The Openings of the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament

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Candidates 2022 Openings
Table of Contents

Get ready to explore the best openings by the top players.

In this article, we give a day-by-day breakdown of the openings played in the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament, with a short introduction to the openings.

If you haven’t checked out who is playing yet, take a look at our guide to the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

Openings playedRound and game they were played
Sicilian Defense: French VariationRound 1: Game 1
English Opening: King’s EnglishRound 1: Game 2; Round 7: Game 4
The Ruy Lopez: Berlin DefenseRound 1: Game 3; Round 2: Game 2; Round 4: Game 1, Game 3; Round 9: Game 2, Game 3
The Queen’s Gambit Declined: Three Knights VariationRound 1: Game 4; Round 4: Game 4
Sicilian Defense: Chekhover VariationRound 2: Game 1
The Italian Game: Giuoco PiannisimoRound 2: Game 3, Game 4; Round 6: Game 3; Round 8: Game 4
The Catalan OpeningRound 3: Game 1; Round 5: Game 4; Round 6: Game 4
The Nimzo-Indian DefenseRound 3: Game 4
The Grünfeld DefenseRound 3: Game 2
Sicilian Defense: Najdorf VariationRound 3: Game 1; Round 4: Game 2
Petrov DefenseRound 5: Game 1, Game 3; Round 9:
Sicilian Defense: Taimanov VariationRound 5: Game 2; Round 6: Game 1
Zukertort OpeningRound 6: Game 2
Four Knights: Scotch VariationRound 8: Game 1
The Ruy Lopez: Open VariationRound 8: Game 2
The Four Knights GameRound 8: Game 3
English Opening: Agincourt Defense. Catalan Defense AcceptedRound 9 Game 4

Highlighted course

Chess Candidates 2022

Round 1-Friday, Jun 17, 2022

Game 1: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Richard Rapport

The Sicilian Defense: French Variation

Duda is one of the most booked-up players, while Rapport is one of the flashiest tacticians playing today, so the first match was promising. In this match the players played a Sicilian Defense, French Variation, beginning with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6.

Black’s second move is considered more positional than other typical first moves of the Sicilian Defense. From here the typical plan for White is to open the position with 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4. Unlike other Sicilian Defenses, Black has an open diagonal for their dark-squared bishop.

The first game of this tournament ended in a draw. Take a look below.

Game 2: Ding Liren vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

English Opening: King’s English Variation

1.c4 e5

This was one of the most exciting games of the first round, with the number two player in the world losing the game as White to last year’s challenger to the World Championship title.

The King’s English is also known as the Reversed Sicilian Defense. Considered the most radical reply to the English, players either love it or hate it. It is said to show both the beauty and the ugliness of 1.c4. Many English players hope to face it, while others will completely avoid the English so they never have to see it.

Take a look at this fantastic 32-move win by Nepo as Black.

Game 3: Fabiano Caruana vs. Hikaru Nakamura

The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

This is one of the most popular replies to the Ruy Lopez at the top level. It was not played much until the Classical World Chess Championship in 2000 when Vladimir Kramnik used it as a drawing weapon against Garry Kasparov.

Given its reputation as a drawing weapon, it is sometimes called the “Berlin Wall”. It is a natural move as it attacks White’s e-pawn, and Black is much closer to castling than if they play the most popular move, 3…a6. It is also considered less flexible than 3…a6.

This is where we see the Super-GMs shine. This is one of the most studied openings in chess, with these GMs pouring uncountable amounts of study into the latest variations.

Despite this having a reputation as a drawish opening, Nakamura could not secure a draw, and Caruana was able to edge out a win against him in the first round.

Game 4: Teimour Radjabov vs. Alireza Firouzja

The Queen’s Gambit Declined: Three Knights Variation

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3

This opening was actually reached by transposition, as 3.Nf3 is a way to deny a Nimzo-Indian, which perhaps Firouzja was trying to play.

This signals a slow and positional game for both sides. No one here is about to blow open the board with mindbending tactics. The parent opening, the Queen’s Gambit Declined, is one of the most sturdy and reliable defenses against the Queen’s Gambit. It is not a thing of just Super-GMs either, this is one of the most recommended openings for beginners.

Firouzja may have wanted to go into a more tactical Nimzo-Indian Defense, but after being denied it after 3.Nf3, he changed gears into this super solid and patient setup.

The game ended in a draw:

Round 2: Saturday, June 18th, 2022

Game 1: Richard Rapport vs. Alireza Firouzja

Sicilian Defense: Chekhover Variation

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4

The Chekhover Variation was first played in Leningrad in 1938 by Chekhover–Lisitsin. It is uncommon, especially at the top level. It violates the opening principle of bringing one’s queen out too early.

The move 4.Qxd4 differentiates from the standard 4.Nxd4. This was probably an attempt by Rapport to take Firouzja out of his preparation. Despite this novel attempt, the game ended in a draw after 60 moves.

In this opening, White has a win rate of 36.4%, Black’s win rate is 30.6%, while draws make up the remaining 33%.

Chessable has a great free course on Anti-Sicilians, which includes the Chekhover Variation.

Take a look at the game:

Game 2: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Teimour Radjabov

The Ruy Lopez: The Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

This is the second time already we are seeing this Super-GM draw weapon, (and the second time with Nakamura playing too). Nakamura needed to play for a win given his loss in the first round against Caruana. Radjabov, as Black, was probably content with trying to secure a half-point with the draw.

Even still, Nakamura was able to break through Radjabov’s Berlin Wall and put himself back into contention by securing a win and one point after 75 moves.

Check out our course The Smart Ruy Lopez Part 2: Break Down the Berlin Defense to fight for a win against this tough defense.

Game 3: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Fabiano Caruana

The Italian Game: Giuoco Pianissimo

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5

The two players coming off victories in the first round played this third game of the second round and opted for the Giuoco Pianissimo variation of the Italian Game.

Translating to “ultra-quiet game”, this variation is extremely solid, and both sides focus on all the main chess opening principles. Development to ideal squares of the minor pieces, quick castling, and control of the center.

This opening may look tame, but lay beneath it is a potent attacking weapon, full of tactics ready to be unleashed. It is probably one of the best openings beginners can learn to understand how chess should be played. White is waiting to push d4 until the time is absolutely right.

Neither side in this game however was able to squeeze out a win:

Game 4: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Ding Liren

The Italian Game: Giuoco Pianisimo

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5

In the last game of round two, we get another Giuco Piannisimo and the same result from Duda and Liren.

Chessable has a fantastic course on Thematic Tactics: The Slow Italian Game, to get you learning common tactics in the Italian Game.

Round 3: Sunday, June 19th, 2022

Game 1: Teimour Radjabov vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

The Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3

 

Again Radjabov plays 1.d4, and again, Nepomniachtchi may have wanted to go into a Nimzo-Indian Defense. This is very reminiscent of how his game against Firouzja went in the first round.

Instead of transposing into a Queen’s Gambit Declined, after playing the Anti-Nimzo-Indian move 3.Nf3, the game transposed into the Catalan.

The Catalan has been quite popular in recent times. Magnus Carlsen used it as one of his main openings in the World Championship against Nepomniachtchi last year.

The Catalan does not have a strict move order and may be reached via many different moves. White prepares to fianchetto the light-squared bishop to have long-term pressure on the h1-a8 diagonal. This pressure will most be felt if Black plays c5 or takes on c4.

Game 2: Ding Liren vs. Richard Rapport

The Grünfeld Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

The Grünfeld is one of the most theory-heavy openings in all of chess, so much so that players below the 2000 level are recommended to avoid it.

Black counters in the center with 3…d5, which allows White a significant amount of latitude in choosing their setup.

In the 1920s, the Grünfeld revolutionized how people thought about chess. It showed that a pawn center, instead of just being a positive, could be an object of attack. The Grünfeld helped usher in a new way of thinking about chess; the hypermodern school of thought.

The Grünfeld was first played in 1855 by Moheschunder Bannerjee, an Indian chess player who had remarkably transitioned from the Indian rules of chess to the modern rules.

Let’s take a look at the featured game:

Game 3: Fabiano Caruana vs Jan-Krzysztof Duda

The Sicilian Najdorf

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc6 a6

Called the Cadillac or Rolls Royce of openings due to its sturdiness, the quiet move 5…a6 is a deceptively looking powerful move and one that entails much theory.

This opening is, along with the Grünfeld and the Ruy Lopez, one of the most theoretically studied openings in all of chess and is a reminder of why chess is such a beautiful game. New ideas are constantly found many lines deep. It is an opening that keeps on giving, like the Ruy Lopez.

In contrast to the Ruy Lopez, this world-class opening can be very tough for beginners to grasp. A certain level of theoretical knowledge is necessary. 5…a6 is simply completely counterintuitive.

However, for those willing to put in the work, the Najdorf can be one of the most rewarding and rich openings to add to one’s repertoire.

Let’s see how the featured game went down:

Game 4: Alireza Firouzja vs Hikaru Nakamura

The Nimzo-Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

This is one of the best defenses for Black against 1.d4, and it can be quite torturous for White. In fact, it causes White such headaches that the most common move after 2…e6 is 3.Nf3 to completely avoid the headaches the Nimzo causes for White.

This video is from The Fierce Nimzo-Indian course

Of course this is not at all unplayable for White, but Black has a highly flexible system with their dark-squared bishop developed to its most active square, pinning the knight, preventing White from playing d4, and threatening to saddle White with doubled c-pawns. That’s quite a lot for one developing move on move 3.

Furthermore, Black has not committed to a pawn structure, so this gives Black much flexibility in the setup they choose to employ.

First played by chess player and theoretician Aron Nimzowitsch, this was one of the first hypermodern openings to get noticed, and it remains a favorite today.

Attesting to its greatness is the fact that it has been played by every World Champion since José Raúl Capablanca.

Let’s look at it in the featured game:

Highlighted course

Chess Candidates 2022

Round 4: Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Game 1: Richard Rapport vs. Hikaru Nakamura

The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

This is the third time we encounter the sturdy Berlin Defense, and it is the third time it has featured in a game with Nakamura (twice used by him as Black, once by Radjabov). 

Nakamura was hoping to score better with this than he did with his first attempt when he lost to Caruana. In this game, Nakamura upheld the reputation of it being a drawing weapon and secured half a point against Rapport.

Take a look at the game:

Game 2: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Alireza Firouzja

The Sicilian Najdorf

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc6 a6

The second time we see a Najdorf in the tournament, though the first time by either of these players. 

What is clear is that Ian Nepomniachtchi is having an extremely solid tournament and is now the leader of the pack He impressively was able to break through Firouzja’s Najdorf. Firouzja was the favorite to win by many, but perhaps last year’s challenger for the World Championship may be back again.

Will Carlsen still play if Nepomniachtchi wins the tournament?

Take a look at the game:

Game 3: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Teimour Radjabov

The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

Is the Berlin Defense the opening of the 2022 Candidates Tournament? It sure seems like it thus far. 

Besides Nakamura’s loss in the first round, this opening is cementing its reputation at the top level as a drawing weapon.

Take a look at the game:

Game 4: Ding Liren vs. Fabiano Caruana

The Queen’s Gambit Declined: Three Knights Variation

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 

Once again, we see a possible try at a Nimzo-Indian that turns into an Anti-Nimzo-Indian with 3.Nf3 and then transposes into a Queen’s Gambit Declined: Three Knights Variation.

Like in the first game between Radjabov and Firouzja, the game ended in a draw. That’s not to say the Queen’s Gambit Declined is a drawing weapon however, just that it is so hard to break through for a win at this level, as exemplified by the sole win today and the four draws in the third round.

Take a look at the game:

Round 5: June 22, 2022

Game 1: Alireza Firouzja vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

The Petrov Defense

For the first time since Round 3, we get a new opening in the tournament, the Petrov Defense.

Also known as the Russian Opening, the Petrov Defense employs a symmetrical setup, and at the top level, the games are often considered somewhat boring and drawish, and indeed, we saw a draw with it today.

However, for beginners, this opening can teach a lot about how to develop, and there are many traps to be aware of, and there are attacking opportunities for both sides.

Many top players have employed the Petrov over the years, including World Champions Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik.

Take a look at the game:

Game 2: Fabiano Caruana vs. Richard Rapport

The Sicilian Defense: Taimanov Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6

This is a subvariation of the French Variation of the Sicilian Defense, which we saw in Round 1.

The Taimanov is named after Mark Taimanov, an influential Russian Grandmaster. The opening became popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since.

The Taimanov is a flexible Sicilian setup, Black develops their knight to its most natural square and keeps options open for the development of their other pieces.

The Taimanov is a great Sicilian for players who are more positionally minded and who would rather avoid the sharp tactical lines of the Najdorf, for instance. 

However, the Taimanov is still a Sicilian, and despite being more positionally oriented, it is far from being a boring opening.

Take a look at today’s game featuring the Taimanov:

Game 3: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

The Petrov Defense

A second Petrov in Round 5. As we mentioned earlier, this opening has a drawish reputation. Since Nepomniachtchi was probably hoping only to secure a draw with the Black pieces, this may have been the reason why he played this opening.

The game indeed ended in a draw, Nepo secured half a point and remains at the top of the leaderboard.

Let’s take a look at the game:

Game 4: Teimour Radjabov vs. Ding Liren

The Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3

This is the second time we see a Catalan setup in this tournament. It may be possible that Ding Liren was trying to play a Nimzo-Indian Defense, but Radjabov steered this into Catalan territory. For the sixth match in a row, we get a draw, though Liren had a sizeable advantage and blew it under time pressure:

Round 6- June 23, 2022

Game 1: Teimour Radjabov vs. Richard Rapport

The Sicilian Defense: Taimanov Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6

The second time we see a Taimanov Sicilian in the event. This is an interesting choice by Richard Rapport given that he is known for this tactical wizardry, and the Taimanov is considered a more positional Sicilian.

The game ended in a draw:

Game 2: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Zukertort Opening

1.Nf3

Though often mistakenly referred to as the Reti Opening, 1.Nf3 is actually the Zukertort Opening. The Reti arises after the move order 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4, and while these moves were played later in the game, the game took on a flavor of its own.

The Zukertort Opening is a popular flank opening often transposing into the Reti. It is a hypermodern opening meaning that White controls the center with a piece rather than a pawn.

This game had a very interesting hypermodern approach, blending a Reti with a Catalan-type setup. White chose not to play a central pawn move until move 6. It seems to have worked for Nepo, who at this point is the clear leader with an impressive 4.5/6 points.

Take a look at the game:

Game 3: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Ding Liren

The Italian Game: Giuoco Pianissimo

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5

This is the third time we have seen this quiet-looking opening, though remember, the Giuoco Piano has lots of pent-up attacking potential.

However, all three games it has been played in have resulted in a draw. Ding Liren is still trying to find his stride after a slow start.

Take a look at the game:

Game 4: Alireza Firouzja vs. Fabiano Caruana

The Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5

This is the third time we have seen the Catalan Opening, but this time White went directly for a Catalan setup with 3.g3 without interspersing the Anti-Nimzo move 3.Nf3.

Firouzja, the favorite by many at the start of the tournament, and the only player Carlsen has stated he will face in another World Championship match, is not having a good tournament. 

If Carlsen sticks to this statement, then we may very well see the last two challengers to the crown face off against each other, as Caruana is just a half point behind Nepo in the standings at this point with 4/6 points.

Firouzja lost the following match to Caruana with the White pieces:

Round 7: Saturday, June 25, 2022

Game 1: Richard Rapport vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

The Petrov Defense

Nepo is simply having the tournament of his life. His strategy is probably to try to play for draws as Black and win as White. As such, in Round 7, he has chosen the Petrov Defense, an opening with a drawish reputation.

Though the Petrov has a drawish reputation, Nepo was able to edge out a win against Rapport as Black. Very impressive, after 7 rounds, Nepo continued to lead the tournament undefeated with 4.5/7 points.

Take a look at the game:

Game 2: Fabiano Caruana vs. Teimour Radjabov

The Sicilian Defense: O’Kelly Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6

This is a sideline of the Sicilian Defense, i.e. not a mainline variation. The move a6 can be a very useful move in many Sicilian setups, such as the Najdorf, but playing it here so early is not always so advantageous if White goes for an Alapin setup with 3.c3 or a Maroczy Bind setup with 3.c4 (which Caruana did).

The line is not so challenging for White, and in this game that proved to be true. Besides Nepo, Caruana is the other player having a fantastic tournament, and he was able to edge out another win in Round 7 against Radjabov.

This free Short & Sweet Open Sicilian Course by GM Ivan Saric covers the O’Kelly Variation.

Black’s position was wide open in the following game. Pretty exciting stuff, take a look:

Game 3: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Hikaru Nakamura

The Nimzo-Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

Duda allowed Nakamura to play the Nimzo-Indian, and despite Nakamura’s best efforts, the game ended in a draw. This is only the second time we have seen this solid and flexible opening in the tournament.

Take a look:

Game 4: Ding Liren vs. Alireza Firouzja

English Opening: King’s English Variation

1.c4 e5

This is the second time we are seeing the opening and the first since the first round. Ding was surely hoping to have better luck with it than he did in the first round. Though he faced the strong Nepo. In this game, he was up against the Firouzja, the player struggling most so far.

Ding played 2.g3 to fianchetto his light-squared bishop to control the light squares from afar. This is typical in English setups. 

The game ended in a draw:

Round 8: Sunday, June 26, 2022

Game 1: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Ding Liren 

The Four Knights Game: Scotch Variation

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4

We are seeing a new opening in the tournament with this game, the Four Knights Game, Scotch Variation.

This is a very solid opening, which has value for the most novice players up to Super-GMs. 

This opening develops in a very classical manner, with both sides getting their knights out and controlling the center. Generally, positions tend to be pretty positional and quiet, though there are some sharper lines.

In the Scotch Variation, White makes a direct strike at the center, and from here things can get quite sharp. This variation was played in the fifth match between Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov. 

In this game, neither player could make it decisive, and we saw a draw. Nepo remains at the top of the leaderboard after the half point obtained in this game.

Game 2: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Fabiano Caruana

The Ruy Lopez: Open

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bb4 Nf6 5. 0-0 Nxe4

It is at this position the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez begins when Black takes the pawn on e4. 

The Open Ruy Lopez is a subvariation of the Morphy Defense, a very popular line where Black puts the question to White’s bishop with the move 3…a6.

The Open Ruy Lopez is positionally very sound. Black deprives White of the key central e-pawn. However, this pawn is not free as White can easily win back material. The moves 6.Bxc6 and 6.Re1 may seem natural, but White is let with less tension and Black has easy development.

The mainline is 6.d4, which Nakamura played. Caruana deviated from this tournament’s typical response to the Ruy Lopez, the Berlin Defense. Fabiano had been having an amazing tournament up until this point, coming into round eight with 5/8 points. However, in an amazing feat, Nakamura was able to snatch the win. This was Caruana’s first loss in the tournament.

Game 3: Richard Rapport vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

The Four Knights Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6

This was an interesting opening, which started as a Petrov, then turned into a Four Knights Game, and after which, on move four, Rapport played g3, so this took on a King’s Indian Attack-like setup.

Either way, the first few moves were an attempt and solid and positional play by both players. However, Round 8 turned about to be one of the most exciting rounds in the tournament, with Rapport taking the win as White over Duda in only 29 moves.

Game 4: Alireza Firouzja vs. Teimour Radjabov

The Italian Game: Giuoco Pianissimo

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6

Firouzja is having a disappointing tournament still, and in Round 8 was still looking for his first win. He chose for this game the Giuoco Piannisimo, but Radjabov was not letting him off so easily and managed to keep him to a draw after 93 moves.

Round 9: Monday, June 27, 2022

Game 1: Fabiano Caruana vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

The Petrov Defense

Some have commented that even the first move by Caruana was interesting, as he knows that Nepo is a Petrov specialist. This was a test by Caruana of Nepo’s preparation.

The game was a promising duel of the top two contenders thus far, but after all was said and done, it ended in a draw:

Game 2: Alireza Firouzja vs. Richard Rapport

The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

It has been a few rounds since we have seen the Berlin, and until this point Alireza was still waiting for his first win. He finally was able to break through and get a win in this game as White against Rapport’s Berlin Defense. However, he will need to continue to put up some wins if he hopes to win this tournament.

Game 3: Teimour Radjabov vs. Hikaru Nakamura

The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

The second game in a row we see a Berlin Defense. This is Nakamura’s chosen response to 1.e4. However, it did not work so well for him, as Radjabov was able to secure the win. 

This was an exciting round full of wins. All games except the first ended with a win.

Game 4: Ding Liren vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

The English Defense: Agincourt Defense. Catalan Defense Accepted

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 e6 3.Bg2 d5 4.Nf3 dxc4

Another English Defense in the tournament, but instead of the King’s English we are used to Duda played 1…Nf6.

In response, Liren played 2.g3 creating a Catalan setup. This opening was a bit of a hybrid of a Catalan and English. These are both very sturdy openings.

Black took with 4…dxc4, White gave a check with 5.Qa4+, which immediately wins the pawn back. In setups like this, Black likes to expand on the queenside with a6 and b5 and play this way. Indeed, this is how this game went, though Liren was able to secure a victory against Duda.

[To be updated soon]

 

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