Qatar Masters Open begins on Wednesday

by Akshat Chandra
11/26/2014 – Which is the strongest open in the world? Not Aeroflot, Moscow or Millionaire Chess. It is the 2014 Qatar Masters Open, organised by GM Mohamed Al-Medaihki, with 92 grandmasters participating, 56 of them over 2600, and 14 over 2700. Our reporter in Qatar, Akshat Chandra, worked out that if only the top twenty were participating it would be a Category 19 tournament.

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The Middle East is rapidly emerging as the host of several high profile tournaments. Over the last two years the region has hosted prestigious tournaments such as the World FIDE Blitz/Rapid 2014, World Youth 2013, Asian Continental 2014, Abu Dhabi Masters, and Al Ain Classic. These tournaments were all held in the UAE. But now Qatar has announced its entry into the high-profile chess circuit with what appears to be the strongest Open tournament in chess history.

The Qatar Masters Open 2014 is being held from November 25 to December 5 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Doha, Qatar. The country with a population of about two million people is located on the Qatar Peninsula, which protrudes out like a thumb into the Arabian Gulf.

About an hour away from the sand dunes, the Qatar Chess Association is hosting the Open, which will capture the attention of the chess community for the next ten days. There are 92 grandmasters participating, or 60% of the 154 total players. Out of these 92 GMs, 56 are over 2600, and an incredible 14 over 2700. Let those numbers sink in for a moment! This tournament truly is a convention of brilliant chess minds.

The tournament is anchored by some of the world’s elite players including
top seed Anish Giri, rated 2776, the highest rated junior in the world...

...and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, 2760, who dethroned the mighty Garry Kasparov

Other very strong players: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Azerbaijan’s highest rated player; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, France’s highest rated player; Ding Liren, China’s highest rated player; and Pentala Harikrishna, India’s second highest rated player after Anand.

The top three in the front row: Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

I decided to do a little analysis to determine how the Qatar Masters Open compares to other significant high level open tournaments. To compare, I took the average rating of the top 20 players from each tournament.

  • Qatar Masters 2014 – The average rating of the Qatar Master’s top 20 players is a staggering 2713. If the tournament was between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 19.

  • Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Masters – One of the most respected open tournaments in the world, the average of the top 20 players in the 2014 edition was 2699. If the tournament was just between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 18 tournament. It's likely the Top 20 average would inch higher to 2701 or more next year, which would be a Category 19 tier.

  • Aeroflot Open 2012 A Group – The only other tournament besides Gibraltar Masters, which would stand tall next to the Qatar Masters. In its last edition in 2012, the average rating of the top 20 players was a hefty 2690. If the tournament was between those 20 players only, it would be a Category 18.

  • Moscow Open A 2014 – Another prominent and strong tournament held in Russia. The top 20 players in this year’s edition had an average rating of 2637.

  • Millionaire Chess Open 2014 – The recently concluded Millionaire Chess saw the top 20 players averaging a 2636 rating. Not a bad start for the tournament’s first edition.

A review of some notable tournaments indicates that the Qatar Masters Open is indeed decisively the strongest Open ever! A historic moment indeed for the chess world. Here are the top 40, every single one a GM (in fact you have to go down to place 76 to encounter the first IM).

1 Giri, Anish GM NED 2776
2 Kramnik, Vladimir GM RUS 2760
3 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar GM AZE 2757
4 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime GM FRA 2751
5 Ding, Liren GM CHN 2730
6 Harikrishna, Pentala GM IND 2725
7 Jobava, Baadur GM GEO 2722
8 Eljanov, Pavel GM UKR 2719
9 Naiditsch, Arkadij GM GER 2719
10 Tomashevsky, Evgeny GM RUS 2714
11 Bu, Xiangzhi GM CHN 2707
12 Kryvoruchko, Yuriy GM UKR 2706
13 Yu, Yangyi GM CHN 2705
14 Moiseenko, Alexander GM UKR 2701
15 Sargissian, Gabriel GM ARM 2687
16 Cheparinov, Ivan GM BUL 2684
17 Saric, Ivan GM CRO 2680
18 Melkumyan, Hrant GM ARM 2678
19 Sjugirov, Sanan GM RUS 2673
20 Berkes, Ferenc GM HUN 2669
21 Fedorchuk, Sergey GM UKR 2664
22 Bartel, Mateusz GM POL 2662
23 Kuzubov, Yuriy GM UKR 2661
24 Edouard, Romain GM FRA 2659
25 Movsesian, Sergei GM ARM 2659
26 Akopian, Vladimir GM ARM 2657
27 Mamedov, Rauf GM AZE 2652
28 Efimenko, Zahar GM UKR 2644
29 Bologan, Viktor GM MDA 2643
30 Ivanisevic, Ivan GM SRB 2643
31 Shankland, Samuel GM USA 2642
32 Vovk, Andrey GM UKR 2640
33 Romanov, Evgeny GM RUS 2636
34 Rakhmanov, Aleksandr GM RUS 2636
35 Gupta, Abhijeet GM IND 2632
36 Adhiban, B. GM IND 2630
37 Dubov, Daniil GM RUS 2629
38 Safarli, Eltaj GM AZE 2628
39 Volokitin, Andrei GM UKR 2627
40 Mchedlishvili, Mikheil GM GEO 2622

There are players from 39 countries, with the largest contingent from India at 21 players, followed by China at 14, Russia 12, Ukraine 11, USA 8. There is one round each day from November 26 to December 4.

The affable grandmaster Mohamed Al-Medaihki, tournament Director and the person tirelessly engaging with hundreds of players, was gracious enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to answer my questions.

Akshat Chandra: When you started planning the Qatar Masters, was the initial intention to make it the strongest Open ever, and were you surprised by the positive response?

GM Mohamed Al-Medaihki: We started to plan the Qatar Masters 2014 some time ago, and I had this idea in mind for many years. There are many chess events happening around the world. So we tried to avoid clashing with big tournaments such as London Classic, Bundesliga and Mind games, in order to ensure strong participation. And I am very happy to see that the Qatar Masters Open has all this interest from a lot of chess players and especially top players. I think it is a really big success and honor to have Kramnik in our tournament.

What does this tournament mean for chess in Qatar? As Qatar's first GM, do you think this will popularize the game of chess in the country?

Qatar is organizing lots of events all around the year in different kinds of sports. So why not chess? I believe this tournament will become a tradition for many coming years, and I hope it will help us to spread the chess culture among the younger generations. I also hope it will change the way of organizing high-level open tournaments.

So Qatar plans to become a regular host of top class chess tournaments in the future?

We will take it step-by-step to a new level, and do our best to improve the Qatar Masters Open every year. I expect to increase the prize fund and to invite more top players. On the other hand we can organize more events along with Qatar Masters Open to attract more people to chess. There are many ideas yet to come!

So there you have it! The Qatar Masters Open is only the first step, and Qatar’s entry into the chess world as an organizer bodes well for the game. Chess players will have more opportunities to play really strong open tournaments.

The venue – if you have a magnifying glass handy you can see me standing in front of it

So, what created the strongest open tournament? A generous budget, a large prize fund, elite players, great conditions, tenacity, and effort. I recall reading about the organizing team at the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, providing tournament information and drumming up interest.

Contract signing for the Qatar Masters with Kramnik at Tromso, Norway

After that, the interest level just snowballed to the point where the organizers had to raise the minimum FIDE rating level to 2300. For players like me, it was the attraction of playing stronger opponents. I had missed the initial registration and had to spend a few months on the waiting list. After a long wait I was accepted just a few days before the tournament. That led to a mad scramble, and the following week I found myself in the hot 80°F/27°C weather of Doha, Qatar.

The excitement was palpable at the Opening Ceremony of this momentous tournament. After a nice violin and cello performance, and a short entertaining video on the origins of chess, it was time for the drawing of the lots. This is to determine the starting colors for players, and the top seed of the event draws them. There were two cases, one had a white king and the other a black queen. Anish Giri, the top seed, picked the case with the white king, and so he will start as White in the first round.

When Anish picked white, half the players sighed in relief and the other half groaned

The playing hall, ready for action on Wednesday – let the games begin!

Images by Akshat Chandra, Maria Emelianova an Dmitry Rukhletskiy for the official web site


The top games will be broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Born in 1999 Akshat is currently on a quest for the GM title. He started playing chess at the comparatively late age of nine, but made rapid progress and at the age of 15, has an IM title, a GM norm, and a 2490 FIDE rating. He is also a budding author who has attended the online advanced writing program of John Hopkins University. More about him on his blog QuestToGM..


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