Qatar Masters 2015 – Rounds 1-5

Open tournaments are tricky. I wrote a post last year on how to win them, but Qatar Masters is no regular open. It fields a lot of elite players (something unimaginable until a couple of years ago) and the total number of players is relatively small (I have noticed that I play better in smaller opens, with the number of participants lower than 100). The playing conditions are nothing like the regular opens, in fact they are more similar to the tournaments the elite are used to playing (I believe this is the main reason they decided to play – apart from the financial aspect).

Looking at the games in Qatar I noticed that some elite players changed their approach while others remained true to their usual styles. Take Carlsen for example. Apart from the first round sensation, when he couldn’t beat WGM Nino Batsiashvili, rated 2498, and the second round lousy play against GM Aravindh (2486), both of which I think were result of his getting accustomed to the tournament, he has been more aggressive than usual – instead of 1…e5 and the Spanish he’s been playing the Sicilian on a regular basis. Also, when facing a fellow elite player in Round 5, GM Li Chao (2750), he went for an ultra-sharp line against the Grunfeld. That game was rather spectacular.


Mamedyarov is usually an active player, but he upped his aggression for the open. Here’s an example from Round 5.

On the other side of the spectrum is Kramnik, a player who didn’t change one bit. His black repertoire is perfectly suited for equalising against the elite, but how do you play in an open with such repertoire? His rationale is that it’s easier to play for a win from an equal position than from a worse one. True, but even if the equal position is completely dry? Why not try a dynamic equal position? Kramnik couldn’t beat GM Vocaturo, rated 2597, (and was fortunate not to lose!) in the Guioco Piano but look what happened when he played a solid GM like Matlakov (rated 2684).

Half way through the tournament it seems both ways are applicable – the aggression and the dry technicality. But my experience from opens tells me that usually aggression wins.

In an open surprises are very common and this one is no exception. Apart from the already mentioned Carlsen draw in Round 1, there were quite a few, for example Wei Yi losing to IM Gagare (2470) and IM Vignesh (2422), the latter one with a horrendous blunder:

Another sensation was GM Tregubov losing to 12-year old Firouzja. The young are coming!

My very good friend GM Neelotpal is also playing in Doha. He’s been struggling in the first half of the tournament and is currently with two losses and three draws. I wish him all the best in the second half and hopefully to come to 50%.

Round 6 already sees familiar pairings like So-Carlsen and Kramnik-Mamedyarov. Will Carlsen and Mamedyarov continue in their open-style or will they revert to the more conservative play now that they are playing people they know well? I would go with the latter, but even if it happens so there will be plenty of action to follow. There should be more opens of this kind!

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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