Throwback Thursday: Ivanchuk triumphs in Havana

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/20/2020 – Since 2005, fan favourite Vassily Ivanchuk has played ten times at the Capablanca Memorial. Playing in Cuba seems to bring out the best of the Ukrainian genius, who won the event no fewer than eight times, including the most recent edition in 2019. We look back on his two most dominating performances, in 2005 and 2007, when he scored +6 and +7 respectively.

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Eight out of ten

Now that most chess action has taken place online in the last few months, we might have forgotten that there are players that simply play better depending on where the tournament takes place. Two of the most famous examples are Vladimir Kramnik playing in Dortmund and Vassily (or Vasyl, as he prefers) Ivanchuk playing in Cuba.

Ivanchuk has won eight out of the ten Capablanca Memorials in which he has participated, nine of them in Havana and one in Varadero. Twice he got three victories in a row — from 2005 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2012 — and he also got first place in 2016 and 2019. All of his wins, except one, were achieved in double round robin events, as in 2007 he won a 10-player single round robin.

Only two of these eight titles were achieved after having tied for first place, while his two most dominating performances on the Caribbean island were achieved in 2005 and 2007. In his first appearance, he scored 9½/12 with a 2782 rating performance, while in 2007 he obtained a 7½/9 and an astounding 2877 TPR.

Vassily Ivanchuk, Leinier Domínguez

A frequent rival in Cuba — Leinier Domínguez

2005: Underrated young guns

The first time Ivanchuk made the trip to Havana to participate at the Capablanca Memorial, he arrived at the island as the clear rating favourite. However, he faced three players who would go on to become household names in the professional circuit — Leinier Domínguez (aged 22 at the time), Lázaron Bruzón (23) and Baadur Jobava (22). 

In the end, the best performing youngster was Bruzón, who finished in sole second place on 7/12, two full points behind the winner. Bruzón was also the only player that was not defeated by Ivanchuk, as both their games finished drawn. Domínguez tied for third-fourth with Neuris Delgado (who currently represents Paraguay), while Jobava came in fifth after having drawn only four games in the whole event.

Ivanchuk won seven games and drew five to get a convincing — albeit expected — victory. Nevertheless, in hindsight, we can fully appreciate his strong tournament performance, given how strong Domínguez and Jobava turned out to be in the future.

Vassily Ivanchuk

Ivanchuk during the 2019 edition | Photo: Abel Rojas / Mi Columna Deportiva

Playing black against Ivanchuk, Jobava, true to his style, went for an unusual setup. The Ukrainian was ruthless and won the game in 25 moves.


Black is already in trouble, with his pieces undeveloped and his king unable to castle — 16...Nxf4 17.exf4 Kg8 18.Qxg4 h5 19.Qg3 b5 (attempting to create something resembling counterplay) 20.Rg1 Rh6 21.0-0-0 Kh8:


Time to move forward — 22.Nxc5 b4 23.axb4 Rxb4 24.d7:


The d-pawn is a monster. Jobava resigned after 24...Rc4 25.N5xe6.

Final standings

Player Pts  
Vassily Ivanchuk 7.5/9 (+6 -0 =3)
Leinier Dominguez Perez 5.5/9 (+2 -0 =7)
Vugar Gashimov 5.5/9 (+2 -0 =7)
Yuniesky Quesada Perez 4.5/9 (+1 -1 =7)
Kamil Miton 4.5/9 (+2 -2 =5)
Walter Arencibia Rodriguez 4.5/9 (+3 -3 =3)
Peter Heine Nielsen 4/9 (+1 -2 =6)
Jesus Nogueiras 3.5/9 (+0 -2 =7)
Lazaro Bruzon Batista 3/9 (+0 -2 =6)
Neuris Delgado Ramirez 2.5/9 (+0 -4 =5)

All games


2007: Closing on a 2900 TPR

Now that Magnus Carlsen has maintained a 2800+ rating for eleven years straight — he even got close to 2900 at some point — a 2877 tournament performance rating does not sound as astounding as it probably did back in 2007. After all, the highest rated player at the time was Viswanathan Anand (2786), followed by Veselin Topalov (2772), Vladimir Kramnik (2772) and Alexander Morozevich (2762). Ivanchuk was number 12 with a 2729 rating.

This time around, ten players participated in a single round robin, with Domínguez, Kamil Miton, Peter Heine Nielsen and Vugar Gashimov the highest-rated players below Ivanchuk. 

The Ukrainian genius drew the three players that finished right below him in the standings table — Domínguez, Gashimov and Yuniesky Quesada — and defeated all remaining six participants. 

Vassily Ivanchuk

Final standings

Player Points  
Vassily Ivanchuk 9.5/12 (+7 -0 =5)
Lazaro Bruzon Batista 7/12 (+3 -1 =8)
Leinier Dominguez Perez 6/12 (+3 -3 =6)
Neuris Delgado Ramirez 6/12 (+3 -3 =6)
Baadur Aleksandrovich Jobava 5.5/12 (+4 -5 =3)
Jesus Nogueiras 5/12 (+1 -3 =8)
Walter Arencibia Rodriguez 3/12 (+1 -7 =4)

All games



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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