Meeting the Legend Once Again!
A session with Garry Kasparov

Last month, a group of 5 young players were invited to an evaluation session by Garry Kasparov as part of the “Young Stars-USA” program sponsored by Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the St. Louis Chess Club (CCSCSL). This was my second time at the session, having attending the last one about a year ago.

Meeting Garry truly energizes me. I felt I was a stronger player just being in his company.  I wrote an article about the session on Chessbase and on US Chess. Have fun reading the articles, which have different studies.

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra at a Chess session - Dec 2014

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra at a Chess session – Dec 2014


Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra

Garry Kasparov and Akshat Chandra – Dec 2014

Reflecting on the Qatar Masters 2014
I won’t back down!

The Qatar Masters 2014 held in Doha late November, turned out to be the strongest Open tournament ever. Out of a total of 154 players, 92 of them were GM’s, of which 56 were over 2600 and 14 over 2700. Unfortunately for me, it was one of the worst performances of mine in recent memory. Since my journey over the last 4  years and 10 months from ~1550 FIDE to 2490 FIDE rating, I can only recall a handful of tournaments where I set the rating gear in total reverse.

Things started going wrong from the 1st round itself, when I messed up a completely even position against Chinese Super GM Bu Xiangzhi (2710 FIDE). I had played him at the Millionaire Chess in October, and had lost in similar heart-breaking fashion. I only have myself to blame however, as I let myself fall into time-pressure early on, after which the probability of a blunder increases. Bu didn’t break me, I did that myself.

The next 3 rounds were spent fighting it out against lower rated, in which I scraped together 2/3 from those games to get me to a score of 2/4. I now faced Ukranian GM Sergey Fedorchuk (2664 FIDE), an experienced and veteran player. Our game was complex, with both of us spending a lot of time trying to figure things out. But then I inexplicably spent too much time at one point, and was down to my final minute for the last 15 moves. This is not how chess is played. Fortunately, he also ended up coming down in time, though I was still playing mostly on increments, and in the ensuing complications I managed to win an exchange. Things were looking good, and I just had to survive the next 7 moves and reach the time control before assessing things in more detail. But that was not to be, as I blundered away my near-winning advantage on moves 35 and 36. Game over.

Losing in such painful fashion due to self inflicted mistakes was simply agonizing. This game triggered a total collapse from my side. Trying to make up for this disaster, I stubbornly deferred a draw in a complete equal position in the next round, and ended up losing. I lost again, and again, and again, until I finally won my game in the last round. It didn’t really matter though, as the damage had already been done.

I ended up losing several FIDE rating points, and recorded an embarrassingly low rating performance. What was the cause of such a disastrous showing? The conditions were great, and there was an ocean-full of higher rated players to play. So what went wrong?

Well in my opinion, the glaring shortcoming was my poor time management. I was playing good chess early on, but it didn’t matter since everything would go to waste after I would repeatedly shoot myself in the foot on the clock. Time is a crucial aspect of this game, and is something which I should not have been so flippant with.

We’ll always encounter setbacks some time in our life, and it’s important that we learn from them and get better. This was a harsh learning experience in particular for me, and something which I will remember for a long time. But I plan to absorb all the lessons I’ve learnt, and come back stronger. You know why? ‘Cause I won’t back down baby :) .


Final impressions of the Qatar Masters

The recently concluded Qatar Masters 2014 was surprisingly won by Chinese GM Yu Yangyi. I say surprisingly because when there are players like Kramnik and Giri playing, one seems to forget about everyone else. As the tournament drew to a close, Yangyi upped his level of play and skillfully composed a symphony of wins in the final three games. He finished the tournament with an incredible score of 7.5/9 (+6, =3, -0), +21 in rating, and a 2905 performance! In this one tournament, which was the strongest Open ever, he surged on the World Rankings list to number 22, with a LIVE rating of 2730. This makes him China’s new highest rated player, eclipsing Ding Liren, who is at 2727.

After the last round, Yangyi was gracious enough to sit down with me for an interview, which was uniquely done through the use of Google’s online translator. The reason for this was because neither he, nor his group of friends, were comfortable with English. My Chinese was completely nonexistent as well, beyond Xie-Xie or Syeh-Syeh (Thank You). The online translations were not so accurate, and were quite nonsensical at times. But I kind of knew we were on the right track when our faces would light up occasionally, as we read the translations on the computer. I tried my best to piece together the fragments of his responses that made sense, and have also paraphrased at certain points.

Akshat Chandra: First of all, congratulations on winning the strongest Open tournament ever! What was your mindset going into the last round; was your plan to go all out for a win, or just play solidly and see what happens?

Yu Yangyi: Thank you (smiles)! I am very happy to have won this tournament. For the last round, I didn’t think too much about winning, and just wanted to play a normal game.

Akshat: How was your game today? It looks like you won quite smoothly against such a strong opponent.

Yangyi: I played this game well, and it was a high-quality game for which I was glad. In the game against the American GM (Aleksandr Lenderman), I made some mistakes, which could have cost me dearly and thrown me out of the race.

Akshat: You managed to break Kramnik’s Berlin, something Kasparov could not do.

Yangyi: (smiles) obviously my opponent is well respected and known for his knowledge in the Berlin.

Akshat: Where are you from in China, and what age did you start playing chess?

Yangyi: My hometown is the city of Huangshi, which is in the province of Hubei. I started playing chess at the age of seven years.

Akshat: This is probably the biggest win, and result of your career. China is doing well in chess recently – your team won the Olympiad earlier, and now you have won the Qatar Masters! We are waiting for a Chinese player to become world champion.

Yangyi: Recently, for me and my teammates, it has been going very well. This is definitely the biggest achievement of my career so far. With regards to future a world champion, I personally feel that there is a gap still between me and the world super-class players, and I need to continue the effort. The achievements of a single event does not mean anything.

After our talk, I got the impression from his responses that Yangyi is a very modest and humble person. He is not looking too far ahead, and recognizes the fact that the effort and work must still continue. Like he said, the achievement of one tournament does not mean anything, and that he must continue to get even better! Winning the Qatar Masters 2014 was the biggest achievement of Yangyi’s young, promising career, but he has had many other notable results. Here is a compilation of some of them, which my ChessBase colleague Sagar Shah neatly put together:

  • Won the 2014 Chinese Championship (on tiebreak) with a score of 7/11 and a 2679 performance
  • Won the 2014 Asian Continental Championship with a score of 7/9 and 2789 performance
  • Won the 2013 World Junior Championship with a score of 11/13 and a 2792 performance
  • Won the Danzhou tournament in 2011 at the age of 16, with a score of 7/9 and a 2878 performance

The emergence of players like Yangyi certainly bodes well for the future of chess in China, and I for one expect to see him firmly established among the world’s elite shortly.

Former World Champion GM Vladimir Kramnik, who was leading the tournament going into the final round before losing to Yangyi, gave a press conference after his seventh round win against top seed GM Anish Giri. I was fortunate enough to be present, and was able to ask him a couple of questions.

Akshat: Vladimir, when was the last time you played an open tournament? The Qatar Masters must be very special to attract a player like you, and also, do you plan on playing more open tournaments in the future?

Vladimir: I never mind playing open tournaments. Actually I haven’t played for more than 20 years I think, but I played Olympiads for example, which have a similar atmosphere. I always enjoy that, and here in Qatar I know this gentleman well (referring to GM Mohamed Al-Medaihki), and I know that the organization will be perfect. Also, it’s a very strong open tournament. I wouldn’t play an average open, but here it’s more interesting, so I don’t mind playing at all. I don’t think I will play lots of open tournaments because I have enough of top tournaments also. But for instance next year, I would be happy to come back again!

Akshat: Vladimir, was it due to nerves that you drew the first two games? You know, trying to settle down into the open tournament format. Also, what has sparked your turnaround over the last five rounds?

Vladimir: Well, I don’t know, all these years it happens often with players that you get into the tournament slowly. I just was a little bit slow in the beginning, but I also have to admit that my opponents played very well first two rounds (GMs Halikas Stelios from Greece, and Shyam Sundar from India). They were playing much above their rating, and I don’t feel like I played badly. I was a bit disappointed; not with my play, but more with the result. Usually, when you play well, if you keep on playing well, at some point you start winning. I was not worrying about winning many games, I was just focusing on playing well after this negative start. I managed, and victories came even more than I expected so far.

I soaked in his words, his detailed and informative responses, and stored the answers in my brain: as long you keep on playing well, the results will eventually come; and a slow start can be overcome, as long as your game is strong.

I also had a chance during the tournament to have engaging conversations with Khalifa Al-Hitmi, President of the Qatar Chess Association. He was a very charming and affable person. When he saw me wondering when Vladimir Kramnik last played an Open tournament, he laughed heartily and said that it was well before I was born. Even Kramnik was not sure. But Mr. Hitmi knew! The last open tournament Kramnik played in was 22 years ago – the Alekhine Open in 1992.

During one of our after-round evening conversations, Mr. Hitmi told me that they had to refuse 200 players, which included 30 GMs, because there was no capacity. He believes that for the 2015 edition, they will try to accommodate a few more – perhaps about 20 to 30 strong players – as they want the elite nature of the tournament to be preserved. They have already started the process of selecting venues, and are reviewing four such locations in and around Doha. The dates are expected to be around the same time as this year.

On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and opportunity to play in Qatar. The organization was flawless, and the playing conditions were just marvelous. My feelings are captured succinctly in the three words made famous by the Terminator: I’ll be back.

Doha is a city where the drill never stops. During the day, there is the constant noise of construction, as you walk around the city. There are cultural landmarks being built, and of course the preparation for the 2022 Football World Cup. Things are fairly easygoing for a tourist, but the roads are quite stressful, as drivers don’t stop for pedestrians!

I had an opportunity to visit one of the iconic cultural symbols of the city, The Museum of Islamic Arts (above). It was quite a captivating experience, and I was particularly impressed with the special exhibit on Tipu Sultan, a famous Indian warrior and ruler of Southern India.

I wrote this article for Chessbase and it can be viewed here.

Dueling in the Dunes!
The Qatar Masters Open 2014

Please check my latest article on the World’s Strongest Open Tournament – The Qatar Masters 2014 – on Chessbase.  Some of it is below:

The Middle East is rapidly emerging as the host of several high profile tournaments. Over the last two years the region has hosted prestigious tournaments such as the World FIDE Blitz/Rapid 2014, World Youth 2013, Asian Continental 2014, Abu Dhabi Masters, and Al Ain Classic. These tournaments were all held in the UAE. But now Qatar has announced its entry into the high-profile chess circuit with what appears to be the strongest Open tournament in chess history.

The Qatar Masters Open 2014 is being held from November 25 to December 5 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Doha, Qatar. The country with a population of about two million people is located on the Qatar Peninsula, which protrudes out like a thumb into the Arabian Gulf.

About an hour away from the sand dunes, the Qatar Chess Association is hosting the Open, which will capture the attention of the chess community for the next ten days. There are 92 grandmasters participating, or 60% of the 154 total players. Out of these 92 GMs, 56 are over 2600, and an incredible 14 over 2700. Let those numbers sink in for a moment! This tournament truly is a convention of brilliant chess minds.

The tournament is anchored by some of the world’s elite players including
top seed Anish Giri, rated 2776, the highest rated junior in the world…

…and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, 2760, who dethroned the mighty Garry Kasparov.

Other very strong players: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Azerbaijan’s highest rated player; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, France’s highest rated player; Ding Liren, China’s highest rated player; and Pentala Harikrishna, India’s second highest rated player after Anand.

The top three in the front row: Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

I decided to do a little analysis to determine how the Qatar Masters Open compares to other significant high level open tournaments. To compare, I took the average rating of the top 20 players from each tournament.

  • Qatar Masters 2014 – The average rating of the Qatar Master’s top 20 players is a staggering 2713. If the tournament was between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 19.
  • Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Masters – One of the most respected open tournaments in the world, the average of the top 20 players in the 2014 edition was 2699. If the tournament was just between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 18 tournament. It’s likely the Top 20 average would inch higher to 2701 or more next year, which would be a Category 19 tier.
  • Aeroflot Open 2012 A Group – The only other tournament besides Gibraltar Masters, which would stand tall next to the Qatar Masters. In its last edition in 2012, the average rating of the top 20 players was a hefty 2690. If the tournament was between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 18.
  • Moscow Open A 2014 – Another prominent and strong tournament held in Russia. The top 20 players in this year’s edition had an average rating of 2637.
  • Millionaire Chess Open 2014 – The recently concluded Millionaire Chess saw the top 20 players averaging a 2636 rating. Not a bad start for the tournament’s first edition.

A review of some notable tournaments indicates that the Qatar Masters Open is indeed decisively the strongest Open ever! A historic moment indeed for the chess world. Here are the top 40, every single one a GM (in fact you have to go down to place 76 to encounter the first IM).

More can be read here

The Missed Combination Of A Lifetime


Actual Postion - Black to Move now in a combination  which  secures a decisive advantage

Actual Position – Black to move now in a combination which secures a decisive advantage

An article I wrote was published on Chessbase.  I had posted the combination puzzle as ‘Insane Tactic‘ on the blog earlier. For the article I was able to interview GM Liem Le Quang. The smart folks at Chessbase created the exact position in a 3D board (pictured above) using Fritz,  If you haven’t tried figuring out the winning combination for Black, please go ahead and use the board above. The Board’s on Fire! Black to move…

I’ve copied some of the Chessbase article below.  For the rest, you’ve to go to Chessbase.


The Missed Combination of a Lifetime

We’ve all had games where we have overlooked a dazzling combination, and in fact went on to lose. It’s an extremely painful feeling when you find out that you missed out on winning the game with a beautiful finish. I spotted a particularly dramatic example from the Asian Continental in 2012, and discussed it with the player involved. It’s a jewel of a combination.

Liem: “It would have been my best game ever …”

A month ago, I came across a game which had an extremely exciting and complicated position. It took place during the Asian Continental Chess Championship 2012 held in the city of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The game was between…

Chinese GM Ni Hua, currently rated 2677 and ranked number 67 in the world, and..

Chinese GM Ni Hua, currently rated 2677 and ranked number 67 in the world, and..

Vietnamese GM Liem Le Quang, rated 2678, number 63 in the world.

Vietnamese GM Liem Le Quang, rated 2678, number 63 in the world.

Ni,Hua (2673) – Le Quang,Liem (2703) [B84]

Asian Continental op Ho Chi Minh City (8), 12.05.2012

What is going on here? The board is on fire, everything seems to be hanging, and both kings look relatively unsafe. White has just thrusted forward with 29.g6, and it seems his attack has broken through first, as there seems to be no satisfactory way to deal with the threat of 30.Qxh7. Liem played 29…h5??, after which White won with 30.Qxh5 Ba3+ 31.Kxb3 1-0.

Sadly for Liem he was unable to find an extraordinary, albeit difficult, tactical refutation to White’s g6 move, and missed out on a glorious win. I connected with him a few days ago to get his perspective, and insights. Reminiscing about the game he told me, “It would have been my best game ever if I had not missed that combination.” He was very polite and gracious to answer some of my questions about the game.

Akshat: What was the time situation at that point (move 29) – specifically how much time did you have?

Liem: I think both Ni Hua and I had around ten minutes at that point, with 30 seconds increment per move – but that doesn’t help much in this situation.

Read more on Chessbase