After a final round draw, the World Champion then won a playoff against Yu Yangyi, the defending champion.

For Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, December has been a very good month. 

He started it by winning the London Chess Classic and then winning the Grand Chess Tour in a playoff (in a tie-breaker system that had a littany of problems). 

Tuesday, Carlsen won the Qatar Masters Open, and once again it was in a playoff, this time against Yu Yangyi of China, the defending champion

Carlsen began the day by quickly agreeing to a draw with White against Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, the former World Champion. (The day before, both players had expressed their concern about starting the final round three hours earlier than usual, so the tame contest perhaps wasn’t quite a surprise.)

As happened in London, Carlsen then waited after his game finished for the tie-breaker, if it was needed. For that to happen, Yu had to win, and he did, pulling off a heroic victory over Wesley So of the United States.

Carlsen then brutally dismantled Yu in the tiebreakers. 

The first game showed some incredibly smooth play by the World Champion: 

The next game was a dud, as Yu, who was clearly exhausted, walked into a pretty double attack: 

Yu has been somewhat overshadowed over the last couple of years by some of his compatriots, and his inconsistency has also held him back a little. But, like last year in Qatar, he showed nerves of steel to mount an incredible comeback after a comparatively slow start.

So rarely loses a game and, despite some admirable initial efforts from the young Chinese, it looked like So had things under control in Round 9. Yu’s resolve could not be denied, however, and he pulled off a miracle win at the end: 

The last round of a Swiss has a lot more at stake than just the prizes as many players also battled it out for norms toward grandmaster and international master titles. Some players, like Xu Yinglun of China (who had an incredible rating performance of over 2800) and India’s Shardul Gagare were basically guaranteed grandmaster norms as long as they showed up. 

Still, they both did not stop impressing in the final round. Xu let Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine off the hook with a draw in a final position where he had little risk of losing. Gagare, who no longer had any worries about a norm, notched up another 2600 scalp against Ildar Khairullin of Russia. The early round evidently wasn’t great for the Russian, as he blundered a pawn just after of the opening: 

Others earned grandmaster norms as well. N.R. Vignesh of India, who lost in Rounds 7 and 8, still comfortably cleared the 2600 rating performance for a norm. 

And Lin Chen of China, who had demolished his compatriot, and the strongest woman in the world, Hou Yifan, in Round 8, also seems to have made the cut.

Khairullin wasn’t the only one who may have been affected by the early hour. Quite a few blunders were sprinkled across other games: 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan did not technically blunder away his game, but he still seemed in a daze from his collapse in Round 8 against Carlsen. In Round 9, instead of playing calmly with Black, he played in Kamikaze mode. This is not the best strategy when facing a young opponent like Sanan Sjugirov of Russia who is rated 2650: 

Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, who is a long-time second of former World Champion Viswanathan Anand of India, probably did not mind the early round as he played a brilliant tactical game against his countryman, Kacper Piorun. I strongly suspect that a lot of the game was home preparation, but it’s always hard to know when the preparation in such a game ends: 

Nino Batsiashvilli, the Georgian international master who held Carlsen to a draw in Round 1 with the black pieces, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov, the 11-year-old prodigy from Uzbekistan who held two 2600 grandmasters to draws in the first two rounds, faced off in Round 9. Neither player could match their dizzying starts in the rest of the event, but they fought well throughout, and ended on a fitting note, with Batsiashvilli pulling off a brilliant save: 

The Qatar Masters was a success on many fronts. Many norms were earned, new talents were discovered and there were many entertaining games. In fact, the tournament may even spoil us as rarely, if ever, can the many drab, closed round robins create the drama and tension of an open Swiss with so many of the world’s top players. T

hough some of those players seemed to have some early round jitters, most of them did well in the end and lived up to their rankings, including, notably, the World Champion. 


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.