The World Champion Magnus Carlsen was held to a second consecutive draw, which allowed two other players to catch him.

With two rounds to go, the Qatar Masters is still wide open. After Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the World Champio, drew his second consecutive game, this time against Anish Giri of the Netherlands, two other players were able to catch him. Another 16 players are within a half point of the co-leaders. 

One of those surprising co-leaders is 22-year-old Sjugirov Sanan of Russia, who dismantled his more experienced and higher-ranked countryman, Dmitri Jakovenko, in a textbook Reti game.

For a long time, the Reti was considered a harmless side variation, but in recent years, many strong players have appreciated the complex positions that give White a chance to play interesting non-theoretical ideas. In Round 7, Jakovenko, failed to realize the dangers in the symmetric position, absolutely collapsing in a span of a few moves. At the same time, Sanan must be given credit for a precise display that got him the fastest point among the top boards:

Carlsen once again failed to pose any problems to Giri, the young pretender to the throne. In a bit of a surprise, Carlsen avoided his usual openings and opted for a traditional 1.e4 variation. He was possibly expecting a Berlin Defense, but Giri continued to trust his Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense, which has served him well in the tournament so far.

White did not choose any of the variations that might have posed the greatest problems for Black, and the result was a long game of fairly pointless maneuvers typical of the Sicilian, and in which Giri was never in any danger. 

On the next board, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, the former World Champion, was perfectly content playing the Berlin Defense. The Chinese youngster Yu Yangyi, who had beaten Kramnik on his way to the Qatar Open title last year, tried to get an edge in a bishop vs knight ending with symmetrical pawn structures, but the experienced Russian never had to leave his comfort zone to draw the game.

The top grandmaster from Azerbijan, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, once again played a wild game with White today. But this time it was his opponent, the Indian grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly who held the initiative while “Shak” just took all pawns that he could. At some point, Ganguly almost pulled off a miracle win, but in the end, the Indian grandmaster could only enter a rooks, opposite-colored bishops and pawn ending, where he was down a couple of pawns. After that, the result was never in doubt. 

The highest ranked woman player, Chinese star Hou Yifan, hasn’t been having the best tournament, but she had been unbeaten through six rounds with a fair share of gritty defense and luck. She ran out of both in Round 7 as her lower-ranked, but older, countryman Lin Chen correctly evaluated an exchange sacrifice: 

Nikita Vitiugov of Russia, whose rating is now over 2700, outplayed a former member of the 2700 club, India’s Krishnan Sasikiran, by finding a beautiful tactical sequence to win material:

The top Swedish player in the tournament, Nils Grandelius, has always been an exciting tactical player. He played one of the most entertaining games of Round 7 against Russia’s Maxim Matlakov. Matlakov, who was White, played the Catalan, which has a dry reputation. But from White’s creative middlegame play to trap the Black queen, to Black’s amazing compensation, the game was anything but dry. 

Xu Yinglun of China, who is only 19 years old, demonstrated an endgame technique well beyond his rating in his game against Ildar Khairullin of Russia. He could have been expected to agree to a draw in a symmetric endgame against his much higher-ranked opponent, but Xu squeezed out a win: 

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian legend, Vasily Ivanchuk, put a stop to the unbeaten (and almost unbelievable) run of India’s N.R. Vignesh. Vignesh seemed comfortably on his way to a solid draw when “Chucky” extracted every last trick out of the position to beat him despite a symmetric 4 vs 4 pawn structure: 

Daniel Naroditsky of the United States has been playing admirably well despite his break from professional chess — he is a student at Stanford University, like I am —but once again, he failed to get the maximum out of the position. In Round 7, he came close to busting the new Chinese star, Li Chao b after easily outplaying him. But Li Chao was given some chances and survived a very tough endgame by building a resourceful fortress: 

The top boards in Round 8 should have some intriguing games. Since Carlsen is no longer the sole leader, he may make every effort to pull away from the pack. His opponent will be Mamedyarov, who has White again, and has been playing inspiringly with that color, so that sets up an interesting clash. 

Sanan, one of the other co-leaders, faces a big test with Black against Kramnik.

And then there are the many matches involving players who have a half a point less than the leaders and are fighting to catch up to them. 

In short, there should be no shortage of action. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that there are four co-leaders, not three, and that there are 14, not 16, players within a half-point of the leaders. 

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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.