Reports Dec 21, 2015 | 12:04 PMby Colin McGourty

Qatar Masters 1: No-one said it was gonna be easy

Round 1 of the 2015 Qatar Masters had everything we could ask for. World Champion Magnus Carlsen failed to beat the world no. 785 Nino Batsiashvili, but at least he didn’t lose, as 2700-players Nikita Vitiugov and Wei Yi did, with the latter resigning in a position where he still had a real chance of salvation. Other youngsters fared better, with 11-year-old Nodirbek Abdussatorov drawing with Sam Shankland while 12-year-old Alireza Firouzja beat experienced Russian GM Pavel Tregubov.

Nino Batsiashvili had the black pieces against the World Champion and lived to tell the tale! She said afterwards it earned her 15 new friend requests on Facebook... | photo: David Llada, Qatar Masters Open

The Qatar Masters is an open tournament, but it isn’t that open! To apply you need a rating of at least 2300, meaning that even in the first round there are no walkovers. The results bore that out (in the selector below you can switch between rounds):

The great appeal of open tournaments is seeing the very top players come up against players they would usually never meet – such as 2498-rated Nino Batsiashvili:

It’s even better if the underdogs do well, as Nina did by matching Magnus Carlsen in a reversed Benko Gambit. When she found herself a pawn down in an ending it seemed the writing was on the wall, but she didn’t crumble and eventually held the draw with a flourish:


52...Bxd5! A nice if only move. 53.Nxd5 Ne4+! and shortly only knights and a pawn each were left on the board, with an easy draw.

The players left the playing hall with mixed emotions | photo: David Llada, Qatar Masters Open

Nino talked briefly about her draw to Fiona Steil-Antoni:

The other superstars fared better, although none of the games were easy. Anish Giri benefited from a single misstep from India’s Narayana Sunilduth Lyna (24…Nd3? Instead of 24…Ng4!), as he admitted afterwards:

Sergey Karjakin beat Egypt’s Mohamed Ezat and commented on Twitter:

Yes! It was the same “Levitov bedouin”!

That referred to an infamously unpolitically correct quote from the Russian Chess Federation’s Ilya Levitov during the 2011 World Team Championship, when Nikita Vitiugov had failed to beat Ezat in 6 hours and 158 moves:

I simply don’t understand what’s going on. Why when there’s a man who… a Bedouin – it’s possible to call him that in a friendly way, not being insulting, but simply in a friendly way. He couldn’t even beat a Bedouin.

Sergey Karjakin beats Mohamed Ezat to get a good start in his first Qatar Masters | photo: David Llada, Qatar Masters Open

Alas for Nikita, a failure to win wasn’t his problem in Round 1 of the Qatar Masters. On the white side of a Sicilian he sacrificed an exchange against the young, untitled but 2470-rated Chinese player Xu Yinglun, but it didn’t work out well. His opponent returned that material and went on to grind out a comfortable win in a better rook ending.

Sitting next to Xu Yinglun was another Chinese player everyone was expecting great things from, but 16-year-old Wei Yi fell to defeat against India’s Shardul Gagare (2470). It was a minor chess tragedy:

The position looked over, since White is threatening b6, with the Rd6+ fork seeming to prevent that pawn being captured:


However, after 53…Bb6!! 54.Rd6+ Ke7! 55.Rxb6? b3! White has to play carefully to force a draw. Of course Gagare could play other moves and try and convert his advantage, but there was certainly no need to resign against a player rated 260 points below you.

Vassily Ivanchuk only drew, but it was perhaps the kind of the game he likes to get the creative juices flowing early on in a tournament | photo: Alla Oborina, Qatar Masters Open

Other players were also willing to take risks to beat weaker opposition, with Vassily Ivanchuk taking a walk on the wild side in an otherwise quiet position:


17…Bh4!? 18.Bd6 Nc5!!? 19.Bxf8 Nxb3 20.Rcd1 Qxf8 21.Qc4! Bf6 22.Qxb3 Qc5 After that tactical sequence Black was a full exchange down, but Ivanchuk had so much attacking potential that White eventually had to return the exchange to avoid more trouble.

Pavel Tregubov travelled to Qatar with his new wife Alexandra Kosteniuk, but Alireza Firouzja proved a fierce opponent in the first round | photo: Kateryna Savina, Qatar Masters Open

Perhaps the hero of the day was 12-year-old Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja, who was higher rated as an 11-year-old that Magnus Carlsen or Wei Yi. It wasn’t just impressive how he won material against his 43-year-old opponent Pavel Tregubov (peak rating 2658):


17.Rc5! Bg4 18.Rxe5! Rxe5 19.Nc4! Qf6 20.Nxe5 Qxe5 21.Bxb7… but that he confidently managed to convert that extra pawn into a win.

Were the upsets in Round 1 evidence for the case that the top players have their sky-high ratings only because they get to play round-robin tournaments, insulated from attacks and rating-damage from lower-rated players? Probably not! After all, in the 2014 Qatar Masters Vladimir Kramnik started with two draws against 2519 and 2484 rated players before going on a 6-game winning streak, while both he and Anish Giri increased their ratings.

Vladimir Kramnik coped with Bela Khotenashvili's gaze in Round 1 - will he be able to solve the problems set by three-time World Chess Solving Champion Kacper Piorun in round 2? | photo: Alla Oborina, Qatar Masters Open

In Round 2 Magnus Carlsen finds himself on board 23 playing Black against India’s 2486-rated GM Chithambaram Aravindh, while at the top we already have the super-GMs playing strong 2600+ grandmasters – Kramnik-Piorun, Grandelius-Giri, So-Naroditsky, Salem-Karjakin. It should be fun!

Tune in for all the action, with Peter Svidler and Alejandro Ramirez commentating LIVE from 13:00 CET!

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