Carlsen Goes Kaboom In Qatar

Carlsen Goes Kaboom In Qatar

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

If the opening rounds of the 2015 Qatar Masters Open resembled cat-and-mouse with lower-rated opposition, so too did the beginning of World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen's fifth-round game. He waited and waited for ...Be6, then pounced with Nf4 and went full-on tiger against Black's king.

(Photo right: Alla Oborina for Qatar Masters Open.)

Playing GM Li Chao for the first time, the Norwegian knew he would face a Grunfeld but didn't know the game would explode like it did. Both sides threatened various mates on opposite rook files, with Carlsen offering a pawn to expedite his attack, while Li Chao offered his whole queen!

Carlsen had it mostly worked out, even avoiding an aesthetic but faulty pitfall -- a mouthwatering underpromotion that actually would have mated himself! Instead he went for a more practical win, and with it he earned sole possession of first place as the tournament takes its only rest day tomorrow.

GM Magnus Carlsen's style is often described as "universal" and today we saw the more thermal part of that universe. (Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open.)

"Today I felt like playing a sharp game," Carlsen said when he saw the "red flags" in Li Chao's position. "Once in a while I feel up to the challenge. It was a very strange struggle at first. We were both making waiting moves. When I had the chance I just went for it. I don't know if it was correct by any means."

Did he agree with GM Vladimir Kramnik's statement that it's easier to play against 2700s since their style is more expected?

"Maybe, but also playing through Li Chao's games before the round today, I realized that I don't understand the way that he plays at all."

Carlsen alluded to the game's pace several times. It began methodically, then exploded. As poker players often say, this game had "long periods of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror."

"The nature of the opening," he began, "there's going to be a large fight...It's fun to play some enterprising chess." (See below to see just how right he was about this variation!)

GM Li Chao's inventive 24...Nc4 impressed and surprised Carlsen, but it wasn't enough in his first meeting with the champ. (Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open.)

Carlsen said his king's pusillanimous run to a1 reminded him of another game he had played. At Wijk aan Zee 2011 he also moved his king from c1-b1-a1 and then blistered GM Hikaru Nakamura on the kingside. Carlsen recalled that GM Alexander Grischuk was impressed that he "wasted two moves and I still killed the guy."

Did Carlsen consider playing 28. f8=N+? Not really, but one of his two reasons might surprise.

"When you see a way to avoid mate, you go for it," was his practical response, but there was also another issue. The DGT boards in use don't automatically come with an extra knight! Since both of his original knights were still in use on the board, he would've needed the arbiter to bring in the cavalry.

Who needs horses when you have falcons? GM Alexander Ipatov as future falconer? Not likely, but there may be a falcon on the live show when play resumes. (Photo: Alla Oborina for Qatar Masters Open.)

Even though Carlsen chose the line that guaranteed his king safe harbor, it wasn't until after the game that he was apprised at the sageness of his decision. Before the cameras rolled in the commentary room, he was informed that 28. f8=N+ is mate in five...for Black! 28...Ke8 is White's undoing since the checks run out. Carlsen smiled and uttered a minor expletive in surprise, but he was never close to playing the move anyway.

"I immediately saw that the way I played won easily so I didn't look for anything else," he said.

His accidental "Swiss Gambit" whereby an early blemish gives easier pairings is now over. He'll be playing top seeds from here on out if he continues to perform well, which is who he'd rather face.

"I was a little bit lucky being drawn up to a guy with two points in the third round," he said. "That was convenient of course. I prefer playing stronger players. Less pressure."

Most days before the rounds he visits the small pool cantilevered off the hotel's mid-section, then goes out for some soccer in the evenings. When asked who was the best footballer he's faced in Qatar, Carlsen was impressed with a certain player's relentlessness.

"The one who amazed me with his energy is the Egyptian player, Samy Shoker. I played with him twice and he was just running back and forth all of the time. I have no idea where he gets the energy."

No matter who Carlsen fingered he would not be naming the best footballer who's visited the Qatars Masters Open. That would be "Xavi" Hernandez who scored 58 goals for F.C. Barcelona and had 133 caps for the Spanish national team. In round three Xavi chatted with GM Mohammed Al-Modiahki, then played Ke1-e3 as the ceremonial first move! (Photo: Maria Emelianova.)

The only other players that could have caught Carlsen (on the chessboard!) failed to do so. GMs Anish Giri and Wesley So played a game so balanced on board two that neither pushed the computer evaluation above +/-0.2. GM Maxim Matlakov lost to GM Vladimir Kramnik on board three, but Kramnik began the day a half-point off the pace, where he remains.

Here's the "status quo" split point between Giri and So.

"I was under slight pressure," So said. "I had a feeling I was not worse." In fact, he played one of the most equal games of the year according to computer evaluations.

After losing his first three decisive games to Giri in his career, So notched his first win against him at this year's Gashimov Memorial, then beat the Dutchman in a tiebreak to win the Bilbao Masters last month.

"That win in Gashimov Memorial was a big thing," So said. "I think playing against the top 10 players has helped me improve."

GM Wesley So (left) has figured out the puzzle of GM Anish Giri lately. (Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open.)

So has won the largest purse in an open of any player in the field ($100,000 at the 2014 Millionaire Chess Open). He's also played in many more opens recently than other world top-10 players present. He thought that gives only a very slight edge on the field, but didn't want to overstate its importance.

"I'm more familiar [playing lower-rated opponents]. You have to take more risks in an open."

Apparently no one wanted a draw today -- neither can stand to look at his own ending.

Kramnik wasn't taking risks by playing out this endgame, but it would be interesting to know if he would have shaken hands at some point against one of his more usual foes. It matters not -- his persistence earned him a share of the eight-person tie for second.

Boards 4-6 went as the ratings and experience levels would suggest. White won all three in GM Sergey Karjakin - GM Daniil Dubov; GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - GM Denis Khismatullin; and GM Yu Yangyi - Xu Yinglun.

GM Yu Yangyi. Last year's winner has been quietly lurking. (Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open.)

Those three winners join Kramnik on 4.0/5, as do two upset winners of the day. GM Surya Ganguly won as Black over GM David Howell, as did GM Dariusz Swiercz over GM Anton Korobov.

That game copied board one for the first nine moves, and just as Carlsen remarked, this line in the Grunfeld provided the kindling needed until a smolder turned to a bonfire.

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov:

Something was in the air today, and not just in the Grunfeld games. A handful of other contests produced winners by the two-hour mark. Two other games we'll highlight are Mamedyarov's "breaking all of the rules" win and GM Nikita Vitiugov's pleasing finish.

Didn't someone tell "Shak" in his formative years to guard his f2-pawn? Not only did he not defend it, he unleashed the novelty 10. b4 which induced the capture!

Vitiugov didn't feel like castling either today. Why slow down the attack with such formalities?

Today GM Hou Yifan drew to maintain her lead for the top women's prize.

Friday is the lone rest day and so round six resumes Saturday at 3 p.m. local time (GMT+6). You can follow the games live at either or at the official site. The pairings for round six are here -- the top board will be So-Carlsen.

The full broadcast of round five is below:

Mike Klein is on-site reporting for the official tournament and for This report was cross-posted in its entirety from

2015 Qatar Masters Open | Standings After Round Five (Top 20)

The full standings can be found here.

Rk. SNo Title Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 1 GM Carlsen, Magnus NOR 2834 4,5 2946 12 13
2 3 GM Giri, Anish NED 2784 4 2915 14 16
3 4 GM So, Wesley USA 2775 4 2888 13 15
4 5 GM Karjakin, Sergey RUS 2766 4 2848 12,5 14
5 2 GM Kramnik, Vladimir RUS 2796 4 2848 12 14
6 7 GM Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar AZE 2748 4 2848 11,5 13,5
7 34 GM Swiercz, Dariusz POL 2646 4 2827 12 14
8 11 GM Yu, Yangyi CHN 2736 4 2807 13,5 15
9 30 GM Ganguly, Surya Shekhar IND 2648 4 2778 12 14
10 6 GM Li, Chao  CHN 2750 3,5 2822 14 16
11 43 GM Salem, A.R. Saleh UAE 2622 3,5 2817 14 16,5
12 102 IM Vignesh, N R IND 2422 3,5 2809 12,5 15
13 14 GM Wojtaszek, Radoslaw POL 2723 3,5 2756 13 14,5
14 21 GM Matlakov, Maxim RUS 2684 3,5 2722 13 15
15 9 GM Harikrishna, Pentala IND 2743 3,5 2720 11,5 12,5
16 17 GM Ponomariov, Ruslan UKR 2710 3,5 2711 11 13
17 62 GM Al-Sayed, Mohammed QAT 2520 3,5 2691 11 13
18 27 GM Bologan, Viktor MDA 2654 3,5 2690 11 13
19 18 GM Ni, Hua CHN 2693 3,5 2684 12 14
20 10 GM Jakovenko, Dmitry RUS 2737 3,5 2684 10 12
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