Qatar Masters: Arjun, Sindarov and Yakubboev join the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/18/2023 – Four players are sharing the lead with 5/6 points at the Qatar Masters in Doha. Indian GM Narayanan S.L., the sole leader before the rest day, drew Nodirbek Abdusattorov on Tuesday, allowing Arjun Erigaisi (India), Javokhir Sindarov (Uzbekistan) and Nodirbek Yakubboev (Uzbekistan) to join the lead. Among the eight players standing at a half point distance are rating favourites Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. In round 6, Carlsen beat Aditya Samant with the black pieces. | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

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Carlsen in the chasing pack

Besides losing to Alisher Suleymenov in round 2, Magnus Carlsen has shown a few more signs of rustiness in the first five rounds of the Qatar Masters. For example, in his round-5 win over Bharath Subramaniyam, he failed to find a winning tactical shot in an open position.

30.Rxg7+ clearly wins for White, as after 30...Kxg7 31.Be5+ the black king is forced to escape to the centre of the board to avoid a quick mate on the corner. Carlsen instead went for 30.Qd5, and after Bharath erred with 30...Qc1 (30...Qd3 is stronger), went on to grab the full point six moves later. Anyway, missing the capture on g7 was surely noteworthy.

After the rest day, however, Carlsen seems to have returned to his usual level. Aditya Samant, his round-6 opponent, did not make any big mistakes in the first phases of the game, but Carlsen, playing black, nonetheless got the upper hand with precise positional play.

Still with decent chances to hold a draw, Aditya blundered the game away by making an incorrect intermediate move.

White entered this sequence to simplify the position via the 37.Nb5+ fork. However, after 37...Ke5, Aditya’s 38.Bd5, attacking the knight before capturing on a7, turned out to be a losing mistake.

Carlsen quickly replied by 38...Ra6, winning. Apparently, Aditya calculated that after 39.Nxc7, Black cannot keep defending his knight, since 39...Rb6 leads to a threefold repetition after 40.Na8 Ra6 40.Nc7, etcetera.

What Aditya might have missed is that after the knight capture on c7, Black can play 39...Ra5 (diagram) and 40.Bxc6 would fail to 40...Rc5, grabbing a piece.

White tried 40.Ne6, but he was now simply an exchange down in a losing, technical position. Three moves later, the Indian IM threw in the towel.

With his win, Carlsen caught up with Hikaru Nakamura, who remains undefeated but has drawn 3 out of his 6 games in Qatar. The two rating favourites are now part of the 8-player chasing pack standing a half point behind the four co-leaders.

Sharing the lead are Narayanan S.L., Arjun Erigaisi, Javokhir Sindarov and Nodirbek Yakubboev — two players from India and two from Uzbekistan.

In a very interesting game, Arjun defeated Rudik Makarian in round 6. Makarian came from upsetting Anish Giri in the previous round.

Makarian’s 9...Ng8 was a curious-looking — and surely playable — novelty. Now all the black pieces are on their initial squares, while White has the queen and both knights developed. The main idea is that after a normal developing move like 10.Be2, Black has 10...e5, with a discovered attack against the knight, which would give him an extra tempo to place his central pawn on e4, with a good position.

Naturally, both players began to use considerable amounts of time on each move. But that did not prevent Arjun from finding a nice strategic recourse in the early middlegame.

17.Nxc6 Nxc6 18.Bxb5 will leave White with three connected passers on the queenside (the black pawn on a4 also fell a couple of moves later), and the engines soon gave Arjun a clear, albeit not winning, advantage.

Errors were made by both players during time trouble, as it was understandably difficult to navigate the unfamiliar position. Nonetheless, it was the Indian prodigy who emerged victorious once the dust had settled — i.e. when the time control was reached.

Black can force White to give up his rook with 41...d1N 42.Rxd1, as seen in the game. But Arjun, despite being a rook and a bishop down, will still have a winning position thanks to his incredibly strong pawn phalanx on the centre and the queenside.

Makarian resigned before capturing the rook on d1.

Round 7 will see Carlsen playing white against Karthikeyan Murali, while Nakamura will have the black pieces against Iranian star Parham Maghsoodloo.

Meanwhile, in the clashes of co-leaders, Yakubboev and Narayanan will get white, against Arjun and Sindarov, respectively.

Standings after round 6

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Narayanan.S.L, 5 0
2 Sindarov, Javokhir 5 0
3 Erigaisi, Arjun 5 0
4 Yakubboev, Nodirbek 5 0
5 Nakamura, Hikaru 4,5 0
6 Paravyan, David 4,5 0
7 Maghsoodloo, Parham 4,5 0
8 Abdusattorov, Nodirbek 4,5 0
9 Karthikeyan, Murali 4,5 0
10 Carlsen, Magnus 4,5 0
11 Gukesh, D 4,5 0
12 Pranav, V 4,5 0
13 Vaishali, Rameshbabu 4 0
14 Jumabayev, Rinat 4 0
15 Srihari, L R 4 0
16 Ahmadzada, Ahmad 4 0
17 Vokhidov, Shamsiddin 4 0
18 Aditya, Mittal 4 0
19 Kevlishvili, Robby 4 0
20 Salem, A.R. Saleh 4 0

...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.