Qatar Masters 2015 – Rounds 6-9

As I predicted in my previous post, when the elite starting playing each other they reverted to their usual elite ways: playing it safe, especially with black.

Both So-Carlsen (a Spanish) and Kramnik-Mamedyarov (a harmless line in the Grunfeld) were calm draws. The only surprising exception was, believe it or not, Giri, who kept on playing the Najdorf against everybody. This included the World Champion, when they met in Round 7.

In the meantime Kramnik continued in his usual ways, not minding the occasional draw with black in the Berlin, like against Yu Yangyi, the guy who beat him last year in the last round to take the tournament. Another game on the top boards saw a Berlin, Ponomariov-So. It was obvious that with the end of the tournament in sight the players were less reluctant to risk, especially when they have reached a respectable score. Quite typical for opens.

When the aggressive Mamedyarov played the more-than-usually aggressive Carlsen in Round 8 it was the battle to decide the winner of the tournament. But Mamedyarov imploded – something not uncommon for him, especially when playing Carlsen. With classical controls he lost his 4th game in a row against the World Champion! Carlsen said it himself, I’ll paraphrase, when he noted that Mamedyarov can play very well, but when things don’t go his way he frequently loses his composure.

This win practically won the tournament for Carlsen. Like I wrote in How to Win Opens the key is to have a strong finish and a win in either round 8 or 9 almost guarantees a win. Carlsen kept his sole lead before the last round and Kramnik’s win in Round 8 against Sjugirov (anything but technical! But he did play a rubbish opening!) set up the mouth-watering (only for the naive) final round pairing.

A few words about Kramnik’s choice of the London System lately. I am sure he brings mixed feelings in the hearts of the club players – he is thoroughly hated for “refuting 1 e4” with the Berlin, but his use of the London System must have made him the favourite elite player among them, the only one who plays their opening!

Speaking of the Berlin (I just love speaking on that topic!) it was strange to see Karjakin go for it against Nguyen (rated 2642) in Round 8 and practically make a draw without playing. If he wanted a shot at the top places he had to try to play for a win, even with black. Perhaps inexperience in playing opens?

The last round saw the derby Carlsen-Kramnik end like many top board games in open tournaments – with a draw without playing. When both players are happy with their scores they don’t risk and just collect the money. Obviously the money doesn’t matter to these guys, but Kramnik wouldn’t change for the world (and play something else than a Berlin) and why would Carlsen risk playing when a draw secures his victory (or at least a tie-break)?

Inconspicuously, last year’s winner emerged from the mass of players as the only other player who scored 7/9. After drawing Kramnik in Round 7, he beat Grandelius in Round 8 and So in Round 9. I have always been impressed by these last round must-win games!

So Yu risked and it paid off. That’s how you play last round games, you’re never allowed to win smoothly against a strong opponent. And after winning last year’s edition Yu was now to play a blitz tie-break with Carlsen. A true hero! Unfortunately, squeezing a win like this takes everything you have and Yu didn’t have strength for the tie-breaker. Carlsen won convincingly, 2-0. The secong blitz game clearly showed that Yu was completely exhausted.

And thus Carlsen won an open tournament. Aggression did pay off for him, but only when coupled with reasonable caution when playing the fellow elite players. Great result for Kramnik as well, who came 3rd.

In my view the open experience of Qatar proved a great success. The mix of elite players with more common GMs is a great way to capture the public eye and the games were always exciting. After the saturation of elite-only events this is a good way to liven things up and I hope we’ll see more of this type of tournaments in the future.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone (a few days late, but still) and a very Happy New Year!

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