It's about to get Rial in Qatar. How real? Tomorrow's top two boards will decide who goes home with 100,000 Qatari Rial -- $27,000 USD.

Magnus said he wanted to play Vladimir. Vladimir said he wanted to play Magnus (both interviews below).
Tomorrow they both get their wish at the 2015 Qatar Masters Open.

Defending champion GM Yu Yangyi will look to leap over the favorites for the second year in a row.

Fans of the matchup will get what they've been waiting for after the top two seeds in the tournament won very different games in round eight. GM Magnus Carlsen, on top board, needed little over two hours to continue his personal mastery over GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while GM Vladimir Kramnik needed nearly five hours to end the run of upstart GM Sanan Sjugirov.

Of the 16 total players trailing the lead group going into this afternoon, only two managed to win today: Kramnik and defending champion Yu. Kramnik now finds himself in somewhat of a similar situation as last year -- Black on board one in the final round. Two major differences: This time he's down a half-point instead of leading, and instead of Yu, he faces the world champion (the pairings had no subtleties this time -- Kramnik upfloated again, which is the "natural" pairing since he's the highest rated in the 6.0 score group).

GM Sanan Sjugirov's (left) loss to GM Vladimir Kramnik means he won't get a chance to improve upon his 1-0 lifetime record against GM Magnus Carlsen. (Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open)

"I would love to get another White since last time I got two Blacks at the end of the tournament," Kramnik said (he won't get that wish).

"I'm fine with playing Kramnik," Carlsen said. "He will have to beat me as Black." In round seven GM Anish Giri said Carlsen only plays for a draw as White when it will clinch the tournament. In round nine, a draw will clinch at least a playoff. Will Carlsen acquiesce to a draw?

"I have played for draws to clinch tournaments, several times," Carlsen said. Of course, he's also declined draws that would have wrapped up events, including the 2013 Sinquefield Cup and 2014 World Championship, both of which he won anyway.

Carlsen was all smiles after the game while chatting with GM Peter Svidler (Photo: Maria Emelianova for Qatar Masters Open)

Last year Kramnik's loss to Yu when only a draw was required was one of the most surprising results in all of 2014. This year he will be trying to duplicate that surprise from the other side by trying to beat Carlsen as Black.

No matter what results are turned in tomorrow, only these three men are still alive to take first place.

The long-awaited falcon appeared on the live show. GM Mohamed Al-Modiahki (center) said he uses it to deal with cheaters!
(Photo by Maria Emelianova for Qatar Masters Open)

Seats were barely warm today when Carlsen began ganging up on Mamedyarov's isolated pawn. Just when White slipped and the pawn became doomed, the Azeri decided he wasn't in the mood to defend a much worse position and decided to complicate with a piece sacrifice.

"I made some natural moves and his position just collapsed," Carlsen said. "He just chose the wrong plan."

Unlike most of his other sacrifices this tournament, this one stemmed from desperation, and Carlsen easily refuted it. The last two years have been abysmal for the Azeri number one in this matchup. Carlsen's won four straight in classical chess, with three of the games lasting under 30 moves.

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had another game he'd like to forget against GM Magnus Carlsen. (Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open)

"I think it's partly mental at this point, but it's also about style," Carlsen said of their recent history. "I've always said that I like playing aggressive players. I feel that I'm up to the challenge. Today he played a challenging line, but also one that can go very wrong for him as well.

"In a situation like this where a win would be really, really nice, Shak is not the worst player to play with Black," Carlsen said.

Today tournament organizer GM Mohammed Al-Modiahki said his two favorite games of the tournament were Carlsen's flashy win over GM Li Chao and Kramnik's grind over GM Maxim Matlakov. Today those styles roughly repeated, as Kramnik played through dinnertime to beat fellow Russian Sjugirov.

Here's Carlsen's quickie:

"This is beyond what I could have hoped for today," Carlsen said. "He can play extremely well but he doesn't deal well with bad trends in games."

Carlsen, famously a late-riser, was not keen on tomorrow's noon starting time. He's been troubled on the front end too. "I just can't sleep at night." 

Of his tournament buffer, he said, "This is why I'm really happy not to have to win on demand tomorrow."

His half-point lead and sleepiness will both be tested tomorrow against a former world champion.

GM Peter Svidler -- world champion candidate, live chess presenter, and part-time falconer.

"I had a good preparation," Kramnik said of his modest 2. Bf4 system. "I managed to get him into unknown territory."

Specifically Kramnik pointed to 14...b5 as a "bit too much."

GM Vladimir Kramnik earlier said he feels more comfortable playing 2700s, but tomorrow he'll get a 2800.
(Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open)

After the excitement of the top two boards, not much happened on the next 11. Only one win came from those 22 players, knocking all but one of them out of the chance for the top prize.

Still jogging is Yu, who hasn't had a share of the lead since round two. Anything but a Carlsen victory tomorrow keeps him in the race. He gets GM Wesley So in round nine -- just like last year he'll need to beat a high-2700 as White in the final round.

GM Yu Yangyi's (left) simple tactic took out GM Nils Grandelius, whose play and sweater have both been colorful.
(Photo: Katerina Savina for Qatar Masters Open)

In today's game, Yu beat GM Nils Grandelius as Black. In the inverse of Shakh's game, Yu won quickly with the isolated queen pawn. The Swede's downfall came from one solitary move, his 19th, which placed the queen on the wrong side of the board to defend his pieces.

Others tried to get to 6.0/8 to keep hope alive, but most games ended without long fights. The most stubborn effort came from So, who seemed to get a favorable matchup, only having to play an IM. But Lin Chen handled the test with aplomb, all 132 moves of it.


According to this unofficial long analysis of all the possible and earned norms from the tournament site, the defense earned Lin a GM norm.

IM Lin Chen's norm didn't come for free -- the world number 10 made him play more than 100 moves for it. (Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open)

Another Chinese player had already clinched a grandmaster norm before round eight even began! Untitled Xu Yinglun didn't stop with that; he drew GM David Howell today right at move 30 (the minimum number before draws by agreement are allowed).

But what of third seeded GM Anish Giri? He was unable to get past GM Ruslan Ponomariov today. Although the draw officially ends his title quest, he will likely look back at the missed opportunity in round six that started the chain of events leading to his tournament demise.

Ponomariov said after the game that he'd caught a fever before the game. "I'm a little bit sick," he said with noticeable redness in his face. He said his illness made it hard to concentrate and was one of the reasons he didn't play more moves (despite the extra pawn, the final position is equal according to computers).

"It's not a reason to just quit the tournament, I'm not dying," he said.

When told of Carlsen's tournament insomnia, Ponomariov quipped: "Magnus is not sleeping and he's still winning the tournament? I guess that's why he's Magnus and we're just normal players."

One picture, three results. Sjugirov (left) lost, Carslen (center) won, Ponomariov drew.
(Photo: David Llada for Qatar Masters Open)

The move of the round may have been ...Ra7. After gaining respectability from players like GMs Julian Hodgson and Alexander Morozevich, Lin also used it on move six to draw So. But while the initial usage in the Slav was once considered exotic, in another game and in another opening ...Ra7 was downright brilliant:

In the battle for the top women's prize, three women shared the lead going into today -- GMs Alexandra Kosteniuk, Hou Yifan and Harika Dronavalli, all on 4.0/7. The first two women drew so they will go into the final day leading.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk pressed today but her rook versus bishop ending was only drawn against GM Alexander Moiseenko. (Photo: Alla Oborina for Qatar Masters Open)

For the top Arab prize, GM Salem Saleh of the UAE lost, allowing local GM Mohammed AL-Sayed to catch up today. Like the leading ladies, they are also on 4.5/7. Unlike the ladies, they play each other!

Tomorrow's final round begins three hours earlier in order to accomodate the closing ceremony and a possible playoff, which will only break a tie for first place overall (the other "top" prizes are decided on tiebreaks). There's no scenario where more than two players can qualify. If a playoff is needed, it will be twin games of 5+3, then two more if still tied, then a final Armageddon game.

Round nine begins Tuesday at noon local time (GMT+3).
More than 145,000 views came during round eight, the highest so far.

The full pairings can be found here.

Mike Klein for the official tournament website

2015 Qatar Masters Open | Standings After Round Eight (Top 20)

The full standings can be found here.


Rk. SNo Title Name FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 1 GM Carlsen, Magnus NOR 2834 6.5 2902 35.5 38.5
2 2 GM Kramnik, Vladimir RUS 2796 6 2840 35.5 39.5
3 11 GM Yu, Yangyi CHN 2736 6 2819 37 40.5
4 3 GM Giri, Anish NED 2784 5.5 2837 38 42
5 79 Xu, Yinglun CHN 2470 5.5 2811 37 41
6 4 GM So, Wesley USA 2775 5.5 2806 38.5 43
7 7 GM Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar AZE 2748 5.5 2806 37.5 41.5
8 34 GM Swiercz, Dariusz POL 2646 5.5 2787 35.5 38.5
9 46 GM Zhang, Zhong SIN 2619 5.5 2776 32.5 34.5
10 5 GM Karjakin, Sergey RUS 2766 5.5 2769 34.5 36.5
11 17 GM Ponomariov, Ruslan UKR 2710 5.5 2752 34 38
12 33 GM Sjugirov, Sanan RUS 2646 5.5 2750 35.5 39.5
13 9 GM Harikrishna, Pentala IND 2743 5.5 2749 35 38
14 30 GM Ganguly, Surya Shekhar IND 2648 5.5 2746 33.5 36
15 18 GM Ni, Hua CHN 2693 5.5 2745 32.5 35
16 29 GM Akopian, Vladimir ARM 2648 5.5 2705 30 32.5
17 13 GM Vitiugov, Nikita RUS 2724 5.5 2692 34.5 37.5
18 36 GM Nguyen, Ngoc Truong Son VIE 2642 5.5 2685 29.5 32
19 57 IM Lin, Chen CHN 2532 5.5 2675 30.5 33.5
20 16 GM Ivanchuk, Vassily UKR 2710 5.5 2661 29 32

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