Christmas in Qatar

As in 2014, for top players the year closed with the Qatar Masters Open in Doha. Looking at some pictures of chessplayers riding camels on the sands in bright sunlight – commentator Peter Svidler bending over to Georgian WGM Nino Batsiashvili, perhaps to elicit information about how she managed to draw as Black against Magnus Carlsen in the first round – I couldn’t help thinking of Hastings, where conditions were so different. 

For many decades since 1920, the Hastings Chess Congress marked the turning of the year. After Hastings, there was nothing until the second Saturday of January when the Dutch club competition started, and somewhat later the new year blossomed magnificently with the tournament in Wijk aan Zee. I speak from my own limited perspective of course.

The Hastings Congress has survived, but it lost its former glory long ago. I played in the tournament of 1981/1982. No world champions took part, but it still had an ex-champion, Vasily Smyslov, several top players, and a future one, young Nigel Short who to my great surprise beat me.

I remember that when I returned to Amsterdam, my friend Johan Barendregt, IM and professor of psychology, had died. I had visited him in the hospital before I left for England and his last words to me had been: “If only you always realize that there is no God.” As if he were giving me his blessings.

I also remember the cold in Hastings and what you had to do not to freeze in your hotel room: always have some coins at hand to throw into the heater. In the latest issue of New in Chess magazine (2015/8) Jan Timman wrote about the tournament at the Isle of Man where he participated in October of this year. In his apartment, he had to fill the heater with coins again, and he felt set back forty years to the time when in English hotels he always had to carry some two-shilling-coins to prevent his nose from freezing off.

The Qatar Open was announced as the strongest open of all times and with Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri, the top three of the world live rating list, this may well be true. It was an open, but only open to good-class people with a rating of at least 2300.

Carlsen and Giri came straight from the London Classic, which had been won by Carlsen, who had scored the same number of points as Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but profited from an intricate tiebreak system. It is not yet a very old, but it is an already often confirmed chess law that says that ultimately there will be a tiebreak, and that it will be favorable to Carlsen. Whether he wins the rapid games, or he has a higher Sonneborn-Berger score, or he has more wins or more games played with Black, no matter, he’ll win the tiebreak. In Doha he won the tiebreak of two blitz games against the Chinese Yu Yangyi.

Both in London and in Doha, Giri had drawn against Carlsen, thereby keeping his good score against him – one win, no losses and lots of draws – intact. In the past, Dutch chess life has flourished thanks to two giants: first Max Euwe and later Jan Timman. Nowadays we place our hopes on Anish Giri. 

In March, Giri will play in the Candidates Tournament in Moscow. We Dutch keep our fingers crossed. Does he have a chance to become the challenger and if that happens, would he have a chance against Carlsen in a match?

When the question was put to him at a press conference in Doha, Giri said that winning the candidates would be more difficult than beating Carlsen. This may sound disrespectful to the world champion, but a statistician would agree.

In the viewer there is Anish Giri’s first round win in Doha; light and jaunty.


2015 Qatar Masters Open