Boris Gelfand prevails in Leon

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/6/2021 – The 34th edition of the “Magistral Ciudad de León” took place online from June 30 until July 4. A 4-player knockout, the event saw Boris Gelfand beating Leinier Dominguez in the final match played on Sunday. Dominguez had defeated women’s world champion Ju Wenjun while Gelfand had knocked out Jaime Santos in the semifinals. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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Eleven years later

Boris Gelfand had won the Leon Masters back in 2010, when he defeated Levon Aronian in the final match played at the ‘Ciudad de León’ Auditorium. Using the same format as this year, Gelfand reached the final after beating Paco Vallejo while Aronian had done it thanks to his victory over none other than Leinier Dominguez.

Dominguez, who won the tournament in 2020, made it into the final for a second year in a row. Much like in 2010, Gelfand defeated a higher-rated opponent in the blitz playoffs. Eleven years ago, the Israeli had won both blitz encounters, while this time around he drew first and then won with black to take the title.

Levon Aronian, Boris Gelfand

Aronian vs. Gelfand in the 2010 final

Dominguez 3½ - ½ Ju

The defending champion kicked off with two wins, first outplaying his opponent from the white side of a Petroff Defence and then showing great tactical ability in a wild struggle.


11...b3+ was followed by 12.Qd2 Qxd2+ 13.Kxd2 Ne4+ 14.Ke3. White was left with her king in the middle of the board, but she did not take long to force her opponent’s king to also step outside his comfort zone. Once the dust had settled, Black was a pawn up and had the more active rook in an endgame. Dominguez won the game in 36 moves.

Already in a must-win situation, Ju tried to complicate matters in the third game, which led to a third consecutive defeat.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Gelfand 2½ - 1½ Santos

Santos once again showed that he can fight against the top stars that are invited to his hometown tournament. The 25-year-old had a better position out of the opening in game 1, but a couple of imprecisions and Gelfand’s resourcefulness led to a draw. 

Gelfand took the lead in game 2, Santos bounced back immediately, but the Israeli prevailed in the (sharp) fourth encounter of the match.


Playing white, Santos went for a kingside attack against his famed opponent. Already an exchange down, he decided to go for the kill with 26.Nf6+, but Gelfand kept things under control — 26...Nxf6 27.gxf6 g6 28.Qg5 Rdxd2 29.Bd4


Black does not need to defend his queen: 29...Bxf3 30.Bxa7 Rxh2 and Santos resigned.


Gelfand* 2 - 2 Dominguez

Won the tiebreaker 1½-½

The favourites had reached the final, and they kicked off the match trading wins with the white pieces. Two draws followed, which meant it would all be decided in a blitz playoff (two 5-minute games with 3-second increments). Another draw was seen in the first blitz encounter.

Dominguez had the white pieces in the second 5-minute game, and for a third time in the match the players entered a sharp Sicilian.


Instead of going for a natural-looking move like 26...Bd5, Gelfand saw it necessary to play 26...f6. The engines here show 27.exf6 as clearly better for White, but apparently Dominguez did not want to allow a queen swap, so he played 27.Rxb4.

There followed 27...Bd5 28.c4 fxe5 29.Qg4 exf5 30.Qxf5 Rf8 31.Qg6 Qc5 32.Bxh6


Here Black had 32...Be4+, forcing 33.Qxe4 Qxb4 34.Bc1 and White has two pawns for the exchange. The queens were traded two moves later and Gelfand started to push for a win.

Increments of 3 seconds were enough for the 53-year-old grandmaster to get a 91-move victory from what eventually turned into a pure king and rook versus king and bishop endgame. A remarkable achievement by the former World Championship challenger!



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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