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

To Take, or Not to Take?

I came across a game between British GMs John Nunn and Mark Hebden from the recently concluded World Seniors Championship. There was a very neat finish to the game, and so I thought I’ll share it.

In a lost endgame position, Hebden tried his last chance with …Rg1:

How should White react?

A) Kxg1 – Capture Black’s Rook, or

B) Kf3 – Decline the sacrifice?

Happy Solving! Enjoy!


Insane Tactic

I was going through some games, and I came across one which had an extremely exciting and complicated position. The game was between former Chinese Super GM Ni, Hua, and Vietnamese Super GM Le Quang, Liem.

Going back to the position before move h5, your move is to find the winning combination for Black. Take your time, because it’s quite difficult; probably an 8 on a scale of 10 :).

Black to move. Good Luck!

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Washington International 2014
Sand through my Hands

Rockville, Maryland. That’s where I was headed next for the Washington International 2014 chess tournament.  I was extremely excited for this chess tournament, and eager to make amends for the disappointing result at the North American Junior Chess in Canada a few days prior. My dad, brother, and I took the morning Amtrak train which dropped us off at Union Station, followed by taking the local metro to Rockville. We reached the Hilton Hotel venue by late afternoon, after an ~5-hour journey. The first round began the next morning.  But there was a blitz tournament that evening, which I decided to play. I’ve enjoyed lot of success playing blitz chess online, beating a few big names, but my results are not so spectacular over the board for some reason. The tournament was a double-match, meaning we played the same player, once with each color. I didn’t play particularly well, muddling through the tournament with uninspired chess, but managed to beat a GM 2-0 in the last round :) . On to the main tournament now!

I was seeded #14, out of ~50 players, with a 2472 rating, which meant I’d play lower rated for the first two rounds.  There were many strong players at the top, the highest one being the young Ukranian chess phenom GM Ilya Nyzhnyk, with a rating of 2638. In the first round, I was paired with a young, strong chess player, Kesav Viswanadha (2253 FIDE). It was an interesting game, where I blockaded the Queen-side, nullifying his play, and aimed to win the game on the Kingside. He tried to create some play by sacrificing a pawn in the center, but he never got any compensation for it and I was just a healthy pawn up. My two bishops came alive, while his knights were poorly placed and had literally no squares. I transposed to an endgame, and won shortly after.

In the second round I faced another bright youngster, Kevin Wang (2348 FIDE), and played Black.  Kevin was coming off a win against GM Fidel Corrales (2566 FIDE), so it was essential I brought my A-game. Unfortunately, I brought my D-game :( . I surprised him in the opening with a rare move, hoping it would rattle him. Now that I think about it though, it was hardly a move to write home about :) . White has a plethora of options, all which guarantee him a slight edge or equality. Kevin made a slight inaccuracy however, which allowed me to build up a slight advantage after playing natural moves. But at a critical juncture I erred, and dissolved my advantage after a series of bad moves. I was now barely hanging on and fighting for a draw, not to mention I was down to less than a minute and was surviving solely on the increment. Luckily for me, Kevin missed a couple of forced wins and made some inaccuracies which dissipated his advantage. On move 33, he played Bc5 which turned out to be a blunder, and I missed a queen sacrifice which led to a forced win. Well that’s what happens when I shoot myself in the foot by making bad moves, and very importantly not managing my time well. The game ended in a draw few moves later, something I was grateful for, but was still pretty annoyed at missing my golden opportunity to win after a hard and stressful defense. The only reason this chess game didn’t get an F-grade, was because I managed not to lose :P .

I was faced with another lower rated in R3, local chess player William Morrison (2267 FIDE) who was having a great tournament. He had logged an upset in R1 against GM-elect Darwin Yang, and drawn with GM Ioan Christan Chirila in R2. William played the highly popular Breyer variation, known for it’s solidity, against my Ruy Lopez. After some thought, I decided to take action on the Kingside by opening things up with 23.f4.

This f4 was a high-risk high-reward type of move. While it did open up lines in the center and on the Kingside for my Rooks and other pieces, Black had the e5 square at it’s disposal; the perfect square for his Knight. I had to make sure that my threats broke through, so he didn’t get time to consolidate and plant his Knight on e5 permanently. That’s exactly what happened, and as often happens when one is under pressure, he made the decisive mistake. I found the winning plan, but when it was time to make the key move in my sequence, I ended up forgetting about it and making an atrocious move instead.

After that, things should have headed for a draw (although I would have probably sacrificed my g5 pawn to retain some minuscule chances). Luckily for me, he blundered 2 moves later and this time I capitalized on it, and sealed the deal. I was now on 2.5/3, but I was highly dissatisfied with my last 2 games, in which I could have been severely punished for being ignorant, and forgetful.

I received a double White in Round 4, which pitted me against a higher rated GM Sergey Azarov (2635 FIDE) from Belarus. He had been playing many chess tournaments since the start of summer in the U.S,  and was having some good results, finishing tied second at the NY International, DC International, and World Open ; performing above his rating in all these extremely strong tournaments. I surprised him by playing an unusual and slightly rare move in the opening, after which he began to consume a lot of time. He recaptured with his knight, which came as a surprise to me as I was expecting the pawn recapture.

Then it was my turn to consume lot of time, and pretty soon we were both level on time at around ~45 minutes each. The game became roughly equal, but not entirely devoid of chances. I was playing extremely solidly, trying to limit his play, while not overextending myself trying to win. That’s usually a good plan against higher rated – don’t force things when there isn’t anything, let them force because the pressure is on them to win. Pretty soon we traded down to an endgame which was slightly better for me, but I didn’t see any way to make advantage of my Rook on the 7th rank, and so forced a repetition of moves.

So 3 points out of 4, not bad, but still a long way to go. I was faced against GM Mark Paragua (2489 FIDE) from the Philippines in R5. I had played him a few months earlier at the Marshall GM Invitational, where I had earned my first GM Norm. Aah, memories :) . I covered that for Chessbase, click here  and here to read about it. Don’t click anywhere if you want to finish reading this article :D . Ever since Mark started playing in the U.S., he has been playing only one line as White – The Trompowsky. D4 followed by Bg5, regardless of what the opponent played (Of course, he wouldn’t play Bg5 if the opponent played 1.h6,1.f6, or 1.e6 :). I had prepared my usual way of playing against it, when minutes before the game I decided to switch to something else which seemed to offer better chances. As a result, I opened up with 1.d5. Mark seemed to be slightly surprised, but as expected he followed up with 2.Bg5. I then responded with 2.f6 !?, the idea I had wanted to employ. It seems like a weird move, but thanks to f6, Black is able build up a formidable center.

I had briefly looked at one variation in this line before the game, and as luck would have it Mark went straight into it. But unfortunately, I forgot the continuation which I had looked at for myself. I wracked my brains trying to remember, but as luck wouldn’t have it, I couldn’t. It wasn’t so much of a big deal though, and I think I managed pretty well.

So it ended in a draw, after a fighting game filled with some distinct plans and ideas. That put me at 3.5/5, still in the mix of things, but I needed a win to breakout. I  played Mark’s compatriot in the 6th round, GM Barbosa Oliver (2540 FIDE). He had been struggling in his transition from the Philippines to the US chess circuit, but that was no indication of his real strength. He had won the extremely strong Kolkata Open 2014 in India a few months ago, beating several strong players enroute to his victory. I had Black again, which made sense as I had a double White earlier.  As weird as it may sound, I wasn’t able to prepare for him because he didn’t have many recent games in my lines. So I didn’t really know what to expect from him. The game turned out to be rather bland, as the evaluation never strayed from being equal. He played the Catalan, and we followed theory for about 20 moves, before I unknowingly played a novelty. We traded the heavy pieces after that, and drew a few moves later in an opposite colored bishop endgame.

A rather boring, bloodless draw that was. I was now 4/6, and was facing GM Giorgi Margvelashvilli (2556 FIDE) with the White pieces. This brought my opponent average rating of to 2440, which meant a GM norm would be 6.5 points. That was quite a tall order, and meant that I required 2.5/3. So I was already in a must-win situation essentially. The game didn’t start of too well, as I was unpleasantly surprised in the opening by Giorgi’s opening choice. He opted for the Benoni, something which he had almost never played before.

The Benoni is an extremely complex opening, and often leads to rich middle games, with many different ideas and plans for both sides. Since I couldn’t prepare for this chess line, I already found myself out of theory by move 10. He seemed to know the line for a couple more moves, but by move 15 we were both on our own – And so the battle began!  Both of us began our operations, and the next 7 moves were devoted to maneuvering our pieces, preparing our respective plans to provoke some chinks in the enemy’s armor. That led to this critical position:

So I was now 2 pawns up, and the position was an easy win. I then made a rash decision and decided to trade Queens , thinking it’ll be an easy win as I simply roll my Kingside pawns up the board. But things turned out to be not so simple at all. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. It turns out there was only one winning plan in that position. I nearly suffered a heart attack, thinking that I had bungled the win! I settled down after the brief moments of paranoia, frantically searching for the winning plan. I began to think there might not be a win at all, and that I had compromised everything, when the winning plan sprung into my mind, just as Archimedes had sprung from his bathtub and exclaimed “Eureka.”  Phew!  It would have been a shame to ruin a well played game against a strong player, due to being hasty.

Yeah Baby! That was a really satisfying win, as I felt it was one of the better games I had ever played, and it came against a really strong Grandmaster. The ending reminded me of Game 8 in the Topalov-Anand World Championship in 2010. The major difference though was that Anand blundered in a drawn endgame, although a tough and accurate defense was required,while my ending was winning all along.

I was now 5/7, and my next pairing was with the highest rated player in the tournament, Ukraine chess prodigy GM Illya Nyzhynk (2638 FIDE). He was the 11th youngest person to become a GM at the time, clocking in at 14 years 3 months and 2 days. Illya is very modest, polite, and humble. He’s someone who is a chess role model to us youngsters who are aspiring to become a GM at a young age. I was extremely excited to see how would I match up against him, and was revving to go. Boy, did we have a game for the ages.

I emerged with a slight advantage in the opening, and kept on increasing it with powerful moves. Just as it seemed he had solved all his problems, POW, I pounded forward with striking blows. I was in tremendous form, and was literally playing the chess of my life. Eventually I created what should have been a decisive advantage, but was unable to find the killer blow. My advantage fizzled out and the game ended in a draw. I was extremely disappointed, as a win would have meant that a draw in the last round would be enough for a GM norm. When I went back and analyzed the game, I wasn’t able to find a clear win, but neither did the computer, at first, before eventually finding a way . I found out something else that was quite extraordinary. Illya and I had followed the game Carlsen-Gelfand from the 2013 Candidates Tournament for 29 moves (!) moves! Who said two games are never the same? :) Magnus converted the very same position into a win against Gelfand, while I had to settle for a draw. Despite not finishing off the game, I was extremely proud to have found some powerful moves, just as Magnus did. We reached the following position after the opening, and shortly after, the fireworks began!

A draw may have seemed like a good result on paper, but considering the opportunity I had, it was not that good. I would need to play a 2530+ in the last round, in order to need just a draw for the GM norm. Unfortunately though, the pairings didn’t go my way, and I found myself faced against the prodiguous 13-year old, IM Samuel Sevian (2454 FIDE). So that meant I needed a win for the norm, a challenge which was made more difficult since I had Black as well. Samuel had been having a great tournament, and he needed a draw in the last round for his GM norm. We had played earlier in the St. Louis Classic Round Robin, where I had bungled a winning advantage, turned down a draw, and lost. Maybe I could even things up now.

So this is what it came down too, two youngsters vying to fulfill their dreams. Samuel surprised me in the opening with an uncommon move on move 3, to which I reacted horribly and essentially blew all my winning chances right there and then on move 5.

It was really quite a miracle I drew,  Although to be fair, I willfully put myself in that situation trying to create some winning chances. At the end, we both had 6.5 points, but only Sevian had the norm. I congratulated Sevian, before exiting the playing hall with a feeling of regret and anguish. I had come tantalizingly close to a GM norm once again, and had missed it once more due to a technicality by the slightest of margins; since if my average opponent’s rating had been 2 points higher, a draw would have sufficed for a norm in the last round. But at least I knew I had given it my all. One thing for sure that was definitely poor from my side was my inability to overcome lower rated earlier in the tournament. That came back to hurt me, and I ended up paying a high price for it. I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The norm opportunity was tantalizingly close before it faded away.  It was like holding on to sand – slipping right through my fingers.

Life isn’t always a walk in the park, with everything falling your way. Setbacks will happen, but it’s important we learn from them, and take them in stride. This was a learning experience, a painful one no doubt. It’s an experience i’m going to use, and come back swinging harder. After all, “The road to success is always under construction.”




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