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Chandra on Qatar: Dueling in the Dunes Print E-mail
By IM Akshat Chandra   
January 14, 2015
This year several strong tournaments have occurred in the Middle-East region, particularly Dubai. The region also hosted the strongest Open tournament ever, the Qatar Masters Open 2014, which was held in Doha, and concluded last month. The 9-round Swiss was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and had a staggering 92 GMs out of a total 154 players. The players list was highlighted by former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, who was playing in an Open tournament after 22 years, Dutch GM Anish Giri, the tournament's top seed, and Azerbaijani GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov. These players filled out the slots for the tournament's Top 3 seeds.

The strongest Open tournament was won by Chinese GM Yangyi Yu. Those who followed the grand Millionaire Chess Open two months ago in October, would recall that Yangyi had made it into the Final Four on Millionaire Monday, but failed to advance to the finals after losing from a completely winning position. This time he struck the jackpot in Qatar, and deservingly took home the hefty first prize of $25,000. 

The United States had 8 players in attendance - Samuel Shankland, Aleksandr Lenderman, Daniel Naroditsky, Irina Krush, Katrina Nemcova, Sabina Foisor, Awonder Liang, and myself.  Below are some highlights of games played by few of the US players.

GM Shankland chalked up a score of 6/9, finishing 11th in the final rankings. He earned a rating performance of 2734, continuing the stretch of good play since his breakout performance at the Olympiad. He didn't lose a single game in this event going +3 =6 -0, making his achievement even more impressive.


After drawing rounds 2 and 3 against lower rated GMs, Sam put together a streak of 2 wins against Georgian IM Lela Javakhishvilli (2486 FIDE), and GM Gadir Guseinov (2592 FIDE) from Azerbaijan. The win against the Georgian IM didn't come easy however, as Sam survived a brief scare as his opponent missed an opportunity to take the upper hand.


Javakhishvili,Lela (2486) - Shankland,Samuel L (2642) [D48]

Qatar Masters Open Doha (4.26), 29.11.2014

A complex endgame, in which Black has 2 minor pieces for the Rook. This generally favors the former, but as always, it depends on the situation. In this case, White has a potentially lethal threat with the passed a-pawn, and so it's safe to say that White is playing for the win right now.


26...Kf8 was best, and after 27.Rxb4 Nd5 28.Rb7 Bd3± Black is still much worse, but will have some chances to defend.

It's not easy to say what White missed, but after the natural 27.a5 Black is in trouble. 27...Bd3 28.Rb7 Ba6 29.Ra7 Bb5 30.a6± and a grim position arises for Black.]
 27...Bd3 28.Rc6?
A double whammy from White. Now the ball bounces into Black's side of the court, and remains there till the rest of the game. [28.a5 still kept things in balance. 28...Ba6 (28...Kf8 is the computer's recommendation, but it seems a bit unnatural for a human to allow the pawn to roll all the way down to a7 after 29.a6 Ke8 30.a7 Ra8 31.Rca5÷ with a unclear position.)
28...Kf8! 29.Rd1

29.a5 Bb5 30.Rc5 Ba6 31.Rc6 Bb7-+ followed by Rxd6.
29...Be4 30.Rc4 Bg6 31.a5

31.Rc6 was probably White's best bet 31...Ke8 32.Ra6 Kd7 33.a5µ and there may be some slim chances to hold this.
31...Ke8 32.a6 Ra8 33.d7+

33.Ra1 Ra7-+ and Kd7 again.
33...Kxd7 34.Rxb4 Rxa6


Black has captured White's only hope, and source of counterplay. The rest is fairly straightforward.
35.Rb8 Rc6 36.h3 Rc2 37.Kf1 Ke7 38.Rd4 Kf6 39.Ke1 Ke5 40.Rd2 Rc1+ 41.Rd1 Rc4 42.b3 Rc3 43.b4 Rb3 44.b5 h5 45.Rb7 Nf4 46.g3 Nd3+ 47.Ke2 Nc5 48.Rb8 Bd3+ 49.Ke1 Bxb5 50.Ra1 Ke4 51.Ra7 Nd3+ 52.Kd2 Ne5 53.Rab7 Rd3+ 54.Kc1 Bc4 55.f4 Nc6 56.Rf8 e5 57.Rc7 Bd5 58.fxe5 Nxe5 0-1

Against GM Guseinov there was no such close-call, as Sam outplayed his opponent and won handily.


GM Naroditsky had a stellar performance  going +3 =5 - 1 and a score of 5.5/9. He closed out the tournament with a flurry of draws against 2700's. Especially exhilarating was his game against GM Baadur Jobava (2722 FIDE), in which he survived a lost position, got a winning position, and then made an inaccuracy after which the game fizzled out to a draw.

Jobava,Baadur (2722) - Naroditsky,Daniel (2620) [A01]
Qatar Masters Open 2014 Doha QAT (8.13), 03.12.2014


An enterprising move, which leads to a highly favorable endgame. [25.Nf5 was interesting as well 25...Bxf5 26.Rxf5+- and amazingly Black is helpess, and has no constructive plan here. He can't move the Knight, as it's protecting the pawn on b6, and is Queen is offside. Survival chances are remote.
25...gxf6 26.Rxf6 c5

Forced. [26...Qg7 27.Rxe6 (27.Nh5 would only lead to a draw after 27...Qg5 28.Rxe6 Ne5 29.Rxd6 Rae8 and Black survives. In fact, White has to be a bit careful after 30.Rxc6 Qxh5 31.Rc5 and Black should probably just take the draw with 31...Qh4 32.Rxe5 Qf4+ 33.Kg1 Qf1+ 34.Kh2 Qf4+=) 27...Qxd4 28.Bxd4+- and despite being an exchange down , the position is completely winning for White as he has a much better pawn structure, but more importantly, his pieces are all well placed.]
27.Rxh6 cxd4 28.Rxe6

Comparing this to the 26...Qg7 line, Black's pawn on d4 temporarily obstructs White's d4 bishop, however there is no good way to make use of this.

28...Rac8 was the other option, but White remains with an indisputable advantage after 29.Nf5! (29.Bxd4 Ng5! and Black should make a draw after 30.Rxd6 Rxc2 31.Nf5 Nf3+ 32.Kg3 Nxd4 33.Nxd4 Rc3= attacking both b3 and d3.) 29...Rxc2 30.Bxd4±
29.Rxd6 Rf2 30.Nf5
30.Kg1! Rxc2 31.Bxd4+- followed by Nf5, and White will try to grind down Black in this techincally winning endgame.
30...Rxc2 31.Nh6+ Kf8 32.Rf6+ Ke7 33.Bxd4 Rf8

Now things become murky.
34.Nf5+ Ke8 35.Kg3?

Now Black takes over. [35.Rd6 If White wanted to win, he had to keep his Rook on the board. Black is probably closer to a draw than White is to a win after 35...Nf3+ 36.Kg3 Nxd4 37.Rxd4 Rg8+ (37...Rc3 38.Kf4 Rxb3 39.Rd5! and White has some chances here.) 38.Kf3 Rgxg2 39.Rd5 attacking a5, and clearing the d4 square for the King. This was White's best way to create maximum problems for Black.
35...Rxf6 36.Bxf6 Ne6 37.d4 Rc3+ 38.Kg4 Kf7!

38...Rxb3 39.d5 Nc5 40.e5 and the computer may say Black is fine, but what's the need to even allow White to play this.
Naturally, White doesn't want to block his passed pawns with his piece.
39...Rxb3 40.d5 Nc5 41.e5 Rd3! 42.e6+ Nxe6 43.Nh6+ Ke8 44.dxe6 Rd4+ 45.Kg3 Rxh4

This was the important idea Naroditsky found, and now he is moments away from a win.
46.Kxh4 b3 47.Ng8 b2 48.Nf6+ Ke7?


Amazingly, moving the King to e7 allows White to escape. How much of a difference one square makes. [48...Kf8! 49.e7+ Kxe7 50.Nd5+ Kd6 51.Nc3 Kc5 52.Nb1 Kb4-+ Black will simply play Kxa4, followed by Kb3, Ka2 and a5-a4.]
49.Nd5+ Kxe6 50.Nc3

The key difference between the 48...Kf8 variation. Now, Black's King doesn't have access to the c5 square, as it would have if it had been on d6.
50...Ke5 51.Kg3 Kd4 52.Nb1 Kd3 53.Kf3 Kc2 54.Na3+ Kb3 55.Nb1 Kc2 56.Na3+ Kb3
A thrilling game, which ended in a hard-fought draw. ½-½

A few rounds prior, he faced German youngster IM Alexander Donchenko (2523 FIDE). After outplaying his opponent, Daniel found a nice sacrifice to finish off the game.

Naroditsky,Daniel (2620) - Donchenko,Alexander (2523) [A05]

Qatar Masters Open Doha (5.26), 30.11.2014

White has a great position here, and almost anything should win for him. Naroditsky found the quickest and most direct way to finish off the game.
31.Rxa4! Qxa4 32.Qxe6+ Kf8 33.Qf6+ Kg8 34.Qe6+ Kf8 35.Qd6+ Kg7
35...Ke8 36.Qe5+ Kf7 (36...Kf8 37.Qh8+ followed by Qxa8.) 37.Qd5+ followed by Qxa8.
36.Qe5+ Kh6 37.g4?


The position remains winning for White, but 37.Nxf5+! was the best way to conclude the combination. 37...gxf5 38.Qf6+ Kh5 39.Qxf5+ Kh6 40.Qf6+ Kh5 41.h3 with the threat of g4#. 41...Qd1+ 42.Kh2 Rg8 43.g4+ Rxg4 44.hxg4+?? and with such a hopeless placed King, Black has no chance of survival. White's King seems a bit exposed, but there is in fact not a single check for Black. He'll simply roll his central pawns down the board next.
Now Black gets no more chances. [37...Re8 would force White to show some accuracy. 38.Nxf5+ Kg5 Amazingly, Black's King is surviving here for now! 39.Ne7+ (39.h4+ Kxg4 I still can't believe that Black's King is safe here! 40.Ne3+ Kf3 41.Qf6+ Ke2÷) 39...Kh4 Now I think the simplest way for White to play would be. (39...Kh6 40.Kg2! taking away the f3 square from Black's King. The threat is now Nf5,Kg5,f4+,Kxg4,Kh4,Qg5#. 40...Rf8 41.g5+ Kh5 42.Nd5+- followed by Nf6 with a completely won Queen endgame.) 40.Qg3+ Kg5 41.h4+ Kf6 42.Nd5+ Kg7 43.Qc7+ Kf8 44.Kg2+-
38.g5+ Kxg5

38...Kh5 39.Qg7+-
39.Qe7+ Rf6 40.h4+


A nice way to finish off the game, even though it could have been carried out more precisely. 1-0


GM Krush had an eventful tournament, both on and off the board. Before her 5th round, she went out on an expedition with some friends, and ended up dislocating her shoulder while climbing down some rocks after a closer view of a cultural art piece. She had to visit the hospital, and consequently ended up missing her Round 5 game against GM Dariusz Swiercz (2616 FIDE) from Poland. That didn't stop her from having a great tournament though, as she finished with a final score of 4/9, and a score of 3/6 against GM's with an average rating of 2631! Here is her Round 3 win against Ukranian GM Sergey Fedorchuk (2664 FIDE):

Fedorchuk,Sergey A (2664) - Krush,Irina (2453) [B47]

Qatar Masters Open Doha (3.33), 28.11.2014


Both players have reached the time control now, and Black stands better thanks to her perfectly posted Knight on e5, and active Rook on b2.

40...h5! was best, preventing White from playing Ng4.
41.Ng4! and now Black will be forced to part with her Knight after 41...Nxg4 42.hxg4 Obviously White should take back with the pawn so the Queen on f4 can attack d6. (42.Qxg4 Qe7µ) 42...Rxb4 43.Rxd6 Qe7 44.g5ƒ and this position seems a bit dicey for Black. 44...Rb1 45.e5
41...h5 42.Ra1 Qc5 43.Ra7 Bc8 44.Qg5??

A tactical blunder which Krush immediately refutes. 44.Ra8 Be6 45.Nf5+! and White will be able to simplify into an endgame where he is at least not worse. 45...gxf5 46.exf5 Bxf5 47.Qxf5 Rf2 seems the most humane. 48.Qg5+ Ng6 49.Qxc5 dxc5 50.Kg1=
 44...Bxh3! 45.gxh3 Rh2+ and Nf3+ will pick up White's Queen on g5.  0-1

GM Alexander Lenderman had a solid tournament as well, scoring 5/9 against an opposition average rating of 2574 FIDE. His highlight wins were against Armenian GM Melkumyan (2678 FIDE), and French GM Romain Edouard (2659 FIDE). He has chosen his first round victory against WGM Abdulamalik Zhansaya (2332 FIDE) from Kazakhstan to annotate for us.

In the round 1 of Qatar Masters I got paired against a young talented girl from Kazakstan, only 14 years old and a WGM so I knew this would be a tough start to the tournament.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5 Bg7 5.Nf3 Ne4 6.Bf4

This is a modest variation against the Grunfeld, trying to play for a small plus, also tried by Kramnik several times. I played this system because I wanted to play a simple position against her, rather than a sharp position where she would be very well prepared.
6...Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.e3 0-0 9.cxd5 Qxd5 10.Be2 cxd4 11.cxd4 Nc6 12.0-0 Bf5 13.Qa4 Rac8 14.Rfc1 Qa5 15.Qxa5 Nxa5
She was taking a lot of time but making the best moves. I'm not sure whether she didn't know the line, or whether she was just remembering the lines.

An interesting move tried by Kramnik against Gelfand. Nd2 is more common. The idea of ne1 is that in case of all the rooks trading off, the knight would go to d3, and pressure the queenside more, and be better placed. [16.Nd2 Is more common.]
16...Nc6 17.Bf3!?N
And this is officially the novelty. Before Kramnik's game this year against Gelfand, ne1 was a novelty. But then after nc6 he played g4 and after be4 bf3 f5 didn't get very much and the game played out to a draw. The idea of bf3 is to activate the bishop and stop be4. My plan is to play g4 next.

17...f6; 17...e5!? 18.dxe5 Rfe8 This move order deserved attention since it practically forces me to play bxc6 if I want any hope for an advantage.
18.g4 Bd7 19.Nd3
Now I think I got what I want, full harmony and black's position is slightly passive.
Understandably trying to unload and simplify. [19...b6 20.g5² I can play this position for many moves slowly and black is short on counterplay.]
20.Bxc6 bxc6 21.Bxe5
21.Nxe5!? Bxe5 22.Bxe5 Bxg4 I thought was very close to a draw with opposite colored bishops though computer claims it might still be slightly better for white, maybe because of a better pawn structure. However I wanted to keep a bit more tension on the board.

21...Bxg4 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.Ne5 Is very bad for black.
22.Bd6 Bxg4 23.Kg2 Bf5 24.Nc5 g5 25.Rc3
The computer says it's nothing special for white but it's still a bit more pleasant to play for white. 25...h5 26.Ra3 Rcd8 27.Bc7 Ra8?!
the first real inaccuracy for black. It's too passive. Now white will be better. At this point it was better to sacrifice a pawn for activity. [27...Rc8! 28.Rxa7 Re7 29.Bb6 Rxa7 30.Bxa7 Ra8 31.Bb6 Ra3! And black has excellent compensation, two bishops and very active pieces against white's clumsy pieces. The a2 pawn will probably be lost sooner or later. The position is dynamically equal.]
28.Ra6 Rec8 29.Bd6 Bf8?!

29...Bg6 Was more stubborn.
30.Bxf8 Kxf8 31.e4! Bg6 32.Rb1

Now my activity is overwhelming and my position is close to winning if not already winning.
32...Kg7 33.Rb7+ Kh6 34.f3
Just a solid prophylaxis move, black has no counterplay.
34...Rd8 35.Nd7 Rac8 36.Raxa7 g4 37.Kg3 Ra8 38.fxg4 Rxa7 39.Rxa7 hxg4 40.Nxf6?!

Slightly careless. 40.Kf4+- was simpler.
40...Kg5 41.Nxg4 Bxe4 42.h4+ Kg6?!

42...Kf5 43.Rf7+ Ke6 44.Rf6+ Kd5 And while white is probably winning, it requires a bit more technique. Black's pieces are active, there is little material left, and white's pawns are somewhat weak.(44...Ke7)
43.h5+ Kg5 44.Re7 Bf5 45.Re5 Rg8

45...Rxd4 46.Ne3 Kxh5 47.Rxf5+ Kg6 48.Rc5+-
46.a4 1-0

In Alex's own words, here are his thoughts about the tournament and his performance:

"I enjoyed my experience in Qatar. It was definitely one of the more interesting places I visited. I thought that the playing conditions were excellent, the tournament was obviously super strong, possibly the strongest Swiss tournament ever, and the hotel was also excellent. It's hard to pinpoint my best game of my tournament. All of my 4 wins had a different good part to it."

GM Lenderman in Qatar

In my case, it was a forgettable tournament performance as I trudged along through the tournament, messing up equal or stronger positions with silly blunders. Here is an example of that:

Fedorchuk,Sergey A (2664) - Chandra,Akshat (2489) [B47]

Qatar Masters Open Doha (5.30), 30.11.2014


I'm an exchange up here, but I still gotta be careful. We were in a maddening time scramble here, and with seconds left I made a terrible move.

34...Rc6! was simply the best move here. White has to fight for a draw here.
35.axb5 axb5 36.Rxb5

36.Qxg4 was stronger.
An unfortunate blunder after which White wins for sure now. [36...Qg7 still kept things in balance.
37.Qg5+- Rxb5 38.Bxf6+ Qxf6 39.Qxf6+
and I had to resign in another 16 moves. 1-0

However, I did manage to salvage something in the last round against fellow US player Awonder Liang.

Here's our sharp affair:

Liang,Awonder (2266) - Chandra,Akshat (2489) [B85]

Qatar Masters Open Doha (9.71), 04.12.2014



An interesting move after which the game becomes highly complicated. I was happy to see this move however, as I was more worried about the alternative. [25.Nd5 was objectively better perhaps. The position looked uncomfortable to Black for me after 25...Bxd5 26.exd5 Qd6 27.h3² with a clear positional plus.]

25...bxc3 26.Rxf6 gxf6 27.Bxf6+-

It doesn't really make sense to play 26.Qxc5 after you've played a move like Bg5.
26...Rd4 was another move I considered, but I correctly realized that the Rook has to be on the 7th rank to laterally defend the critical f7 pawn. So this move would be bad.

27.b3 leads to a draw 27...bxc3 28.Bxf6 gxf6 29.Rxf6 Kh8 30.Rxf7 Rd8 (30...Rxf7 31.Rxf7+- White wins here even.) 31.Rxc7 Qxc7 32.Rf7 Qd6 33.Rxb7 Qd1+ 34.Qf1 Qxf1+ 35.Bxf1 Rd1 36.Rf7 Bb4 and although Black is two pawns down at the moment, Rc1-Rxc2 follows next which ensures a draw at least.
27...bxc3 28.Bxf6

28.Rxc3 Qb6 29.Rxc7 Qxc7 30.Bxf6 gxf6 31.Rxf6 Re7-+
28...gxf6 29.Rxf6 Ree7 30.Qh5 Bxe4? 

Ouch, this one could have cost me a win. We were in time pressure, and so I couldn't calculate the sequence after the cool-headed 30...Kh8-+ 31.Bxf7 but Black defends in all lines after 31...Bg7-+

31.Bxf7+ Rxf7 32.Rxf7 Rc8 33.Qg4+ Bg6 34.R1f6 Qd5 35.Rxh7 Kxh7 36.Qxg6+ Kh8 37.Rxf8+ Rxf8 38.Qh6+ Kg8 39.Qg6+= is a possible forced draw.
31...Rxf7 32.Rxf7

32.Bxf7+ Kh8-+


I was terribly worried here for a moment, but then I realized that White has nothing and Black has everything covered.
33.b4 Qd6 34.Rf1 Bg6 35.Qf3 Kg7 36.Rd1 Qf6 37.Qe2 Bxb4 38.Rf1 Qg5 39.Rb1 a5 40.Qf2 Qf5 41.Qb6 Rd7 42.Be6 Qxc2 43.Rf1 Qe2 44.Kg1 c2 An exciting game, not devoid of mistakes. As usually happens when both players go for the win, a decisive result occurs. 0-1

It felt good to close out my sub-par performance with a win against a strong player. It was a complicated game in which we both had some chances, but I was able to hold on for the victory.
Awonder in Qatar

Overall, the tournament itself was a pleasure to play. The organizers have already started planning for the 2nd edition, and they expect to accommodate 20-30 more players this time. Hopefully, I can have the opportunity to play in this prestigious tournament again!


Sabina-Francesca Foisor at the Qatar Masters 2014


Katerina Nemcova at the Qatar Masters 2014

Tournament pictures used here are from the official site taken by photographers Maria Emelianova and Dmitry Rukhletskiy.  All games can be viewed at the official site here.

Find out more about Chandra on QuesttoGM.com