Yakubboev Wins Qatar Masters After Heartbreaking Blunder By Arjun

Yakubboev Wins Qatar Masters After Heartbreaking Blunder By Arjun

| 124 | Chess Event Coverage

19th-seed GM Nodirbek Yakubboev is the shock winner of the Qatar Masters 2023 after the 21-year-old defeated his Uzbekistani namesake GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov 2-0 in a blitz playoff. Abdusattorov had earlier benefited from a horror blunder by GM Arjun Erigaisi, who survived terrifying home preparation and played a brilliant game only to drop a rook just when he was about to make a draw and earn a playoff.

GM Hikaru Nakamura finished fifth, while world number-one Magnus Carlsen nearly lost again, this time to GM Abhimanyu Puranik, before making a draw and finishing 16th, for a loss of 17.2 rating points.

How to review?
You can review the 2023 Qatar Masters on the Qatar Chess Association YouTube: and on Hikaru Nakamura's Kick channel: Games from the event can be viewed on our events page.

The live broadcast was hosted by IM Irine Sukandar, IM Jovanka Houska, and GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko.

The 2023 Qatar Masters has been anything but predictable, and the final day produced some gut-wrenching drama and a surprise winner.

The Fight For First: Indian Heartbreak, Uzbek Joy... Again!

Just seven players went into the final day of the Qatar Masters with a chance to win the title, with Arjun leading the pack by half a point. That meant his battle with the black pieces against Abdusattorov would have been the game to watch even if it hadn't been just the second all-2700 clash of the whole event.

If Arjun could win, he would be guaranteed the title whatever happened elsewhere, but as the game began, that prospect disappeared out of sight. Instead it turned out Abdusattorov knew all the intricate details of a fiendishly complex opening.

As Arjun fell an hour behind on the clock, it seemed like his position would collapse at any moment, but he held on brilliantly, found almost all the best moves, and fought his way into an endgame where a draw soon looked all but inevitable. The Indian star would win the title outright, or, if he was caught, he would get the chance to play in a playoff for first place. 

Just as his thoughts may have started to wander, disaster struck. After thinking for a minute and a half, Arjun played the move 48...Rh4??, and only when Abdusattorov executed the simple blow 49.Bf6+, winning a full rook, did Arjun realize what he'd done. He needed some time to speed through the stages of grief before resigning.

Chess is brutal.

Breaking Indian hearts is becoming a habit for Abdusattorov, who also pounced on a blunder by GM Gukesh Dommaraju that largely determined the fate of the FIDE World Chess Olympiad 2022.

Abdusattorov-Arjun was the clear Game of the Day, and it's been annotated below by GM Rafael Leitao.

Abdusattorov, therefore, leapfrogged Arjun to 7/9, and the question was whether any of the other players who started the day on six points would catch him with a win. One, 17-year-old GM Javokhir Sindarov, had the tough task of playing Black against GM Anish Giri and never got any chances in a 33-move draw, though to finish unbeaten in fourth place with a 2766 rating performance is nothing to complain about.

Sindarov finished unbeaten in fourth place. Photo: Qatar Masters.

The best rating performance of the tournament was 2792 by Indian GM Narayanan Sunilduth Lyna, who had Nakamura on the ropes for most of their game. The U.S. star tried to play solidly and was willing to offer a quick draw by repetition early on. He explained his motivation:

The biggest goal is to try and qualify for the Candidates. If I draw this game, it’s not the end of the world, I lose a couple of rating points, but I’ll still be very much in the hunt and I keep all my chances alive in the Isle of Man. But if I lose this game, I kill my rating. I also kill my chances of qualifying, and I’ll have to play like a total madman in the Isle of Man. 

The biggest goal is to try and qualify for the Candidates.

—Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura was referring to the FIDE Grand Swiss 2023 that starts in less than a week on Wednesday, October 25, and will determine two of the eight spots in next year's Candidates Tournament to decide GM Ding Liren's challenger. Another spot is on offer for the highest-rated player on January 1, 2024, which currently looks like a two-horse race between Nakamura and GM Alireza Firouzja (other players at the top are already qualified).

In his recap, Nakamura explains how close he came to defeat before making a 39-move draw and sums up his performance in Qatar as a "solid tournament—not great, not horrible."

Narayanan took a richly deserved third place.

Another chess player who's been overshadowed by his fellow countrymen, Yakubboev, seized his chance to shine. Indian GM Karthikeyan Murali, who two rounds earlier had beaten Carlsen, chose a King's Indian Defense setup, no doubt in the hope of playing for a win and first place, but instead he was worse all game, got his queen trapped, and was ultimately doomed by a spectacularly bad pawn structure.

That meant that Yakubboev, whose previous main claim to fame in the tournament was beating GM Adhiban Baskaran with a brilliant combination, was the only other player to reach seven points and, therefore, force a playoff.

Tiebreak Battle Of The Nodirbeks

Abdusattorov and Yakubboev, used to finding themselves on the same team, faced off for the title. Photo: Qatar Masters.

After a nine-round classical tournament, the format for the playoffs was a two-game blitz match, with five minutes for each player, plus a three-second increment each move. The stakes were high, with the winner taking $25,000 and the loser $15,000. "Really?" asked Yakubboev when told how much he'd won at the end, and perhaps that helped him to stay calm. He commented:

"I didn’t believe that I can do it, but I tried today to win. I kept calm and played the tiebreak. Even if I lost that tiebreak. I would be happy."

The surprise was that despite Abdusattorov being the younger and much higher-rated player, as well as the 2021 World Rapid Champion, Yakubboev dominated the tiebreak. In the first game, with the black pieces, he neutralized White's pressure and then set about exploiting the advantage of the bishop pair in the endgame. The technical win that followed is the kind of thing that Abdusattorov usually does to his opponents.

That meant Abdusattorov then had to win on demand with the black pieces in the second game, and he at least managed to pose serious problems. Yakubboev's pieces were loose, and the only way to keep an advantage, according to the computer, was to sacrifice his rook for the knight on e6. Would he manage to convince himself to do it despite the pressure of the situation? Yes!

Things went remarkably smoothly from there on, with Yakubboev going on to win a game he only needed to draw.

It was a career-best performance for Yakubboev, who said of his tournament: "I wanted to get some Elo points here, but I won!" He did get some rating points as well, picking up 17.8. 

The Cream Rises To The Top?

In sharp contrast to previous Swiss tournaments that have managed to attract a large number of top players, on this occasion the stars barely played each other, since they almost all stumbled against 2500-2600 players we'd usually expect them to beat. The poster child for the struggles was none other than five-time World Champion Carlsen, who instead of repeating his smooth victory in the 2015 Qatar Masters found himself facing one traumatic game after another.

A loss of 17.2 rating points is harsh for a 6/9 score, but it could have been worse, since Carlsen lived very dangerously, especially in the final game. A shaky opening ultimately worked, as Abhimanyu missed some chances and allowed his opponent to take over, but instead of the world number-one going on to convert, Carlsen lost much of the advantage and then allowed a transition into a nearly hopeless endgame with 30...Bc4? 

Nakamura, in his recap above, called that "a horrible, horrible move," allowing 31.Qd7+ and an exchange of queens, while after 30...Rd4! he felt Carlsen would have won in the next five moves.

That was just the start of more twists, however, with the last coming just when Nakamura was explaining that their lack of fear is why the Norwegian was losing to young Indian (and other) opponents.   

47.Kc1?, however, allowed 47...Kb3! and suddenly White had nothing better than a draw. 

On the other hand, the top seeds did mount a comeback, with the top 10 all managing to finish no worse than in the tie for 9th to 22nd place on 6/9. That included two wins in a row at the end for Gukesh and GM Jorden van Foreest, three wins in a row for GM Nihal Sarin, and six wins in the last seven games for GM Vladimir Fedoseev, who had got off to the tournament's most spectacularly bad start.

It remains to be seen if the new wave of Indian talent will make such opens too painful for the world's best players, or if this was something of a one-off. The other Indian feel-good story, meanwhile, is that new female talents are also coming through. The stand-out was IM Vaishali Rameshbabu, who had done all the hard work before she showed up at the board for the final round.

Vaishali now just needs to reach a 2500 rating at some point in the rest of her career to become a grandmaster, and though she stumbled and lost a rook endgame against 64-year-old GM Gregory Kaidanov, that didn't stop her also picking up the women's top prize. In second place was another rising Indian star, 17-year-old WGM Divya Deshmukh, who matched the 5/9 score but had a lower performance after facing weaker opposition. Kazakh WIM Alua Nurmanova took third. 

The Women's medalists Deshmukh, Vaishali, and Nurmanova. Photo: Qatar Masters.

The final standings at the top looks as follows.

Qatar Masters | Final Standings (Top 44)

Rk. Seed No Name Age Sex Gr FED Rating Points TB1 Perf
1 19 GM Yakubboev, Nodirbek 2616 7 0 2775
2 5 GM Abdusattorov, Nodirbek U20 2716 7 0 2765
3 13 GM Narayanan S.L. 2651 6.5 0 2792
4 12 GM Sindarov, Javokhir U20 2658 6.5 0 2766
5 2 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2780 6.5 0 2748
6 6 GM Erigaisi, Arjun U20 2712 6.5 0 2743
7 7 GM Maghsoodloo, Parham 2707 6.5 0 2727
8 4 GM Gukesh, D U20 2758 6.5 0 2674
9 23 GM Paravyan, David 2599 6 0 2703
10 20 GM Karthikeyan, Murali 2611 6 0 2689
11 3 GM Giri, Anish 2760 6 0 2680
12 31 GM Shimanov, Aleksandr 2566 6 0 2665
13 16 GM Salem, A.R. Saleh Ar. 2632 6 0 2658
13 25 GM Jumabayev, Rinat 2585 6 0 2658
15 18 GM Puranik, Abhimanyu 2618 6 0 2654
16 1 GM Carlsen, Magnus 2839 6 0 2650
17 24 GM Sethuraman, S.P. 2598 6 0 2642
17 35 GM Kaidanov, Gregory 2554 6 0 2642
19 8 GM Van Foreest, Jorden 2707 6 0 2628
20 11 GM Oparin, Grigoriy 2681 6 0 2606
21 9 GM Nihal, Sarin U20 2694 6 0 2593
22 10 GM Fedoseev, Vladimir 2691 6 0 2567
23 88 IM Zou, Chen 2418 5.5 0 2666
24 43 GM Kevlishvili, Robby 2521 5.5 0 2636
25 79 IM Srihari, L R U20 2438 5.5 0 2627
26 22 GM Vakhidov, Jakhongir 2607 5.5 0 2594
27 28 GM Vokhidov, Shamsiddin 2578 5.5 0 2591
28 132 FM Ashraf, Artin U20 2340 5.5 0 2586
29 30 GM Aditya, Mittal U20 2572 5.5 0 2585
30 157 CM Tan, Jun Ying U20 2250 5.5 0 2583
31 27 GM Pranav, V U20 2579 5.5 0 2570
32 15 GM Aryan, Chopra 2634 5.5 0 2564
33 59 GM Abdisalimov, Abdimalik 2487 5.5 0 2559
34 26 GM Kuybokarov, Temur 2584 5.5 0 2558
35 32 GM Karthik, Venkataraman 2563 5.5 0 2557
36 21 GM Gupta, Abhijeet 2609 5.5 0 2556
37 17 GM Mendonca, Leon Luke U20 2622 5.5 0 2553
38 14 GM Aravindh, Chithambaram Vr. 2649 5.5 0 2547
39 42 GM Vignesh, N R 2527 5.5 0 2531
40 39 GM Visakh, N R 2547 5.5 0 2529
41 54 GM Raja, Rithvik R U20 2495 5.5 0 2528
42 36 GM Adhiban, B. 2551 5.5 0 2503
43 49 GM Iniyan, P 2510 5.5 0 2475
44 75 IM Vaishali, Rameshbabu W 2448 5 0 2609

Full standings

Qatar Masters | All Games Round 9 And Playoff

The 2023 Qatar Masters was a nine-round open tournament for players rated 2300+. It took place in Lusail, Qatar, during October 11-20 and had a $108,250 prize fund with $25,000 for first place as well as a $5,000 prize for the top female player.

Previous Coverage:

Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

More from Colin_McGourty
Caruana Storms To Victory In Croatian Rapid, Takes 3-Point Lead Into Blitz

Caruana Storms To Victory In Croatian Rapid, Takes 3-Point Lead Into Blitz

Caruana Leads In Zagreb As Gukesh Climbs Into Contention

Caruana Leads In Zagreb As Gukesh Climbs Into Contention