'Qatar Hero' Batsiashvili Draws Carlsen In Opening Round

'Qatar Hero' Batsiashvili Draws Carlsen In Opening Round

| 19 | Chess Event Coverage

About 250 rating points and 2,500 days ago, World Champion Magnus Carlsen played in his last open tournament. The risk to top players is often their rating, and in the opening round of the 2015 Qatar Masters Open, the Georgian women's champion proved this.

IM/WGM Nino Batsiashvili, still on the short side of 2500, nicked the highest-rated player in history for a half-point in round one. Wearing red heels below the table, she didn't need to click them together for a dream start.

Her day was a bit strange all around.

GM Irina Krush expected to be rooming with GM Anna Ushenina. Krush awoke the morning of round one and saw it was actually Batsiashvili who had arrived in the middle of the night and was sleeping in the other bed.

Then Batsiashvili got the news in the morning. The pairings posted, and she was Black against Carlsen on the top board. Was she nervous or scared? Not in the least.

"I was happy," she said. "In another tournament, I cannot meet [him] on the board. It's good for me and my chess."

IM/WGM Nino Batsiashvili crossed the Volga safely against the world champion. (All Photos: David Llada).

Carlsen had not faced a female who was not current or eventual world number-one in more than five years (he'd only played GMs Judit Polgar and GM Hou Yifan in classical since the beginning of the decade).

More surprises came once the game commenced. Carlsen played a Reversed Benko (Volga) Gambit, but it was he who spent more time in the opening and in fact was closer to overstepping in the first time control. He could be seen biting his lip while Batsiashvili looked calm.

"[I was just] playing my moves and not worried about who I am playing," she said.

As his clock remained under one minute for the last handful of moves leading up to move 40 (there was an 30-second increment), Batsiashvili invaded the second rank and took over the initiative.

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov:

"I think I have a little bad position in the endgame," Batsiashvili said. Her active defense earned her about four rating points and she is knocking on the door of 2500.

The opening-round setback to veterans of round robins has become an early theme of the short history of the event. In the inaugural edition last year, GM Vladimir Kramnik suffered two draws to start and needed 80+ moves for his first win in round three. He had not played in an open in more than 20 years (the "drought" for Carlsen only dates to the 2007 Arctic Chess Challenge, when he was just barely over 2600).

Kramnik fared much better to start this campaign. In the endgame he overran another Georgian woman, GM Bela Khotenashvili. Fittingly for the setting, he forced resignation with an Arabian mate to follow.

GM Anish Giri, last year's top seed, won on board three, while on board four GM Wesley So played rising young Russian star and current national champion WGM Alexandra Goryachkina, making it three women on the top four boards.

Of all the players in the field, GM Wesley So has had the biggest payday of any open event (2014 Millionaire Chess).

In a battle of whose backward pawn was worse, So's d-pawn advanced twice to become a passed pawn, and once he broke through on the teenager's doubled b-pawns, the win was inevitable.

As could be expected in a large open, young prodigies and relative unknowns chalked up some early upsets (last year's 694 games produced only 255 draws, meaning nearly two out of every three games produced a winner). The nearly-omniscient commentator GM Peter Svidler was forced to Google several Chinese players whose names are now permanently known to their veteran opponents.

Untitled Yuxiang Fang (scheduled to become an IM at the next FIDE board meeting) proved the power of central outposts against GM Denis Khismatullin, author of some of the most creative chess in 2015. Today was back to basics though as the young Chinese player planted a knight on d5, then later e5, to force all of Black's pieces into a straightjacket.

Similarly untitled Yinglun Xu, and also like Yuxiang Fang born in 1996, pulled off an even more improbable upset (by a matter of 75 rating points). GM Nikita Vitiugov's exchange sacrifice came a few moves too late and he was unable to hold the ending.

Top Chinese players GM Li Chao and defending champion GM Yu Yangyi got by unscathed, but not so for the youngest grandmaster in the nation's history, Wei Yi. Indian IM Shardul Gagare was not fazed by the Blumenfeld Gambit, and won despite commentators not being impressed by his wayward knight on a4.

American GM Daniel Naroditsky, author of a monthly endgame column in "Chess Life" magazine, produced some material for his next issue. Carlsen said earlier this month that he's "not a great believer in fortresses" and neither was Naroditsky in this game.

Other young players earning draws from their more experienced opponents included Iranian IM M. Amin Tabatabaei, whose attack fizzled but had the "better end" of a drawn ending against GM Dmitry Jakovenko. Also top world U-12 player FM Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan drew GM Sam Shankland.

Two final side notes from the first day: GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov arrived just in time to play and win his game (arbiters allowed the game to start one hour late to allow for his travel snafu). Also the first win of the tournament came from GM Sergey Karjakin, creating a "novelty." He was brought onto the live show, with Svidler playing the new role of interviewer.

GM Peter Svidler (left) dished out the questions for a change in the live show with GM Sergey Karjakin. They will both play in the 2016 Candidates' Tournament.

"I didn't see you for a few hours already," Karjakin joked. They were on the same flight to Doha, but the joke also refers to their exhaustive World Cup Final, where the two played 10 games vs each other, and were several times behind the interviewing table at day's end. Svidler said it was weird to be asking questions to his countryman.

Karjakin admitted he got slightly distracted during his game. The promotional banners hanging around the playing hall feature the logo of an expensive car company.

"I was thinking, 'How many tournaments like this do I have to win for a Bentley?'" he said. 

He wasn't being serious, but we have an answer for him anyway. With first prize at $27,000 USD and with the least-expensive model beginning at about $200,000, he can take ownership after winning every event from now until 2022!

Round two begins at 3 p.m. local time (GMT+3) Monday and you can follow live commentary at either or at the official site. Pairings can be found here.

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

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