The final round of Qatar Masters started rather uneventfully: Vladimir Kramnik, who needed a win against Magnus Carlsen to be in contention for first place, played the solid Berlin Defense and accepted draw by repetition in 30 moves in less than an hour.
On board two, however, Grandmaster Yu Yangyi, the only other person who could tie for first place, and his opponent, Wesley So, were ready for a battle. Both players contributed to a very double-edged middlegame, which commentator Peter Svidler called, “a very strange set of decisions”.
With only four minutes left on his clock, Yu, who had sacrificed a bishop and left his king to fend for himself against So’s queen and knight, had an opportunity for a draw by perpetual check. The commentators, certain that Yu would accept the peaceful result, congratulated Carlsen as the outright winner of the tournament. Meanwhile, Wesley So, who spent the first two moves of the repetition looking away from the board, also seemed to believe that a draw was a foregone conclusion.
Despite this, Yu calculated until the very last minute and decided to play on. In the end, Yu grinded down a rook ending with three pawns vs. a knight and, after 77 moves and over 5 hours, he secured victory.
This earned Yu a blitz playoff match against Carlsen for the championship. In the first tiebreak game, Carlsen sacrificed material for an overwhelming king attack.
How did Carlsen continue?
Magnus Carlsen vs. Yu Yangyi
White to move.
In the second game, Yu blundered in the opening, allowing Carlsen a simple, but difficult to notice tactic.
How did Carlsen win material so early in the game?
Yu Yangyi vs. Magnus Carlsen
Black to move.
With this victory, Carlsen became the 2015 Qatar Masters Champion, achieving a 2887 performance rating in the process. After the match, Carlsen was delighted to end on a high note: “I’m very happy to win here. In such a strong open tournament, you can be the favorite, but no matter how good you are, you can never be guaranteed to win.”
When asked about his personal review of the ups and downs of his performances this year, Carlsen said, “I think the reason people have been calling it a bad year is because they hold me to a higher standard than everyone else, and I take that as a compliment.”