Speed Chess Shock: Duda Upsets Karjakin
Lucky 13 for Jan-Krzysztof Duda: He beat Sergey Karjakin thanks to better bullet play.

Speed Chess Shock: Duda Upsets Karjakin

Jan-Krzysztof Duda played Russian roulette against Sergey Karjakin in the "bullet" portion of the Speed Chess Championship and lived to tell the tale. Duda not only survived the bullet segment, but won +4 =1 -2 to complete the upset. 

After going into the final discipline tied, Duda's four late wins propelled him to victory in what was widely regarded as the largest upset in the SCC's three-year history. It was unequivocally the biggest surprise in terms of ranking: a 14-seed taking out a 3-seed.

SmarterChess Predictions

It's easy to see where the match turned. Statistical model courtesy SmarterChess.

Another good indicator that few envisioned this one: Prior to the match, out of 2156 SCC fan brackets, 226 remained perfect. When the afternoon ended, a mere dozen remained unblemished. Overall, 90 percent of brackets incorrectly picked this one (no word on if the owners of Chess.com will play the odds game like Warren Buffett does!).

"In the bullet, I just played," Duda said, explaining that the shorter the time control, the less he could fill his head with distracting thoughts. "I think it’s best not to think too much and just play chess by heart."

Sergey Karjakin vs Duda Speed Chess

Underdogs had kept it close before. Here in the fourth game, no one could have predicted how this one would end though.

Neither player relished their games from the 5-minute segment, but two elements became very clear quickly: there would be few draws, and very few wins by Black. Only one game from the first 14 overall ended tied, and at one point White won eight in a row, from games seven to 14.

Duda didn't even win a single game as Black until the final game of the three-minute portion, but that tied the match and set the stage for the thrilling sprint finish (the seven bullet games were an SCC all-time low, and the 24 overall games were a season low).

The Five-Minute

Duda dropped the opening game but bounced back right away in game two. It seemed at first that he had missed a devastatingly clever decoy, but actually prudence was the proper play, as you can see below.

Funnily enough, it was Duda's other rook pawn that ended up being more valuable for his first win.

Duda took a brief lead by winning game four, but he would not lead again until 14 games and about two hours later. Karjakin's third "bishop-for-knight" imbalance evened the score at 2.5-2.5 after game five's win by the Russian.

Jan Krzysztof Speed Chess

Karjakin then went on his only run of the match, rattling off two more wins to make it three in a row. In the sandwich game of that streak, he played the first of several Exchange Variations of the Ruy Lopez.

"That's the match that Duda wants to avoid," commentator IM Danny Rensch said about how the more-experienced Karjakin ground down the new Polish number-one.

Fittingly, at just about the exact time that the death of Burt Reynolds was announced, Karjakin's knight went boogie in the ending.

After the trio of losses, Duda ended the streak on the white side of a Berlin, an opening (or is it ending?) that featured prominently in the match. He was down to only one second in the waning moments but he also showed that he could take a small positional advantage and turn it into victory.

The game concluded moments before the segment ended, so the two would play one more blitz game at 5+1. That turned out just fine for Karjakin who won it to lead 5.5-3.5. It would end up being his only segment win of the afternoon.

Well, for him it was evening, as he explained that he was visiting family during the match. Being away from his usual confines had some negative consequences.

"I must admit my mouse was very slow because I’m not at home. It’s a bit complicated to play," Karjakin said. "Of course, I lost not because of the mouse."

Sergey Karjakin Speed Chess

Duda also said his conditions weren't ideal as he has some connectivity issues.

"In the beginning I was very stressed," he said. "By the second game I realized that lag is also part of the game."

The Three-Minute

Once the 3+1 began, the players kept trading wins as White. No Black opening was safe: the French, Berlin, Sicilian—they all went down. But nothing as spectacularly as the Slav. In one of the rare 1. d4 starts to a game, Duda won in just 19 moves by pretending he was playing in the 19th century.

Just two games prior to this one, Duda also showed that he is as adept at creating queens as he is at sacrificing them.

After the match, Karjakin said he knew well before this moment that this might not be his day. After struggling all month in twin tournaments in St. Louis, the SCC was not the place for him to return to form.

"I played quite badly," he said. "I made so many blunders…It was hard to keep playing. I realized after game two I was in very bad form."

2700chess.com

Jan-Krzysztof Duda hasn't had too many setbacks the last few years, as this ratings charts shows. Chart from 2700chess.com.

Karjakin mentioned specifically hanging a rook, which meant game 14, Duda's fourth win in a row in his turns as White. Just when it looked like Black should end the overall seven-game white winning streak, Karjakin moved his rook to an "oops" square. To add insult to injury, just previously Duda's clock seemingly read 0.0, but bounced back to 1.2 seconds after moving because of his small lag.

"That was ridiculous," commentator GM Robert Hess said just afterward. "I almost jumped out of my chair."

After some rare draws in games 15 and 16 (there were only four in the entire match), Duda then got his first win as Black in game 17 to crawl all the way back to square at 8.5 points each. This time Karjakin hung a knight and then missed a tactic to recoup it.

A few weeks ago, the SCC had never had a tied match going into the bullet, but now it has two in the last two matches.

The One-Minute

Duda's Chess.com username is ( @Polish_fighter3000), but that's selling his skill short; he would end the bullet with a 3008 rating.

He won both of the opening games to perform his own three-game winning streak. In the first one, Karjakin ( @sergeykarjakin) didn't see the mate that was to unfold:

"Is this really going to happen?" Rensch asked after Duda took the lead.

Duda's French Defense got him his second black win in a row, as he used a system that he said he's also played over the board.

Speed Chess Championship 2018

Karjakin got back to within a point, but in game 22, his one last blunder proved essentially fatal for the entire match. After 44...Rd8, the Russian found himself down two with not much time remaining.

Duda then played chess and "match conditions" perfectly. Here's that aforementioned French Defense setup he favored so much.

The wall of pawns both elongated the game and shortened the match. Karjakin likely couldn't have won the match with a long draw, so he had to overpress, and Duda met the challenge.

Duda was thus up three games with only four minutes remaining, and all he had to do was "last" about 30 moves in a few games to run out the clock. He did slightly better, splitting the final two games.

"We are witnessing the first serious upset in Speed Chess Championship history," Rensch said.

Karjakin ended on a high note, with great intuition for the exchange sac. In fact, starting from the diagrammed position below, he made a check or capture for nine consecutive moves (hope you are writing a second edition of your book, Mr. Hertan!).

Karjakin said afterward he wished he had played to his strengths instead of mixing it up.

"I wanted to get some creative chess but maybe I should have played more serious (openings) to get the best results," he said.

Up next for Duda: more of the same! He will face Alexander Grischuk, who, like Karjakin, is a Russian former world blitz champion that he has also never faced over the board.

Up next for SCC fans: the final opening-round match of the season. And it's a doozy.

  • Anish Giri vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov: .

Live commentary will be on Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/chess.

Giri vs Mamedyarov Speed Chess 2018

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