After a draw in Round 4 between the co-leaders in Round 3, three other players, including the World Champion, have joined the lead pack.

Magnus Carlsen of Norway did not get off to a very good start at the Qatar Masters Open, his first open tournament in eight years. He drew his first game against an international master. And then he really struggled to win his second game. But he seems to be adjusting, and in Round 4, he won his third game in a row and joined the tournament leaders.  

He played ferociously in Round 4 — the kind of game that we aren’t too used to seeing from him — to overpower 17-year-old Polish grandmaster Jan Duda. 

This was the second Sicilian Defense in a row from Carlsen, representing a shift in strategy towards more dynamic openings when he is playing Black because he playing in a Swiss tournament. A particularly interesting moment occurred when Carlsen seemingly dropped his pawn on f7:

The two co-leaders after Round 3, Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Li Chao b of China, who both won their first three games, drew against each other in Round 4. The game was relatively tame as Li Chao tried playing Giri’s pet g3 Grunfeld line against Giri, but he was unable to put the Dutch star in any danger, and they soonn signed the peace treaty. 

The third board, featuring America’s No. 3-ranked player, Wesley So, against the experienced Armenian, Vladimir Akopian, appeared to be headed in a similar direction, but So created some incredible tricks in an ending with opposite-colored bishops. Such endings are usually drawn and even computers failed to understand So’s ideas. In the end, Akopian did miss a drawing chance, but it was by no means easy. The game is an excellent study in endgame technique: 

The next few boards saw rather tame draws, with unambitious White players never really creating any interesting possibilities in their games. On the last board featuring players with 2.5 points before the round began, Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia, the former Women’s World Champion, mysteriously sacrificed a pawn: 

The players who had 2 points after Round 3 were a lot more combative in their efforts to try to join the leaders. 

The American Daniel Naroditsky, who, like me,is studying at Stanford University, faced Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, the former World Champion. After the game was over, Naroditsky put my suffering at Stanford classes in perspective with a very justified Facebook update:

Naroditsky actually fought very well with Black, but the apparently simple position had a lot of subtleties, and Kramnik found interesting ways to keep the pressure. The turning point occurred when Naroditsky missed an unexpected move: Bd8!!

In another exciting game, the usually super solid Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia played the extremely aggressive g4 in the opening against Salem A.R. Saleh, an unpredictable grandmaster from the United Arab Emirates.

Tomashevsky’s idea was justified for White, but this may not have been the best opponent to try it against. Saleh excels in wild positions and in this game he created impressive counterplay. But at the very end, probably in a mutual time scramble, Saleh made an error. He was saved by some desperate tactics, and a horrid blunder by Tomashevsky:

Among other games, Sergey Karjakin of Russia won quite convincingly with Black against Kacper Piorun of Poland, the 2011 World Problem Solving Champion.

India’s Pentala Harikrishna came very close to winning as well, but Nils Grandelius of Sweden held on impressively. The question in the following game is did Grandelius create a fortress?

Hou Yifan of China, the top-ranked woman in the world, conducted an impressive attack with White — sacrificing two pieces — showing that she is on top of her game in the tournament.

Wei Yi, Hou’s compatriot, couldn’t pull of his attack as nicely. Initially, he seemed to be on his way to crushing the Indian youngster N. Vignesh, but Black put up an impressive defense, and even turned the tables when the Chinese wunderkind made a terrible blunder:

The most impressive of the attack of the day was the one by Stefan Bromberger, a German grandmaster, against Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, a young international master from Norway. After being on the receiving end of some fearless play by Zhansaya Abdumallik of Kazakhstan a couple of days earlier, Bromberger showed that he an give as good as he gets, starting with the pawn sacrifice g5!?: 

Round 5 sets up some nice match-ups as Carlsen will finally take on someone his own size — in this case, Li Chao — while the second board, will feature a battle between two of the most consistent players among the world’s elite, Giri and So. It should be an interesting day. 

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Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 80 in the world, he is currently a sophmore at Stanford University.