Two years ago, the brilliant young Polish player Jan-Krzysztof Duda made a baffling decision. In the second game of his knockout match with Wesley So at the Moscow Grand Prix, Duda needed just a draw to advance to the next round, having won the first game with remarkable ease. Perhaps he was mindful that when one only needs a draw, excessively timid play is rarely rewarded. Even so, it was an eccentric choice to employ one of the wildest variations in the Sicilian Dragon. Duda’s risk barometer looked all out of whack — like a diner who has decided the mussels look a bit dodgy, and orders the pufferfish instead. (He went on to lose the game, and later the match.)
Fast forward to this month, and Duda has just won the Fide World Cup, the prestigious marathon knockout event, showing exceptional pragmatism and stability. He took risks, of course, but they looked measured, and he survived the event without a single loss.
His semi-final upset against Magnus Carlsen in a rapid tie-break earned him a spot in the final against Sergey Karjakin, a former World Cup winner and challenger for the World Championship in 2016. Both finalists earn the right to play in next year’s Candidates tournament, whose winner will challenge for the World Championship.
In the decisive game from that final, Duda’s move 15 Ke2 was an outstanding decision, in a position where many players would have castled automatically. Duda correctly judged his king was safe in the centre, and foresaw that it would be ideally placed after a likely exchange of queens.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda — Sergey Karjakin
Fide World Cup, Sochi 2021
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c5 5 cxd5 cxd4 6 Qxd4 exd5 7 Bg5 Be7 8 e3 O-O 9 Rd1 Nc6 10 Qa4 Be6 11 Bb5