Qatar Masters: Suleymenov crushes Carlsen, Carlsen questions organizers

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/12/2023 – In a shocking development, 23-year-old Kazakh GM Alisher Suleymenov (rated 2512) defeated Magnus Carlsen in round 2 of the Qatar Masters — it was a crushing 31-move victory. Carlsen later shared some concerns on his X account, noting that it is “incredibly frustrating to see organisers still not taking anti-cheating seriously at all”, as he had been distracted by Suleymenov’s playing with an analog watch. Carlsen clarified that he was not accusing his opponent of cheating. | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

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The analog watch dilemma

Round 2 of the Qatar Masters featured a number of upsets by lower-rated players, but none as shocking as Alisher Suleymenov’s (rated 2512) victory over Magnus Carlsen, the long-time highest-rated player in the world. For context, Tarjei J. Svensen shared on his X account that this is the first time Carlsen loses to a 2500-rated player since his loss to 2566-rated Yannick Pelletier back in 2015.

The upset of the day (of the year?) was a crushing 31-move victory, which saw Suleymenov fearlessly activating his pieces early on and finding a killing knight sacrifice on move 21. Find expert video analysis of the game by IM Robert Ris below.

Right after the game, Carlsen shared the following message on X:

I was completely crushed in my game today. 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 obviously take responsibility for my inability to deal with those thoughts properly, but it’s also incredibly frustrating to see organisers still not taking anti-cheating seriously at all (no transmission delay, spectators walking around the playing hall with smartphones).

Naturally, this prompted a debate on social media, with many wondering whether it is forbidden to wear an analog watch — like the one Suleymenov was wearing — according to FIDE rules. The international federation’s handbook states in its anti-cheating chapter (emphasis my own):

OTB rule violations include a variety of infractions that occur over the course of the tournament. This includes bringing a phone into the playing hall, bringing other forbidden gadgets into the playing hall (e.g., wallets, smart glasses, pens, watches), being uncooperative with the Arbiter, refusing to be searched or scanned. The list of OTB rule violations is not exhaustive.

Unlike his accusation against Hans Niemann from last year, when Carlsen was suspicious of his opponent’s behaviour during the game (“...throughout our game I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating in critical positions”), he has now repeatedly clarified that he is not accusing Suleymenov of cheating.

Carlsen’s focus is on tournament organizers’ general inability to deal with the threat of cheating — one that is particularly damaging in chess. Long-standing elite grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave supported the Norwegian’s viewpoint while praising the young Kazakh’s great achievement:

Absolutely agree with [Magnus Carlsen’s] take. Players need to unite to get anti-cheating measures in place at every tournament. To hinder cheaters, obviously, and to avoid people doubting every great performance, as I already saw a few bad tweets throwing shade at Alisher’s brilliancy today.

While trying to call attention to the underlying problem of cheating, Carlsen was also critical of Hikaru Nakamura’s using his name “for clicks” on his latest YouTube video (since Carlsen’s post, the US grandmaster changed the title of the video).

A less talked-about fact surrounding the situation is that, after losing to a much lower-rated opponent for a second day in a row, tenth seed Vladimir Fedoseev did not sign the scoresheet and filed a complaint, as per Stefan Löffler’s post.

Carlsen and Fedoseev were not the only grandmasters to suffer upsets on Thursday:

  • Alisher Suleymenov (KAZ, 2512) beat Magnus Carlsen (2839)
  • Mukhiddin Madaminov (UZB, 2484) beat Parham Maghsoodloo (2707)
  • Robert Baskin (GER, 2451) beat Abhijeet Gupta (2609)
  • Vaishali Rameshbabu (IND, 2448) beat S P Sethuraman (2598)
  • Bakhrom Bakhrillaev (UZB, 2302) beat Pranav V (2579)

Note that four out of the five winners listed above hail from Asian countries that, given their recent showings in team competitions, likely count with many under-rated players.

According to Jonathan Tisdall, the growing number of upsets might also have to do with young players having ‘lost respect’ for elite grandmasters, a phenomenon that might have to do with Niemann’s nonchalance. Tisdall wrote:

Maybe the biggest change in modern chess is the total fearlessness so many young players have now. [...] It’s impressive to see the total lack of concern when kids are playing super-duper GMs. The sense of Hans Niemann’s nonchalance was considered suspicious, when I wonder if it’s just not becoming normal...

We expect organizers and arbiters to address this issue before round 3. Notwithstanding the controversy, there are now 21 players sharing first place with 2/2 scores, including Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri and Arjun Erigaisi.

Suleymenov vs. Carlsen analysis by IM Robert Ris

Standings after round 2

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Nakamura, Hikaru 2 2
2 Giri, Anish 2 3
3 Erigaisi, Arjun 2 6
4 Sindarov, Javokhir 2 12
5 Narayanan.S.L, 2 13
6 Salem, A.R. Saleh 2 16
7 Yakubboev, Nodirbek 2 19
8 Vakhidov, Jakhongir 2 22
9 Jumabayev, Rinat 2 25
10 Kuybokarov, Temur 2 26
11 Vokhidov, Shamsiddin 2 28
12 Aditya, Mittal 2 30
13 Rasulov, Vugar 2 34
14 Kaidanov, Gregory 2 35
15 Yilmazyerli, Mert 2 41
16 Kevlishvili, Robby 2 43
17 Suleymenov, Alisher 2 47
18 Madaminov, Mukhiddin 2 61
19 Baskin, Robert 2 72
20 Vaishali, Rameshbabu 2 75
21 Bakhrillaev, Bakhrom 2 151

...158 players

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.