Carlsen Faces Kramnik in the Finale of Qatar Masters

r_20151227_qatar_masters_r7_0040_magnus_carlsen World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Photo David Llada

Over the course of 2015, Magnus Carlsen has shown an incredible amount of tenacity: Over and over, he's managed to recover after disappointing performances. Carlsen began Qatar Masters with a less than ideal start, drawing against International Master Nino Batsiashvili, who is rated over 300 points below him. None of this has been evident in Carlsen’s play since, though: Leading into the final round, he is the clear tournament leader. To get there, he defeated Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in just 25 moves with black.

[pgn][Result "0-1"] [White "Shakhriyar Mamedyarov"] [Black "Magnus Carlsen"] [ECO "D38"] [WhiteElo "2748"] [BlackElo "2834"] [PlyCount "50"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bxf6 Qxf6 7. e3 O-O 8. Rc1 dxc4 9. Bxc4 c5 10. O-O cxd4 11. Ne4 Qe7 12. exd4 Rd8 13. Qe2 Nc6 14. Rfd1 Ba5 15. Ng3 Bb6 16. Qe4 Bd7 17. h4 Be8 18. a3 Rd6 19. Qg4 Rad8 20. d5 Qf8 21. Qe4 Ne7 22. Bd3 f5 23. Qe5 Nxd5 24. Bxf5 exf5 25. Nxf5 Rc6 0-1[/pgn]
Carlsen described the game as, “I made some natural moves, and his position collapsed, basically… When you kind of need a win, playing an aggressive player with black is nice, although it's dangerous as well." Vladimir Kramnik and Yu Yangyi, last year's champion, trail behind Carlsen by half a point. Kramnik won a five hour fighting game over Sanan Sjugirov.
[pgn][Result "1-0"] [White "Vladimir Kramnik"] [Black "Sanan Sjugirov"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2796"] [BlackElo "2646"] [PlyCount "111"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. Nbd2 cxd4 6. exd4 Bf5 7. c3 e6 8. Qb3 Qc8 9. Nh4 Bg6 10. Nxg6 hxg6 11. Bd3 Nh5 12. Be3 Bd6 13. O-O-O a6 14. Kb1 b5 15. Qc2 Na5 16. Nf3 Nc4 17. Bc1 Qc7 18. Ng5 Nf4 19. Bf1 O-O-O 20. a4 Qb7 21. axb5 axb5 22. b3 Na5 23. Qa2 Nc6 24. g3 Nh5 25. Bd3 Kb8 26. Qe2 Na7 27. Bd2 Rc8 28. Kb2 Rc6 29. Ra1 Rf8 30. Ra2 Ra6 31. Rxa6 Qxa6 32. Ra1 Qb7 33. b4 Nf6 34. Ra5 Bc7 35. Bf4 Bxf4 36. gxf4 Qc7 37. Bxb5 Qxf4 38. Nf3 Ne4 39. Ne5 Rh8 40. Nc6+ Nxc6 41. Bxc6 Nxc3 42. Kxc3 Rh3+ 43. Kc2 Qxd4 44. Qb5+ Kc7 45. Qb7+ Kd6 46. Qb8+ Ke7 47. Qa7+ Qxa7 48. Rxa7+ Kd6 49. Ba4 Rh4 50. Kb3 Rh3+ 51. Kb2 Rh4 52. Rd7+ Ke5 53. Ka3 Kd4 54. Rxf7 Rxh2 55. b5 Kc5 56. Rc7+ 1-0[/pgn]
Yu Yangyi was the only other decisive round 8 result on the top 10 boards, defeating Nils Grandelius.

Nils Grandelius vs. Yu Yangyi

Grandelius just played 19. Qf4, leaving several weak points on White's queenside. How did Yu obtain a significant material advantage?

Black to move.

Show Solution

[pgn][Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "New game"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r3k2r/pp1b1p2/2n4p/bBqp4/5Q1R/4P1B1/P2N1PP1/1R2K3 b kq - 0 19"] [PlyCount "9"]19... Qc2 $1 20. Bxc6 (20. Rd1 Bxd2+ 21. Rxd2 Qb1+ 22. Rd1 Qxb5) 20... Qxd2+ 21. Kf1 Qd3+ 22. Kg1 Qxb1+ 23. Kh2 Bxc6 *[/pgn]

The tournament finish is far from set in stone as Kramnik will have his chance to face Carlsen head-to-head with the black pieces in the final round. Before it was official, Carlsen mentioned that this was his pairing preference: "I’d like to play Kramnik, of course, if he’d need to beat me with black." Kramnik, on the other hand, was more neutral: "To play Magnus would be very interesting. I always enjoy playing with the best players. It will be maybe more difficult, but more interesting." When asked if his minus one score overall score against Carlsen would affect the game, Kramnik responded, "Well, actually, my score is one of the best, you know, against Magnus compared to others. I mean I’m only minus one, which is not that much. And I was recently even plus one. I’m doing much better than Nakamura, for instance. So, no, I don’t have any psychological problem with Magnus, it will be just a game." Meanwhile, Yu Yangyi will have the white pieces against U.S. # 3, Wesley So. Yu is in a similar situation as last year, where entered the last round a half point behind the leader, but managed to pass him with a victory. Watch live games and commentary of the final round on the Official Qatar Masters Website.