Most chess fans love it when there are super grand master tournaments? The very best in the world playing against each other. That should make for very exciting and instructive games in chess. Unfortunately this is not always the case. As a general rule I believe the games from open tournaments are more instructive and interesting.
Opens are becoming more and more lucrative than before. Generous appearance fees and the lure of winning big prizes is proving too much to resist from super grandmasters. The 2014 Qatar Masters is an example of a tournament where super GMs Vladimir Kramnik from Russia and Anesh Giri of Holland but were surprisingly unable to win the tournament. Both were upset by Yu Yangyi who had started the tournament as the 13th seed, rated 2705, but went on to beat the two Top Ten players, who were both in great form by the way, to take clear first.
In super grand master tournaments the world’s elite are generally very familiar with one another’s play. There is tendency towards conservative play in Super GM tournaments which might explain the huge number of draws. Many of them have been playing one another for a long time and they know what to expect from each other. This takes out the surprise factor out of most games at the top level unless one of the players has prepared a novelty or new move in their pet lines. It is not unusual for games at the very top level to feature deep opening lines where the players play as many as 20 moves from home preparation or theory. These kinds of games are generally of limited value to chess students. If the death of chess is ever to come about at some stage, it will more likely be from games between super grand masters than games between very strong players and their weaker counterparts.
On the other hand in an open tournament like the recently held Qatar Masters or Gibraltar Open, there is larger field of players with greater variation in Elo ratings. You can have situations where super grand masters are playing opponents who are more than two hundred rating points below them. In theory the much stronger grand master should win but practice is showing that there are plenty of upsets. The stronger player is probably more motivated to win because they have a higher rating and want to justify it. This could mean taking more risks than they would otherwise take against another player of similar rating or at the same level.
In the opens very strong grand masters are more likely to be taken out of their comfort zones, playing opponents whom they know very little about. The strong GMs have a a great deal at stake in the form of precious rating points. Their lower rated opponents are however, much more motivated to take bigger risks. They will gain more rating points from winning the game than the rating points they lose if the game does not go their way. The games are more interesting, varied and more unpredictable. From a learning perspective when players have large rating differences, the games are likely to be more instructive because of the difference in the standard of play.
In the Opens games where much higher ranked players are upset by lower ranked players tend to be very interesting. The lower ranked player has punched above their weight and upset their form book and probably played an inspired game in the process.
Below is a game from the 2014 Qatar Masters Open tournament between two grandmasters separated by at least 200 rating points, Viktor Bologan and Das Neelotal. And the result! The much lower ranked player won and what a game it was.