participants and later admitted he “hadn’t studied chess recently,” chose the ironic Polish Defense against the home-ground hero Wojtaszek and quickly regretted his decision after his Polish opponent showed deep knowledge of the setup and blew him off the board!

Although an advantage developed in favor of White, Carlsen was resourceful in defense and soaked up most of Wojtaszek’s time in the middlegame. However, supported by a home crowd, the three-time Polish champion converted the position, stunning the former world champion in the opening game of the tournament. Our Game of the Day is analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Even with games ongoing in the playing hall, Wojtaszek’s win over Carlsen was met with hearty applause from the crowd watching live in Warsaw. As one viewer quipped on the official broadcast: “Magnus played the Polish opening against a Polish opponent in Poland.”

Carlsen’s start was disastrous but the game provided ample entertainment. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

GM Richard Rapport carried on the momentum from his unbeaten run in the Superbet Chess Classic in Romania, picking up a win against his newly-transferred countryman, Shevchenko. An obscure line in the Sicilian Defense: Nyezhmetdinov-Rossolimo was the battleground for the clash, and the position seemed to suit Rapport’s uncompromising playing style.

On move 22, Shevchenko learned the hard way that a single inaccuracy in a super-GM tournament can be fatal, and a mere 13 moves later, he laid down his sword.

Despite being the only draw of the round, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian’s game was packed full of intrigue. Aronian unleashed some never-seen-before home preparation in the London System after a declined repetition and confidently walked his king to b6 in the middlegame. 

Vachier-Lagrave did almost as much walking as his opponent’s king during round one. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

While Vachier-Lagrave managed to stabilize and force threefold repetition several moves later, the attempted king walk would have made the late ninth-world champion GM Tigran Petrosian proud.

Enterprising play with the black pieces from both GM Anish Giri and Deac against So and Duda, respectively, wasn’t enough to stop White from cleaning up in four of the round-one games. Both players managed to make it to holdable rook endgames but would go on to blunder away their positions after pressure was applied both positionally and on the clock.

Duda, the defending champion in Poland, got off to a great start by dispatching Giri. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In a sign that nerves were beginning to settle for the players, just two games ended decisively in the second round. Duda won his second consecutive game in a 94-move grinder against Deac and owed his success to a b5-pawn break, which GM Cristian Chirila defined as the moment that the tables turned in Duda’s favor.

Aronian once again proved to be a menace with the black pieces and tackled Shevchenko’s Catalan Opening. Swapping into a rook and minor piece endgame, Shevchenko stayed with Aronian until move 40 before losing the thread and playing a series of inaccuracies that the experienced American representative pounced on.

Following his recent victory in the Satty Zhuldyz Rapid & Blitz event in Astana, Kazakhstan, Aronian shows that he will be one of the contenders in Poland. 

The former world rapid and blitz champion is no stranger to tough fields such as this one. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Of the draws, Wojtaszek’s easy hold against Rapport was the most impressive and GM Yasser Seirawan suggested that the home crowd was playing a part in both Polish players’ strong starts. So had to work somewhat harder to procure a draw against a clearly anguished Carlsen, who kept up the theme of unorthodoxy by offering up his bishop for a pawn at the start of the game.

Unwilling to buy into Carlsen’s shenanigans, So declined the trade and set up a Carlsen-proof defense that lasted until a draw was enforced on move 69.

So hoped to take advantage of Carlsen’s mood after a shocking round-one defeat. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

A 3/3 start for Duda would have required a gargantuan effort and specifically a win against Carlsen in the third round. Given Carlsen’s recent proclivity for offbeat and often dubious openings, anything was possible in this game, and so it was no surprise for him to play the Caro-Kann against Duda’s 1.e4. 

Duda’s objective became clear after a series of exchanges left him with a slight edge in a rook and bishop ending. For most of the game, it seemed to be heading toward a draw regardless of White’s extra pawn. In 2023-Carlsen style, he found the most creative way to draw the game and used a brilliant stalemate trick to seal the result.

With Duda conceding his first draw of the event, his 2.5/3 was catchable, and Aronian and So did exactly that with wins in round three. Aronian piled misery on Giri and outfoxed him in a rook and pawn endgame that teetered between the realms of draw and decisive for some time. Uncharacteristically, it was a Giri blunder that eventually allowed Aronian to capture the full point, his Dutch opponent hoping to move on after a forgettable day.

Aronian analyzes with Giri after the game. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So played with fire in his game against Rapport and grabbed a semi-poisoned pawn with his queen on the white side of the Benoni Defense: Modern Variation. Rapport was unable to trap the monarch but won several free-developing moves in the process. Riposting with a series of trades, So found a way to keep his one-pawn advantage as they approached the endgame.

So is popular among fans after scoring two wins on day one. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

With less than a minute left on the clock, So struggled to defend against a passed pawn that had worked its way to c2 and, with promotion looming, steered his attention toward Black’s king. Fortunately for So, Rapport’s king was indeed weak. Although So missed a pretty forced checkmate in seven moves, he found a way to convert and join the leaders.

Vachier-Lagrave also managed to deal Deac his third straight defeat with a crushing pair of tactical shots and now sits alongside Wojtaszek on 2/3.

An opening day full of fighting chess and upsets bodes well for the remainder of the Superbet Poland Rapid & Blitz 2023 and with a $150,000 prize fund and precious Grand Chess Tour points on offer, the players will undoubtedly bring their best on day two.

Standings – Round 3

Image: Grand Chess Tour Twitter.

As the tournament winner is determined across both the rapid and blitz portions, double points are awarded for each victory in the rapid event as there are half as many rounds as the blitz. For Duda, Aronian, and So, five points on the board are a healthy result on day one. If they continue this success, other players in the field will find themselves too far behind.

All Games – Day 1

The Superbet Poland Rapid & Blitz 2023 is the second leg of this year’s Grand Chess Tour (GCT) and features 10 of the best players in the world. Players including GMs Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, and Anish Giri will battle it out for their share of the $175,000 prize fund.


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