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Indians rock at the Qatar Masters 2015!

by Sagar Shah - 06/01/2016

The Qatar Masters 2015 was won by Magnus Carlsen. But what happened to the 28 Indian participants who went to Doha to play in this super strong event. Suffice it to say that we came back with some huge accomplishments. A top ten finish, two GM norms, four IM norms, two players completing their IM titles and some truly exquisite games of chess. We bring to you exclusive pictures, analysis, videos and a complete overview of the Indian performance in Doha!

Indians rock at the Qatar Masters 2015!

The Qatar Masters Open 2015, held from 19-29th of December, was the strongest ever open tournament to be ever organized. There were 77 grandmasters out of the 141 participants and the tournament had a humungous rating average of 2526. Along with the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen, many other top players like Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Wesley So, and also three former Women World Champions (Hou Yifan, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Antoneta Stefanova) took part. 


There were in all 28 Indian players seen in action during the event. India number two, Pentala Harikrishna, who is also world number 14 with a rating of 2755, led the Indian challenge. Naturally, it is difficult to cover the performances of all these players, but in this article, we will try to go over the most prominent Indian performers at the tournament. But first a few words about the eventual winner:

Magnus Carlsen had to fight it out in the blitz tiebreak against Yu Yangyi, which the World Champion convincingly won 2-0, in order to take the winner's trophy.

A glittering cup and US $27,000 - That is quite a nice a way to celebrate the new year!


The best Indian performer at the event was Surya Shekhar Ganguly, who scored 6.0/9 and finished tenth in the final standings, bagging US $1650 for his efforts

Year 2015 went really well for the player from West Bengal. Apart from being knocked out in the first round of the World Cup 2015, Surya has been consistently gaining rating points and ends the year at a solid 2660 which brings him at number four in Indian rankings ahead of the young guns Adhiban, Sethuraman and Vidit. We have already analyzed Ganguly's superb win over David Howell in the round five report. For now we would like to focus on a much more entertaining game - his penultimate round victory over Salem Saleh. I would say this was a game of discovered checks! The UAE grandmaster gives discovered checks for as many as three times in the game and is still not able to finish our man, who miraculously escaped and scored the full point! 

[Event "Qatar Masters Open 2015"]
[Site "Doha QAT"]
[Date "2015.12.28"]
[Round "8.15"]
[White "Ganguly, Surya Shekhar"]
[Black "Salem, A.R. Saleh"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B90"]
[WhiteElo "2648"]
[BlackElo "2622"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "5k2/4b1r1/pn2QNp1/1p3P2/1P3q2/P4b2/2P5/4RKR1 w - - 0 36"]
[PlyCount "17"]
[EventDate "2015.12.20"]

{Surya had a better position out of the opening and then made a few errors to
land up in a completely lost position. There is a deadly discovered attack
threatened and he is materially also doing quite badly. But here he takes the
knight on b6 looking to interpose the check with Qf2 and hope for the best.} 
36. Qxb6 Bg4+ {First discovered check.} (36... Bh5+ {to keep the g-file open
for a discovered check would have been crushing.} 37. Qf2 Qc4+ $1 38. Kg2 gxf5+
{And because the bishop was on g4 in the game this did not come with a check.}
39. Kh2 Bd6+ 40. Kh3 Qc3+ 41. Re3 Qxf6 $19) 37. Qf2 Qc4+ 38. Kg2 Bxf6 {Black
is completely winning. He has two bishops for a rook and the white king is
exposed.} 39. Re6 gxf5 $4 {It would be a nice thing to know what exactly was
going on in the mind of Salem when he gave up his bishop. Of course he would
be under tremendous time pressure as it is the 39th move but still this was
really not called for.} ({The easiest way to win was} 39... Bd4 $1 40. Qd2 Qd5+
41. Kf1 Qf3+ 42. Ke1 Bf2+ 43. Qxf2 Qd1#) 40. Rxf6+ Ke7 41. Rh6 Bf3+ {Second
discovered check.} 42. Kh3 Rxg1 43. Qxg1 {White king is very safe now.} Bg4+
44. Kh4 {Before Black could give a third discovered check, he resigned as he
has no real good one left. The king is going to g5 and Qg8+ will be blocked by
Rg6.} 1-0

After the tournament ended, we asked Surya what his aim for the year 2016 would be. He said, "I would like to break free from this 2600 Elo barrier. And I hope the next time it happens I am not in 2500!" All this and much more in this short video interview:

One spot below Ganguly was Pentala Harikrishna, who finished eleventh. As on January 2016 Harikrishna has a rating of 2755 and is world number 14!

Harikrishna started the tournament as the ninth seed with a massive rating of 2743. It was quite an achievement from his end that he was able to maintain his Elo. He remained unbeaten and scored victories over Bastsiashvili, Ipatov, and Fedoseev. A very interesting position that occurred in Hari's game was against Nino Batsiashvili in the second round. The Georgian was fresh from her draw against Magnus Carlsen in round one. Hari played a provocative opening and players reached the following position:

Batsiashvili - Harikrishna
Black has just played ...Nf4. How should White respond? Hint: Turn on your prophylactic thinking.

If you think deeply about this position you will realize that the main threat here is not to take on g2. In fact, if it were Black to move he would not even think about taking on g2. Instead he would pick up the bishop on d3 with Nxd3 followed by ...Qd7! and take control over the key f5 square. Once Black gets ...f5 he would have a clearly superior position. Hence, in the diagrammed position White should have played 12.Be4! Hari said after the game that he wanted to meet 12.Be4 with 0-0. But now White jumps in with 13.Nf5! Bxf5 14.Bxf5 Nxg2+ 15.Kf1 Nf4 16. Ne2! and with the firm grip on the light squares, White is clearly better. In the game Nino went wrong and played 12.Bf5?! Hari quickly replied Bxf5 13.Nxf5 Qd7! and with control on the f5 square he was better. Finding the move 12.Be4 would show extremely high level of prophylactic thinking.

Sethuraman scored 6.0/9 and finished 17th

World Cup 2015 hero S.P.Sethuraman didn't have a great event at the start as he lost three games in the first six rounds. However, in the end he got rid of any rustiness that he possessed and scored three wins in a row against Burak Firat, N.R. Vignesh and Evgeny Tomashevsky. Particularly impressive was his last round win against the reigning Russian Champion. Tomashevsky is world number 18 and one of the most feared theoreticians in the world. Evgeny's opening expertise can be gauged from the fact that after Jakovenko's win against Bologan when Dmitry was asked whether he had refuted a particular line of the a6 Slav, Jakovenko replied, "This line is played by Tomashevsky from the black side, and as we all know Tomashevsky's lines can never be refuted!


In spite of knowing this, Sethuraman picked up the gauntlet and challenged Evgeny to a mighty theoretical duel in the Botvinnik Variation of the Slav. Sethuraman was much better prepared than his opponent and defeated the Russian in just 38 moves. 

Sethuraman showed what a fierce opening expert he is with a scintillating win over Evgeny Tomashevsky


As our photographer Amruta Mokal's lens shows after just 19 moves Sethuraman had his full quota of allotted time on the clock and Tomashevsky was down to 15 minutes!

Let's have a look at this brilliant game with some brief annotations: 

[Event "Qatar Masters Open 2015"]
[Site "Doha QAT"]
[Date "2015.12.29"]
[Round "9.12"]
[White "Tomashevsky, Evgeny"]
[Black "Sethuraman, S.P."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D44"]
[WhiteElo "2744"]
[BlackElo "2639"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[EventDate "2015.12.20"]
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5
9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 {Against a theoretical expert like Tomashevsky,
Sethu has taken up the challenge of playing the Botvinnik Variation. Quite a
brave decision.} 11. exf6 Bb7 12. g3 Qb6 13. Bg2 c5 14. d5 O-O-O 15. O-O b4 16.
Na4 Qb5 17. a3 Nb8 18. axb4 cxb4 19. Qg4 Bxd5 20. Rfc1 Nc6 21. Bxd5 Rxd5 22.
Be3 (22. Rxc4 Rxg5 23. Qd4 $1 (23. Rxc6+ Kb7 $1 $19) 23... Kb8 {with an
unclear position.}) 22... Ne5 $1 {A strong move by Sethuraman which seems to
put an end to the debate of who is better in this line.} 23. Qe4 Qc6 $1 {
Threatening Rd1+.} 24. Kg2 Kb7 (24... Bh6 {is also possible with better
chances for Black.}) 25. b3 Bd6 $1 26. bxc4 Ra5 {A nice little geometry to
have all the pieces on the same diagonal.} 27. Qxc6+ Kxc6 {The endgame is just
pure torture for White as even though he is a pawn up, his pieces are
completely misplaced and Black has a strong passed pawn couple on a and b
files.} 28. Bd4 Ng4 (28... Rb8 $1 $15) 29. h3 e5 30. Bb2 $6 (30. Nb2 $5 Rxa1
31. Rxa1 exd4 32. Ra6+ Kc7 33. hxg4 $16) 30... Nxf6 $17 31. h4 Bc7 32. Kf3 Rd8
33. Ke3 Ng4+ 34. Ke2 e4 35. Rcb1 Rd3 36. Bc1 Rf5 37. Be3 Be5 38. Nb2 Rxe3+ $1 {
Followed by Rf2+ and Nxe3 and Bc3+ etc. Black is completely winning.} 0-1

After the end of the tournament, we caught up with Sethuraman and asked him his thoughts about his game. More specifically we asked him whether he was scared of entering theoretical complications against such a renowned opening expert like Tomashevsky and Sethuraman's reply is a must-watch/hear for every budding chess player: 


 Vidit Gujrathi from Nashik scored 5.5/9 and just made it to the prize list

 Super solid Vidit hardly loses a game, but in Qatar he was humbled by the Chinese GM Ni Hua. Yet the youngster had a decent event, losing just two Elo points. His most impressive performance was surely the game against Dmitry Jakovenko in the last round. The 21-year-old shows tremendous understanding of the value of initiative in a game of chess. Here's the position for you to test yourself whether you can play like the India number five:

Vidit- Jakovenko 

 It's White to play. How do you keep up the initiative?

If you came up with the move 17.Nxf7 then you are one of those players who always tries to find some sort of spectacular moves even when the position doesn't warrant the same. After 17...Kxf7 18.Bg6+ Kg8 19.Bxe8 Qxe8 Black is almost winning.


If you would play the move 17.f4 then you are a strong player who has good chess understanding.


However, if you came up with the move 17.e4!, the move that Vidit made, then you are truly in a different league. Mainly Vidit, as White, understood that he has better piece placement and he must make use of the same by opening up the position. This shows good dynamic understanding. Jakovenko took the opportunity to win a pawn with 17...Bxe5 18. dxe5 Rxe5. And we reach the following position.
You are once again in Vidit's (White's) shoes. What would you play?

Vidit played the move 19.exd5! Here it was important to control the temptation of playing 19.f4?! as Black could sacrifice an exchange with Rxf5! 20.exf5 a6! When the central black majority looks pretty threatening and provides adequate compensation. After 19.exd5 the game continued 19...Rxe1 20.Rxe1 cxd5 21.Qd2! And let's look at what we have got. 

This is the position that Vidit was aiming for when he played 17.e4! White is a pawn down but he has the bishop pair. Also the knight will settle down on the excellent d4 square. All the pieces are active and White has wonderful compensation for the missing pawn. Isn't this wonderful assessment of the position? Gujrathi slowly but steadily outplayed Jakovenko but couldn't finish him off and the game ended in a draw.

K. Sasikiran, who scored 5.5/9, started off the year with a rating of 2682 and ended it with 2632
2015 has not been a particularly memorable year for this classy Indian player. Also known as the Mr.Dependable of Indian chess, Sasikiran has been unable to find his golden touch for quite some time. As Indians, we are naturally worried and hence we asked exactly this question to the long time India number two - what's going wrong? You can find his answer in the video below:



B. Adhiban, who was the ACP wild card entrant at the event, failed to impress as he scored 5.0/9 and lost 15 Elo points

One of the most impressive performers at the event was surely Shardul Gagare from Ahmednagar. The 17-year-old boy made a mockery of opponents' ratings as he notched up a performance of 2704, thereby making his third and final GM norm. In the process he beat two super strong GMs Wei Yi and Ildar Khairullin. He made draws against world renowned players like Hou Yifan, Danii Dubov, Vassily Ivanchuk, B.Adhiban, Nguyen Ngoc Truongson and Daniele Vocaturo. He played all grandmasters and apart from one who had a rating of 2597, all others were above 2630! Shardul made his GM norm in the eighth round itself. However, you can understand how mentally strong this young kid is, as he played with complete focus in the last round and beat his 2647 opponent with the black pieces. Often after making a norm people relax and lose their next round, but not Shardul. Gagare gained 27 Elo points in the event and now has a live rating of 2497. With just three points to gain he should be on track to become India's next grandmaster. He will most probably be playing in the IIFL Mumbai tournament from 28th of January to achieve this milestone.

A GM norm in six rounds! Yes, you read it right! That's what N.R. Vignesh achieved at the Qatar Masters 2015. The 17-year-old youngster began the tournament with draws against Nguyen Ngoc Truongson and Samuel Shankland. But then he scored two emphatic wins against Mateusz Bartel and Wei Yi. Draws against Hou Yifan and Vladimir Fedoseev took the Tamil Nadu lad to 4.0/6 and already the GM norm was achieved with three rounds to spare!


He very nearly drew against Ivanchuk in the seventh round and then lost to Sethuraman in the eighth before ending the tournament with a draw against Rambaldi.


The thing that will impress you the most about Vignesh is his tenacity. He fights right until the very end and never ever gives up. There is no real flashy chess on show but he hardly ever blunders! And isn't this what chess is all about - you avoid blunders and you score points! I am sure that with some further polishing of his skills the boy will be a force to be reckoned with. 
Eesha Karavade before the start of the 'make or break' final round

Good news for Eesha Karavade fans is that this girl from Pune is finally back in form. By scoring wins over strong players like Irina Krush, Antaoneta Stefanova and Jan- Christian Schroeder, Eesha scored 4.5/9 gaining 20 Elo points. The bad news is that she missed her GM norm by a mere half point. She needed a draw in the last round against Daniil Dubov but went on to lose it.


The thing that impressed us the most about Eesha was her switching to 1.e4 in the tournament. Eesha is a closed openings player. She would invariably open the game with 1.d4 or 1.c4 or 1.Nf3. However, at the Qatar Masters 2015 she played 1.e4 in all her four white games and scored an impressive 3.0/4. In chess often we fall into our comfort zone playing the same openings that we have achieved expertise in. However, Karavade showed us that sometimes the right way to move forward in chess is to try out new openings and play new positions. After the tournament we asked Eesha how she was able to make this brave switch.

Aravindh Chithambaram had a good event gaining 16 Elo points. One of the highlights of his tournament came in the game in which he lost. It was the one against Magnus Carlsen. After getting a lost position out of the opening, it seemed as if Aravindh's game would just fall apart. However, he fought on and even outplayed the World Champion from that inferior position. Carlsen had to resort to desperate means in order to win the position. As a strong GM rightly pointed out, "If this lad works on his openings, he will be terribly strong as his middlegame is just too good!". 

The tally of Indian International Masters just increased by two as Prantik Roy (left) and Rohan Ahuja, both, not only made their IM norms but also crossed 2400 Elo mark. A hearty congratulations to both of them.
Mohammad Nubairshah Shaikh made his second IM norm. The young boy from Mumbai already has an Elo of 2400+. He just requires his final IM norm to achieve his title.


We have to ask Harshit Raja what he enjoyed more: Making an IM norm at the event or playing football on the same team as Magnus Carlsen?!! We have to tell you that Harshit was extremely good with the football and impressed the World Champion with his dribbling skills.
The future of Indian women chess R. Vaishali missed out on her maiden IM norm as she lost the last round. She scored 4.0/9 and gained 20 Elo points.
Sundararajan Kidambi, P. Konguvel and Neelotpal Das were complaining about not such a successful event at the Qatar Masters until they posed for this picture!
Can you find the common link among these players? Apart from each one of them being extremely talented, they are all from Tamil Nadu!
The author of these lines Sagar Shah, the photographer Amruta Mokal, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Padmini Rout, Abhishek Kelkar, Vidit Gujrathi, Eesha Karavade, B. Adhiban bid a final adieu from the city of Doha


A huge thanks to Mohamad Al Modiahki, the tournament director, for organizing a nearly flawless tournament. ChessBase India highly recommends Indians to take part in the 2016 edition of this event


All the pictures for this and the previous Qatar Masters reports on ChessBase India website have been taken by WIM elect Amruta Mokal. Taking quality pictures at an event of such great importance is a task which requires great amounts of skill, patience, and stamina. We request all the readers that whenever you share the pictures from here or any website do give appropriate credits to the photographer.

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds


Rk. SNo     Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3  n w we w-we K rtg+/-
1 1   GM Carlsen Magnus NOR 2834 7,0 2887 44,5 48,0 9 7 6,32 0,68 10 6,8
2 11   GM Yu Yangyi CHN 2736 7,0 2863 45,0 48,5 9 7 5,56 1,44 10 14,4
3 2   GM Kramnik Vladimir RUS 2796 6,5 2833 47,5 51,5 9 6,5 5,99 0,51 10 5,1
4 5   GM Karjakin Sergey RUS 2766 6,5 2793 44,5 46,5 9 6,5 6,14 0,36 10 3,6
5 33   GM Sjugirov Sanan RUS 2646 6,5 2791 45,5 49,5 9 6,5 4,67 1,83 10 18,3
6 18   GM Ni Hua CHN 2693 6,5 2762 42,5 45,0 9 6,5 5,63 0,87 10 8,7
7 16   GM Ivanchuk Vassily UKR 2710 6,5 2700 39,0 42,5 9 6,5 6,52 -0,02 10 -0,2
8 3   GM Giri Anish NED 2784 6,0 2815 47,0 51,5 9 6 5,57 0,43 10 4,3
9 79     Xu Yinglun CHN 2470 6,0 2800 48,0 52,0 9 6 2,16 3,84 10 38,4
10 30   GM Ganguly Surya Shekhar IND 2648 6,0 2743 42,5 45,5 9 6 4,80 1,20 10 12,0
11 9   GM Harikrishna P. IND 2743 6,0 2736 44,5 48,0 9 6 6,05 -0,05 10 -0,5
12 17   GM Ponomariov Ruslan UKR 2710 6,0 2720 42,5 46,5 9 6 5,82 0,18 10 1,8
13 29   GM Akopian Vladimir ARM 2648 6,0 2713 38,5 42,0 9 6 5,18 0,82 10 8,2
14 25   GM Duda Jan-Krzysztof POL 2663 6,0 2697 38,0 42,0 9 6 5,56 0,44 10 4,4
15 36   GM Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son VIE 2642 6,0 2691 40,5 43,5 9 6 5,33 0,67 10 6,7
16 13   GM Vitiugov Nikita RUS 2724 6,0 2687 43,0 47,0 9 6 6,34 -0,34 10 -3,4
17 37   GM Sethuraman S.P. IND 2639 6,0 2634 38,0 40,0 9 6 5,97 0,03 10 0,3
18 4   GM So Wesley USA 2775 5,5 2753 48,5 53,0 9 5,5 5,68 -0,18 10 -1,8
19 6   GM Li Chao B CHN 2750 5,5 2750 48,0 53,0 9 5,5 5,44 0,06 10 0,6
20 7   GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar AZE 2748 5,5 2743 47,0 51,0 9 5,5 5,51 -0,01 10 -0,1


Complete results of 131 players