Carlsen Wins Qatar Masters

Carlsen Wins Qatar Masters

| 45 | Chess Event Coverage

Yesterday, spectators logging in to watch the games from the Qatar Masters were shocked to find World Champion Magnus Carlsen already in possession of a full point — today belated spectators were surprised by how quickly Carlsen achieved a half point. Although there were many more hours of chess to be played before Carlsen would officially be the champion, he was well on his way.

The expedient draw moved Magnus Carlsen to 7.0/9 and guaranteed him at least a tiebreak match in the Qatar Masters . Those hoping for fireworks on the top board were rapidly disappointed as Vladimir Kramnik essayed the Berlin Defense and Carlsen played the incredibly safe line 5.Re1; the drawing percentage here well exceeds 50%. The only question was how many minutes it would take the players to make the required thirty moves so that they could agree a draw. The answer proved to be 34 minutes.

(Photo right: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open.)

Carlsen and Kramnik at 12:34 Doha time. (Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open.)

Despite the result, this was a historic showdown as entering the last round Kramnik stood at second place in the live ratings with an Elo rating of 2800.6. A Swiss open showdown between the number one and number two rated players in the world would, to this reporter's recall, seem to be historically unique except that it also happened two days ago when, in the Carlsen versus Giri showdown, it was Giri that had the number two live rating!

Noting the rarity with which Carlsen plays in opens, commentator Alejandro Ramirez asked Carlsen what he thought of his first open in a while. As always, Carlsen was pragmatic "As long as you score seven points... [I'm] usually pretty happy."

Carlsen might naturally have feared putting precious Elo points up for grabs in an open given his suspect form this past year, but this was probably Carlsen's best performance in some time, and he gained six points to push his live rating back to 2844. 

After the game, Mike Klein interviewed Carlsen in Doha. Carlsen noted he had suffered from insomnia most of the tournament, but he had a solution in mind.

The board one draw migrated much of the attention to the board two matchup between Yu Yangyi and Wesley So where Yu — on 6.0 and tied for second with Kramnik — was the only player who could catch Carlsen and take the battle for first to tiebreaks.

For the second year in a row, Yu delivered a heroic final round performance. (Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open.)

Carlsen commenting in the live coverage after the game felt that "Black is in serious strategic danger." Still, for some time, the game looked drawish, but Yu gradually outplayed So and achieved some plus.

Prior to the time control, the situation sharpened as Yu grabbed pawns and So sought counterplay against Yu's lonely king with 25...e3 and 26...h5. So missed the critical 31...Rd1 and hastily played Qd4+.

Around this point, commentator Peter Svidler so anticipated a draw that he congratulated Magnus Carlsen on his victory. Co-commentator Alejandro Ramirez asked if he was so sure. "I am that sure," said Svidler in a moment of confidence that he lamented for the remainder of the round.

Internet kibitzers began to plead for Yu to play on with Kg2! and after some repetitions, he did so and spectators began to clamor for victory and tiebreaks.

Yu soon entered an endgame where he had four pawns in return for a knight. After many ups and downs, Yu eventually converted the endgame in the fifth hour of play after 77 moves.

Yu was also the surprise winner in the 2014 edition of the tournament. To share first in the main tournament and make it to 7.0/9 again is a tremendous competitive achievement!

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov

The tiebreaks consisted of a two-game blitz match with a time control of five minutes with a three-second increment. The first place prize money was decided entirely by this tiebreak so the $11,000 difference between first ($27,000) and second ($16,000) was wholly dependent on 30 minutes of blitz.

Carlsen would clearly be the favorite under most circumstances, but with Yu having just finished an epic game, he could not seem to adjust to the blitz time control. He quickly had less than a minute before any major decisions had arisen. Carlsen provoked crises with the advance of his g-pawn and soon struck with a winning rook sacrifice.

Carlsen put the pressure on Yu in the tiebreak. Photo: Maria Emelianova for Qatar Masters Open.

In a must-win situation in game two, Yu was doing a bit better on the clock, but he had no real advantage from the opening when disaster struck. In a classic case of LPDO (Loose Pieces Drop Off), he found himself losing a piece as Carlsen was attacking both the Na4 and the Bf4. The game was simply over, and Carlsen deservedly claimed the title and the money.


You can watch the playoff games here:

In a post-tiebreak interview, Carlsen expressed confidence in the format, "I feel comfortable playing these tiebreaks. Usually, when I get to them I've had to go through some obstacles to get there. Today I think [Yu] was tired"

While Carlsen is finishing the year on a high, this is the second year in a row that he has lost rating points. In 2014, he slid from 2872 to 2862; this year he slid further to finish at 2844. The elusive 2900 barrier still looks quite far, though not as far as it did one month ago.

Carlsen receiving the Qatar Masters trophy. Photo: Maria Emelianova for Qatar Masters Open.

Besides Yu, many players in the pack hoping to improve their prize standings produced interesting chess. Ultimately, after Kramnik's draw with Carlsen, four other players moved into the tie for second. These were Sergey Karjakin, Sanan Sjugirov, Ni Hua, and Vassily Ivanchuk.

One of the first players to declare decisive attentions was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov who played g5 as Black on move 6! against Sanan Sjugirov. In commentary after his post-game interview, Carlsen was intrigued saying, "This is by far not the worst g5 I've seen... This one I kind of like." Viewers interested in Carlsen's commentary can find it here:

As intriguing as the idea was for Mamedyarov, after 11. d4 and dxe5 the energy promised by g5 was missing. Soon Sjugirov's knight pair was looking pretty promising. One knight leapt to f5, and when the other leapt into d6 a few moves later, it was all over.

Meanwhile Karjakin's opponent, Zhang Zhong played a theoretical piece sacrifice, and eventually he was down a rook. Things looked good for Karjakin, but he could never seem to uncoil and eventually he got his rook into trouble on g6.

He relinquished his entire material advantage to extricate the rook, but fortunately for Karjakin, Zhang almost immediately erred and Karjakin was able to activate his now mobile rook and win.

Karjakin preparing for a long, but ultimately successful, struggle. Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open.

Vassily Ivanchuk may have been a surprise entrant into the tie for third as he hadn't played on the top boards at any point in the tournament. However, a steady performance overall paired well with a final round victory and he leapfrogged many who had led him for much of the tournament.

His final round victory over Darius Swiercz was a classic example of the bishop's superiority to the knight in many endgames.

No one will begrudge the amiable Ivanchuk his fine finish. Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open.

Evgeny Tomashevsky also seemed to have aggressive aspirations as he took up the White side of the hyper-theoretical Botvinnik variation against S. P. Sethuraman. Unfortunately, he did not see familiar with theory, and after prolonged thinks he had only eight minutes in a position that commenters assured as was still theoretical.

That naturally did not bode well. After Sethuraman picked up the f-pawn on move 30, things were bad for Tomashevsky, and they only worsened.

Standard postures for the game; Tomashevsky deep in thought and Sethuraman staring into space. Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open.

In the battle for the top Arab prize, all attention was on the game between A. R. Saleh Salem and Mohammed Al-Sayed. Sadly, this game was drawn even more quickly than the showdown on board one as the players found a repetition in a book line of the Italian Game and settled things peacefully on move 14.

The draw meant that Salem claimed the first place prize of $2,500 on tiebreaks.

The competitors for the top female prize seemed to be cursed as four of the five women entering the last round tied at 4.5 — GMs Alexandra Kosteniuk, Hou Yifan, WGMs Aleksandra Goryachkina, Dinara Saduakassova, and Eesha Karavade — lost.

Hou Yifan was both the only leading female to escape defeat and the only one to win. She claimed the top women prize -- $8,000.

Hou Yifan collecting the top female trophy at the prize ceremony.

Dinara Saduakassova was one of the first leading females to falter as Alexander Ipatov executed a classical breakthrough in a bishop endgame that was rapidly reached.

Eesha Karavade needed a draw to secure a GM norm and a victory to catch Hou Yifan. Sadly, neither was to be as she fell to Daniil Dubov in gorgeous style.

An open tournament offers a unique opportunity for unknown players to shine against the world's elite, and possibly the most impressive such showing was by the untitled Xu Yinglun who entered the last round in the giant tie for fourth place with a 2811 performance rating. He maintained his impressive streak with a draw as black against Ruslan Ponomariov.

Needless to say, Yinglun more than earned a GM norm for his efforts. Additional GM norms were secured by Daniil Yuffa, Lin ChenN. R. Vignesh, and Shardul Gagare. There was also a bevy of IM and other norms achieved. For a full, but tentative, list go here.

In addition to his GM norm, Shardul Gagare authoritatively claimed the top junior prize of $1,500. To do so, he won a convincing final round game against Ildar Khairullin with a dominant knight pair.

For a full list of prizes, click here.

This delicious celebratory cake was served at the prize ceremonies. Photo: Maria Emelianova for Qatar Masters Open.

With a second successful Qatar Masters tournament in the books, one can look forward to another exciting event next year. Last year's event was so successful that it all of last year's top finishers returned including Yu Yangyi, Vladimir Kramnik, and Anish Giri.

One hopes the trend continues and Magnus Carlsen returns next year to take on more challengers from around the globe.

Sam Copeland's final report for the official tournament and for with contributions from Mike Klein in Doha. This report was cross-posted in its entirety from

2015 Qatar Masters Open | Final Standings (Top 20)

The full standings can be found here.

Rk. SNo   Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3 rtg+/-
1 1 GM Carlsen, Magnus NOR 2834 7 2887 44.5 48 6.8
2 11 GM Yu Yangyi CHN 2736 7 2863 45 48.5 14.4
3 2 GM Kramnik, Vladimir RUS 2796 6.5 2833 47.5 51.5 5.1
4 5 GM Karjakin, Sergey RUS 2766 6.5 2793 44.5 46.5 3.6
5 33 GM Sjugirov, Sanan RUS 2646 6.5 2791 45.5 49.5 18.3
6 18 GM Ni Hua CHN 2693 6.5 2762 42.5 45 8.7
7 16 GM Ivanchuk, Vassily UKR 2710 6.5 2700 39 42.5 -0.2
8 3 GM Giri, Anish NED 2784 6 2815 47 51.5 4.3
9 79   Xu Yinglun CHN 2470 6 2800 48 52 38.4
10 30 GM Ganguly, Surya Shekhar IND 2648 6 2743 42.5 45.5 12
11 9 GM Harikrishna, Pentala IND 2743 6 2736 44.5 48 -0.5
12 17 GM Ponomariov, Ruslan UKR 2710 6 2720 42.5 46.5 1.8
13 29 GM Akopian, Vladimir ARM 2648 6 2713 38.5 42 8.2
14 25 GM Duda, Jan-Krzysztof POL 2663 6 2697 38 42 4.4
15 36 GM Nguyen, Ngoc Truong Son VIE 2642 6 2691 40.5 43.5 6.7
16 13 GM Vitiugov, Nikita RUS 2724 6 2687 43 47 -3.4
17 37 GM Sethuraman, S.P. IND 2639 6 2634 38 40 0.3
18 4 GM So, Wesley USA 2775 5.5 2753 48.5 53 -1.8
19 6 GM Li Chao CHN 2750 5.5 2750 48 53 0.6
20 7 GM Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar AZE 2748 5.5 2743 47 51 -0.1

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