Inside Story: Kaidanov In Qatar

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the January 2024 issue of Chess Life Magazine. Consider becoming a US Chess member for more content like this — access to digital editions of both Chess Life and Chess Life Kids is a member benefit, and you can receive print editions of both magazines for a small add-on fee.

When I learned that Magnus Carlsen was going to play in an open tournament in Doha, Qatar, I immediately marked those dates in my calendar. At first, there was no response from the organizers, and after some weeks, I gave up on the idea. However, and to my great pleasure, the invitation eventually came.


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Magnus Carlsen was a major attraction in Qatar, but who is that he's playing in round one? (courtesy Valeria Kaidanov)


Generally speaking, I prefer to not play two tournaments in a row, but since I committed to the World Senior Team Championship earlier on, I had to face the reality of playing back-to-back tournaments with only 10 days in between. I know many professional grandmasters will laugh at me; today, it seems to be a common belief that 10 days between tournaments is a luxury! To prepare myself, I spent the time in between tournaments mostly solving calculation puzzles.

I knew the Qatar Masters would be very strong, but it was a pleasant surprise to find myself as the #35 seed with my FIDE rating of 2554. The top seeds, besides Carlsen, were GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri. There was a huge Indian delegation, boasting 75 (!!) players out of total 158, including the young stars Gukesh, Erigaisi, and Nihal Sarin. The second largest contingent was from Uzbekistan, with 14 players. Both nations showed their strength and immense promise — six of the top eight finishers represented those two countries.


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Why, it's Alisher Suleymenov! The young grandmaster made a name for himself with a fine victory over Carlsen. (courtesy Valeria Kaidanov)


At 64, I was by far the oldest player in the field. As a matter of fact, there was just one other player over the age of 40! The average age of my opponents was 22, with Magnus being the oldest at the ancient age of 32!

Already the second round produced a huge surprise: Carlsen lost to the little-known 23-year-old Kazakh GM, Alisher Suleymenov. And it wasn’t just that he lost — it would be fair to say that Magnus got crushed.

Magnus himself admitted it in his tweet, adding, “This is not to accuse my opponent of anything, who played an amazing game and deserved to win, but honestly, as soon as I saw my opponent was wearing a watch early in the game, I lost my ability to concentrate. I did ask an arbiter during the game whether watches were allowed, and he clarified that smartwatches were banned, but not analog watches. This seems to be against FIDE rules for events of this stature.”

This tweet created a lot of speculation and internet memes. People were accusing Alisher of cheating, despite the fact that Carlsen himself did not. Just as we saw after the famous game Niemann – Carlsen in St. Louis, the security in tournament hall increased starting with the third round.

Here I would like to share my own method of determining whether someone used a computer assistance. This method is neither scientific nor reliable. However, it helps me to form my own opinion on the subject.

Many of my students and friends know my love for “solitaire chess,” which is also known as “guess a move.” The idea is familiar to Chess Life readers, who have been playing “solitaire chess” with Bruce Pandolfini for many years now. I took the Suleymenov – Carlsen game and tried to guess the moves for White, starting from move 15. Unless otherwise noted, my moves were identical to Suleymenov’s.



After two rounds I had 2/2, and I caught myself thinking (somewhat bittersweetly) “This is the last time in my life that I am ahead of Magnus Carlsen in tournament standings!” Indeed, I lost in round three to the 17-year-old GM Javokhir Sindarov, while Magnus won. But after round seven I found myself a half-point ahead of Magnus.


Carlsen GK
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Carlsen (L) against the author in round eight (courtesy Valeria Kaidanov)


It was in that round that I played this game, which received some attention on the internet.



As the lowest-rated player in my point group, I was paired against Carlsen in round eight. Needless to say, I was very excited.



While I lost this game, I felt good about my play. In the last round I beat Vaishali, who at this point had already secured her third and final GM norm. Since Magnus drew the Indian GM Puranik, we ending up tying for ninth place with 12 other players, which was a great result for me, and a terrible result for him!

Before the last round the impressive young GM Arjun Erigaisi was leading with 6½/8, and he played Black against another elite talent, GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Arjun was under a lot of pressure the whole game, but in the end, when the worst seemed over, tragedy struck.



So it was two Uzbek grandmasters named Nodirbek who tied for first place with 7/9. GM Nodirbek Yakubboev, 21, won the tiebreak to take home the first-place trophy. Considering their countryman, GM Javokhir Sindarov, was among the six players to tie for third with 6½/9, the tournament must be seen as a huge success for Uzbek chess.

Here is one final game, a nice effort from the tournament winner.