The World Champion won his penultimate game to once again claim the sole lead of the Qatar Masters Open. Two players — Vladimir Kramnik and Yu Yangyi, last year’s champion — trail by just half a point.

The Qatar Masters is once again Magnus Carlsen’s to lose. Carlsen, the World Champion from Norway, took the lead of the tournament in the penultimate round with a dominating, and oddly anticlimatic victory over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan.  

Trailing just a half point behind Carlsen are Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, the former World Champion, and Yu Yangyi of China, last year’s surprising winner, who has put himself in position once again to claim first place if Carlsen and Kramnik stumble. 

In Round 8, Kramnik pulled off a smooth technical win against his fellow countryman Sanan Sjugirov, while Yu beat Nils Grandelius of Sweden. That Yu is so close to the top of the leaderboard is surprising as he has been lurking on the lower boards throughout the tournament.

The game between Carlsen and Mamedyarov started off interestingly enough, with Mamedyarov switching his pieces over to the kingside in preparation for an attack against Carlsen’s king. Instead of the usual “block the isolated queen’s pawn” strategy that is the accepted doctrine in chess, Carlsen just piled everything on to attack the weak d4 pawn directly. Under pressure, Mamaedyarov missed a calm, but simple, defensive move:

Mamedyarov’s error was definitely not the biggest one of the round. After an extremely exciting game, Grandelius handed a free point to Yu with an inexplicable blunder: 

On Board 2, Sjugirov’s relative inexperience showed, as Kramnik, took him into a little known opening and then ground out a fine win. I felt Black’s mistake was to castle queenside in the following position, implicitly being scared of Kramnik’s threats on the kingside. The question is: Was Kramnik just trying to scare the younger Russian, or was the Black king in any real danger either in the center or on the kingside?

The other players who went into Round 8 with at least 5 points did not produce any notable results, and generally there wasn’t a lot of excitement in those contests.  

An exception was the game between Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine. Giri, who was White, employed an interesting pawn sacrifice, but Ponomariov never seemed to be in serious danger:

The Chinese sensation in this event, Xu Yinglun (who does not even have a title yet), could have possibly joined his compatriot Yu on 6 points, if he had found a tough tactical idea in the following position: 

In a long game, Wesley So, who was born in the Philippines but now plays for the United States, had some chances, but his opponent, Lin Chen, a little-known Chinese player, held his own and skillfully drew a pawn down rook endgame.

There were many interesting games played on the lower boards where players are still fighting hard for norms and a chance to sneak into the prize list. The most double-edged game was perhaps the crazy match between the Indian grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly and Salem A.R. Saleh, the star player for the United Arab Emirates. 

In Round 7, Ganguly had played an inspired game but lost after failing to find the finishing blows. In Round 8, Caissa meted out some justice to him, as the roles were reversed and fortune smiled on Ganguly after Saleh failed to convert an inspired attack into a full point: 

On the other end of the spectrum of excitement, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, a young Polish grandmaster, showed really great endgame technique to perfectly co-ordinate and push his pawns in the following endgame against Pavel Tregubov of Russia: 

N.R. Vignesh, the Indian prodigy, crashed to his second defeat in a row, after failing to put up much fight against his more compatriot, grandmaster S.P. Sethuraman. Vignesh still has hopes for a grandmaster norm, but he would almost certainly have to win in the last round to have a chance. 

Russian grandmaster Denis Khismatullin showed a deft touch with a little tactic that wiped out Ly Moulthun, a dangerous Australian international master: 

The pairings for the last round are perfect. On the top board, Carlsen will have White against the nearly untouchable Kramnik, though the Russian is not the most ambitious player with Black.

On Board 2, Yu has White against So. As Yu showed last year, he can pull off incredible tournament finishes, thus Carlsen might want to keep his chances alive during his game as he watches what is happening on Board 2.

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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.