Round 6 of the Qatar Masters Open was relatively uneventful. Magnus Carlsen remains the sole leader, but there are now 13 players just a half-point behind him.

After a rest day, the Qatar Masters Open resumed on Saturday. But their seemed to be some residual effect from the day off as there was some sluggishness among the top players, judging by their games and the results. Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the World Champion, was still in the lead at the end of the day after a draw with Wesley So, who plays for the United States. But the chasing pack grew — there are now 13 players who trail Carlsen by just half a point, including India’s Pentala Harikrishna and Dmitri Jakovenko and Sjugirov Sanan, who are both Russian.

Most of the top boards in Round 6 were evenly matched, and generally none of the players tried too hard, with one notable exception — Anish Giri of the Netherlands.  

On the top board, Carlsen, who had played a couple of Sicilian Defenses, went back to the solid 1…e5 lines. So, who was born in the Philippines but switched to playing for the United States in 2014, shuffled his pieces around for a while, but never had more than slightest suggestion of an edge.

The same was true of the matchup between Vladimir Kramnik, the former World Champion from Russia, who had White, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the top player from Azerbaian. ‘Shak’ has played some of the most powerful games in the tournament, but with Black, he usually takes a much more sedate approach to the game, and Round 6 was no different.

On the other hand, Giri, who also had Black, continued to play the ambitious Najdorf Variation in the Sicilian Defense. With some really creative moves, he outplayed the Indian grandmaster Surya Shekhar Ganguly. But Giri missed multiple nice opportunities to increase his advantage, and eventually allowed Ganguly to escape with a draw: 

In an all Chinese matchup, an extra pawn for Li Chao b wasn’t quite enough to overcome his lower-ranked countryman Yu Yangyi: 

Pentala Harikrishna, India’s main hope to replace Vishwanathan Anand in the elite, took his chances to sneak past Vladimir Fedoseev, perhaps Russia’s top young talent: 

The form of Wei Yi, the rising star from China, has been a concern for many of his fans, but today he showed dazzling technique against the German grandmaster Stefan Bromberger. Wei made a very impressive king march to h5. The question is: could Bromberger still have saved the game? 

Another Chinese star, and the world’s best female player, Hou Yifan, had to play very precisely in the endgame to hold off Indian talent N.R. Vignesh. With the draw, Vignesh remained undefeated, with a cumulative score of 4 points out of 6 against a really impressive lineup consisting of only grandmasters rated over 2600!

The dream run of India’s other young international master, Shardul Gagare, was finally put to a stop in the match with his older countryman, Krishnan Sasikiran. Shardul was doing great through much of the game, but as in other games, he seemed to hesitate to go all in, and the very experienced Sasikiran didn’t miss the one chance he got to turn the tables:

After his loss to Yu Yangyi in Round 5, Xu Yinglun recovered nicely to annihilate Kacper Piorun of Poland, the World Problem Solving Champion. To be fair though, Piorun didn’t put up much resistance after mysteriously dropping a pawn right after the opening: 

Ni Hua, the Chinese “veteran” (at least compared to all the very young Chinese grandmasters), was handed a free point by India’s Dronavalli Harika in Round 3. In Round 6, Vidit Gujarathi, another Indian grandmaster, gifted him another point, when Gujarathi collapsed in the following drawish endgame: 

In the longest game of the day, Mateusz Bartel of Poland showed that he knew classic defensive techniques to hold off David Howell of England in a rook  and bishop vs. Rook endgame. Particularly didactic was the following defensive idea: 

Daniel Naroditsky, my fellow Stanford student, played a study-like final move in his game against Raja Harshit of India that is worth mentioning:

Hopefully, the top players will be more willing to take their gloves off in Round 7. The most exciting matchup could be Carlsen’s game against Giri, who is the only player in the elite to still have a positive score against him.

—————————————————————

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.