But with the proliferation of supergrandmasters - there are exactly 44 rated 2700 and over in the latest December list - this is becoming a luxury; and more so as many can now also come with very rich pickings. And with the lure of the lucre, a star studded field was enticed this week to Doha for the Qatar Masters Open, the strongest and richest ‘open’ event ever in the game, with a first prize of $27,000 up for grabs and a total prize-fund of $130,000.
And Magnus Carlsen of Norway becomes the first reigning world champion since Spassky to compete in an open tournament. He’s also joined by the likes of Vladimir Kramnik, the Russian ex-world champion and world No.2; Anish Giri, the Dutch world -title Candidate and world No.3; Wesley So, the US world No.10; and Sergey Karjakin, the Russian world-title Candidate.
One of the big problems of elite superstars going solo in an open is the rating disparity. In winning a game, they gain very little; but losing or drawing can cost them many points and a lot of stature - but a wonderful story for the lesser players to tell their grandchildren! And as the 2700+ supergrandmasters soon found out, even in the first round, they are not certain of winning.
Carlsen, playing in his first open in over eight years, was held to a draw by IM Nino Batsiashvili, one of Georgia’s top woman players, ranked 765th in the world. The world champion got a little advantage from the opening, and proceeded to go for his typical grind to wear down his opponent. But with little in the position, he soon found to his cost that his usual game against elite players could well backfire against lower-rated opponents.
And the World Champion wasn’t the only one finding the lower opposition more of a challenge than they initially thought. Others escaped with draws and Giri came perilously close to losing in today’s game to India’s newest GM, rated some 300 points lower than him. But not so lucky were supergrandmasters Wei Yi and Nikita Vitiugov who both sensationally lost, while the highly-experienced GM Pavel Tregubov went down in flames to an untitled 12-year-old Iranian.
GM Anish Giri - GM Narayanan Sunilduth Lyna
Qatar Masters Open, (1)
English Opening, Four Knights
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e3 Bb4 5.Qc2 0-0 6.Nd5 Re8 7.Qf5!? In the English Opening, a very interesting line from the mid-1970s with firm English roots. England's third grandmaster, Michael Stean, is the original brainchild of this fascinating concept - but the first to play it was England's second grandmaster, Ray Keene, at Bad Lauterberg 1977 against the leading Dutch player of the day, Jan Timman. Keene explained the principles behind this move in his early and wonderful 1979 book for Bell & Hyman, The Openings in Modern Theory and Practice. It was this enterprising play in the English Opening that led Viktor Korchnoi to recruit the English duo as seconds for his World Championship match against Anatoly Karpov. 7…d6 8.Nxf6+ gxf6 9.Qc2 As Keene explains in his aforementioned tome, against Timman, when this line debuted, he should have played 9.Qh5 with unclear play. He dismisses the text, 9.Qc2, due to Black's strong riposte of 9...e4! - not that that seems to worry Giri! 9...e4! 10.Ng1 d5 11.a3 Bf8 12.cxd5 Qxd5 13.Ne2 Bf5 As Keene found out in the stem game of this line, Black storms ahead in development; White's only compensation is Black's permanently weakend pawn structure. Normally a top Grandmaster can easily exploit this - but is Giri risking too much with his opponent's easy and rapid development? 14.b4 a5 15.Nc3 Qe6 16.b5 Ne5!? A difficult move to asses - Black sacrifices a pawn, though he does look as if he has excellent chances with his pieces now beginning to menacingly loiter with intent. 17.Nxe4 Anything else would be a sign of weakness for Giri - there's no going back from these sort of positions. 17...Nd7 18.d3 Also an interesting option was 18.f3!? Nc5 (18...Bxe4 19.fxe4 Nc5 20.Bc4 Qxe4 21.Qxe4 Nxe4 just heads for an ending that favours White.) 19.Nxc5 Qe5 20.Qa2 Bxc5 21.Bc4! and unless Black can find something quickly here, he's doomed, as White is just one move away from castling. 18...Bxe4 19.dxe4 Nc5 20.Bb2 Rad8 21.Rc1? The critical line was 21.f3!? Nb3 22.Rd1 Rxd1+ 23.Kxd1! Rd8+ 24.Ke1 Qd6 (24...Rd2? 25.Qc3!) 25.Bc4 a4 26.Bd5! and White is emerging with a big advantage. 21...Nxe4 22.Bd3 White is pinning his hopes on his bishops sweeping into Black's crippled kingside defences. 22...Nxf2! 23.Bxh7+ Kg7 24.0-0 (See Diagram) And this was the move Giri was banking on - but it only works because his opponent now errs by missing a trick. 24...Nd3? Black has to be kicking himself that he missed the make-the-supergrandmaster-grovel continuation of 24...Ng4! and White is struggling to hold any advantage - and indeed, if he is not careful, he stands a good chance of even losing: 25.Rf3 (The only move for White, as the obvious 25.Bf5? falls sensationally to 25...Qxe3+ 26.Kh1 Nxh2!! 27.Rfe1 (27.Kxh2?? Bd6+ 28.Kh1 Rh8+ 29.Bh3 Rxh3+ 30.gxh3 Qxh3+ 31.Kg1 Bc5+!! 32.Qxc5 Qg3+ 33.Kh1 Rh8+ 34.Qh5 Rxh5#) 27...Qf4 and Black is easily winning.) 25...Nxe3 26.Rxf6 Nxc2 27.Rxe6+ Kxh7 28.Rxe8 Rxe8 29.Rxc2 Bd6 with an easy draw. Now the active bishops turn the tables to win. 25.Bxd3 Qxe3+ 26.Kh1 Rxd3 27.Rxf6! Kg8 It's more than likely that, in the excitement of the unfolding melee, Black has probably missed that after 27...Qe1+?? White has 28.Rf1+ winning. Sad, though, if Black has lost this down to a serious miscalculation on his part. But such is life. 28.Rcf1 Qe2 29.Qc4! There's too much pressure now on f7 - Black soon has to resign. 29...Rd7 30.Rg6+ 1-0 It's a pity Black resigned, as the finale is stunning: 30.Rg6+ Kh7 31.Qh4+ Kxg6 32.Rf6+ Kg7 33.Qh8+!! Kxh8 34.Rh6+ Kg8 35.Rh8#.