In round 1, Carlsen was held by Nino Batsiasvili (Elo 2498), who is the lowest rated player he's faced in eight years. In the second round, Aravindh Chithambaram came close to outplaying Carlsen. But this time the world champion took his chances. Aravindh spent 40 minutes on move 4 and flagged out in time trouble. Meanwhile, another prodigy, Wei Yi, lost to IM Shardul Gagare, and Nikita Vituigov lost to the untitled Xu Yinglun.
After four rounds, Carlsen, Giri, So, Li Chao, and Maxim Matlakov share first place with 3.5 points each. There are 19 players with 3 points including Yinglun, Surya Ganguly and Vignesh N R. Anything could happen.
Looking back at 2015, it's been a strange year. Giri, Hikaru Nakamura, So and Vachier Lagrave have all apparently moved up a notch in strength. But only Giri has been consistent. Levon Aronian has recovered some form.
Anand, Veselin Topalov and Kramnik have seen their form swing all over the place. Carlsen's rating has fallen to a four-year low of 2834 from a lifetime high of 2881 (June 2014). However, only Fabiano Caruana (lifetime high of 2844) and Aronian (2830) have even come close at their very best to Carlsen's current Elo.
The Candidates in March look wide open. If Carlsen continues to look shaky, the next challenger will surely fancy his chances. Of course, given US sanctions against Kirsan, there is some uncertainty around the cycle itself. Let's hope all the issues are sorted out and it is a happy new year!
At the diagram, BLACK TO PLAY, (White: Duda Vs Black: Carlsen, Qatar Masters 2015), Carlsen starts taking risks with 28. - Rfc8 !? 29.Rd2
Duda doesn't want f7 but its offered again with 29...Qc6 ?! A simple idea is [29. -! 30. Qd3 Bxh2 or 30.Qb3 Rxe4].
Now White takes 30.Qxf7+ Kh8 31.Qf2 a5 32.a3?! axb4 33.Nxb4 Qxe4+
Now [34. Nd3 Bc3!! 35. bc3 Rxc3 36. Qf3 Qc4] looks deadly. Threats include Rxa3, Rxd3, Rb8+, etc.
The defence cracked 34.Ka2 Rxb4! 35.axb4 Ra8+ 36.Kb3 Rb8 37.Ka2 Qxb4 38.Rc1 Qa4+ 39.Kb1 Qe4+ 40.Rcc2 Bxb2 41.Qf3 Qe1+ 42.Rd1 Bd4+ (0-1)
. Either 43. Ka2 Qa5+ 44. Qa3 Qd5+ Or 43. Kc1 Be3+ wins.
Devangshu Datta is an internationally rated chess and correspondence chess player