Reports Dec 30, 2015 | 2:00 PMby Colin McGourty

Qatar Masters: Winners and Losers

World Champion Magnus Carlsen has done it again — a quick draw against Vladimir Kramnik and then a 2:0 blitz playoff victory over Yu Yangyi made him the Qatar Masters champion at the first attempt. In this final report we look back at some of the other winners and losers of arguably the strongest open tournament ever held, including mystery man Xu Yinglun and Spanish footballing legend Xavi.

Magnus Carlsen in determined mood before the second blitz game against Yu Yangyi | photo: David Llada, Qatar Masters


1. Magnus Carlsen

For most people finishing off the year with a dramatic late victory in both the London Chess Classic and the Grand Chess Tour would be enough, but Magnus Carlsen holds himself to different standards. The World Champion proved he can do open tournaments as well, surviving a shaky game and a half at the start before going on a four-game winning streak that ended in a brilliant victory over Li Chao:

That took Magnus into familiar supertournament territory, and solid draws with Top-10 players Wesley So, Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik, plus an effortless win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, seemed to have won the tournament outright.

This was about as much action as we got in the Carlsen-Kramnik game in the final round | photo: Katerina Savina, Qatar Masters

Yu Yangyi had other ideas, though, and Magnus admitted to being surprised that he had to play a blitz playoff. The first game saw some curious manoeuvring…

…until Carlsen finally crashed through with a nice attack. The second was all much easier, with 15.Qd1?? Yu Yangyi’s losing mistake:

15…Nxd3! 16.Qxd3 (the Chinese player saw his mistake and delayed this move 36 seconds, but it was too late) 16…Re4! A simple fork that wins a piece. Yu Yangyi spent a long time contemplating the position but decided against trying to play it for the win he needed. If it makes him feel any better, Vladimir Kramnik had once fallen for the same trick against Vishy Anand in a classical game (the 2005 MTel Masters — as pointed out by H.H.):

You can replay all the Qatar Masters games with computer analysis using the selector below, where hovering over a player's name also shows you all their results:

After his triumph Magnus talked to Fiona Steil-Antoni:

2. Yu Yangyi

Watching Yu Yangyi in Doha was an incredible case of déjà vu. As in 2014 he won the first two games, drew the next two then hit the front with a brilliant winning streak at the end. This time it was “only” +5 instead of +6, but beating Wesley So on demand in the final round was an achievement of the same magnitude as beating Vladimir Kramnik in the final round in 2014. The only problem this year was the addition of Magnus Carlsen combined with the Chinese Achilles heel of rapid chess. 

Yu Yangyi might not exactly exude confidence, but he went on to outplay Wesley So after this photograph | photo: Katerina Savina, Qatar Masters

As good as Sergey Karjakin’s recent 5:0 defeat of the Chinese team was, it’s worth noting he only managed to beat one player — Ni Hua — in classical chess.

3. Vladimir Kramnik

Kramnik was another player to score half a point less in 2015, but his +4 was again enough to finish in third place. The only real disappointment was the failure to put up any kind of fight against Carlsen in the final game, though it has to be said that beating the World Champion on demand with the black pieces isn’t among the easiest challenges in chess. And also — the draw earned another 0.5 rating points and left 40-year-old Kramnik in no. 2 position on the live rating list going into 2016. He’s currently the only player other than Magnus above 2800.

The Top 10 going into 2016, courtesy of

4. Sanan Sjugirov

It almost defies belief, but Sjugirov is another player to repeat his 2014 success. Back then he finished on 6.5/9 for 4th place. This year it was 6.5/9 for 5th place (Kramnik and Karjakin finished above him on tiebreaks). The results behind the score are what impressed, though, with Sjugirov taking the scalps of Radek Wojtaszek (2723), Dmitry Jakovenko (2737) and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2748) in the space of a devastating four games. The way he ended the game against Mamedyarov in the final round was typical:

All that held Sjugirov back from even greater success was losing to some fine play by Kramnik in the penultimate round. Not bad, considering Sjugirov almost missed coming to Doha at all due to visa issues!

5. Alireza Firouzja

We made 12-year-old Iranian prodigy Alireza our hero of Round 1 for his win against Pavel Tregubov. He went on to face some tough games in Doha, including losing to former World Junior Champion Dariusz Swiercz the very next day, but he once again demonstrated wonderful technique to convert a win against Indian Grandmaster Neeloptal Das in the final round. Firouzja’s final score of 4.5/9 saw him gain 38 points and an IM norm. He may need to get used to facing the media!

11-year-old Nodirbek Abdussatorov just missed out on a place among the winners, though only because he’s risen so fast already (check out his grandmaster-beating performance as a 9-year-old!). He faced some very tough competition and his 3.5/9 gained him a single rating point after a performance better than his already stellar 2429 rating. It’s not too hard to predict big things for him in the future:

6. Xu Yinglun

It’s not all about prodigies, though. The top 32 players in Qatar were all grandmasters, except for one: Xu Yinglun, born in 1996, who despite a 2470 rating doesn’t hold a FIDE title. That’s likely to change soon, since he finished in 9th place with a 2800 rating performance, smashing the grandmaster norm requirements and gaining 39 rating points. 

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 nwwew-weKrtg+/-
11GMCarlsen MagnusNOR28347,0288744,548,0976,320,68106,8
211GMYu YangyiCHN27367,0286345,048,5975,561,441014,4
32GMKramnik VladimirRUS27966,5283347,551,596,55,990,51105,1
45GMKarjakin SergeyRUS27666,5279344,546,596,56,140,36103,6
533GMSjugirov SananRUS26466,5279145,549,596,54,671,831018,3
618GMNi HuaCHN26936,5276242,545,096,55,630,87108,7
716GMIvanchuk VassilyUKR27106,5270039,042,596,56,52-0,0210-0,2
83GMGiri AnishNED27846,0281547,051,5965,570,43104,3
979Xu YinglunCHN24706,0280048,052,0962,163,841038,4

He announced himself early with a win over Nikita Vitiugov in the first round and later scored three more wins over strong grandmasters. Only his compatriot Yu Yangyi managed to tame him.

Xu Yinglun ended with a draw against Ruslan Ponomariov | photo: Katerina Savina, Qatar Masters

Will Xu Yinglun emerge as another top Chinese player, or remain a mystery man? Only time will tell.

7. Sam Shankland

A score of 2/5 isn’t the kind of thing that usually sees you end up among the winners, but Sam Shankland deserves plaudits for apologising for an unfortunate incident. Although he withdrew from the tournament after Round 4 he was still paired in Round 5, giving Harika Dronavalli a forfeit win that had the potential to wreak havoc with the women’s prizes. He explained what happened on Facebook:

I'd like to clear something up here- I have never forfeited a game in my life until now, and I feel I owe the chess...

Posted by GM Sam Shankland on Thursday, 24 December 2015


1. Wei Yi

Sometimes it’s hard to be a prodigy. The Qatar Masters were billed as a first chance to see Magnus Carlsen come up against a potential future challenger — 16-year-old Wei Yi. Instead the Chinese player lost twice in the first four rounds to 2400-rated Indian IMs and didn’t even face a 2500-rated player until Round 6. That was his best game of the tournament, but then two draws and a final round loss to his compatriot Lu Shanglei followed.

China took a team approach to the Qatar Masters, but Wei Yi (in blue on the left) didn't live up to his reputation | photo: Maria Emelianova, Qatar Masters 

The 24 rating points dropped make Richard Rapport the world’s top junior again, for now, but the chess world will be hoping Wei Yi can recharge his batteries before Wijk aan Zee in January, when we will definitely see Wei Yi play Carlsen.

2. Hou Yifan

Failure is relative, of course  Hou Yifan lost 10 rating points, finished 38th while seeded 22nd and in general didn’t manage to make an impact on the tournament. What she did do, though, was win the $8,000 women’s first prize!

Her nearest rivals were Alina Kashlinskaya and Bela Khotenashvili, who scored half a point less on 5/9. Alina was glad she managed to avoid playing her husband Radek Wojtaszek:

3. Wang Hao

The Chinese trio is completed by Wang Hao, who just scored 7.5/8, gaining 22 rating points and winning a $13,000 prize with a round to spare! Ok, he’s not a loser by anyone’s reckoning, but his performance in the Al Ain Classic in the United Arab Emirates was somewhat overshadowed by the events taking place in Qatar. 

In the first eight rounds Wang Hao scored seven wins and conceded a single draw to Shirov | photo: Diana Mihajlova

The final round is today, with Wang Hao’s opponent and top seed Yuriy Kryvoruchko still fighting for second place against the likes of Alexei Shirov:

4. Xavi

Getting legendary footballer Xavi to play the first move of Round 3 of the Qatar Masters was a great coup for the tournament organisers. The star, who played over 500 games for Barcelona and won the World Cup with Spain, has often been lauded for his footballing intelligence. Ryan Giggs even commented:

For me he is like a chess player who is always two or three moves ahead. He is one of the greatest footballers in one of the best teams of all time.

When it comes to actual chess, though, it seems Xavi might require a little coaching. He tried hard to make the first move 1.Ke3!! but after some hasty advice instead went for "not quite best by test" 1.e3.

It was worth a try! | photo: Alla Oborina, Qatar Masters

It was perhaps a little like asking Magnus to make the first move when cutting a cake... | photo: Maria Emelianova, Qatar Masters

5. Anish Giri

After the Xavi incident above Giri beat Radek Wojtaszek on top board for the best start of any player. He’d also managed to play 12 games in a row in the Qatar Masters without a single draw. We pointed that out, which may have been a mistake, since Anish of course went on to draw his remaining six games! Drawing Magnus to maintain an unbeaten +1 score against the World Champion is of course something you can come to terms with, but the game against Ganguly was the one that got away:  

So Giri finished in 8th place on 6/9 for a 2815 performance that gained him 4 rating points and saw him drop to world no. 3. How will he ever recover from such a setback? 

6. Mohamed Al-Medaihki

And finally — continuing the theme of “losers” who were in no way losers! — we have tournament director Mohamed Al-Medaihki. 

Magnus Carlsen and Tournament Director Mohamed Al-Medaihki, who as a 2550-rated GM could of course play in his own event | photo: David Llada, Qatar Masters 

His problem is that of where he can go from here. He told Fiona Steil-Antoni in the first video in this article:

I’m very satisfied. I think we organised a very nice tournament, with a very high standard. I don’t know what to expect for the next year — already we have everybody: Magnus, Kramnik, Giri, Ponomariov, Ivanchuk… I don’t know what to expect for next year. But ok, I think we’ll try to come up with something nice.

It’ll definitely be tough to improve on this year’s event, but it’s great that they’re going to try!

There were plenty of Carlsens on hand to celebrate victory in Qatar! | photo: Maria Emelianova, Qatar Masters

See also:

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