Throwback Thursday: Two highlights from Leinier Dominguez’s career

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/25/2020 – Leinier Domínguez Pérez turned 37 yesterday, September 23. The Cuban-American grandmaster has been a part of the “2700+ club” since July 2008 and has stood out for his consistent play in top events throughout the years. Now we look back into two of his greatest tournament performances — his first place at the 2006 Ciutat de Barcelona event (8/9 ahead of Ivanchuk, Korneev and Bologan) and his victory at the 2013 Thessaloniki Grand Prix (8/11 ahead of Kamsky, Caruana and Grischuk). | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Memorable wins in Barcelona and Thessaloniki

Leinier Domínguez just turned 37 years old, so this is a suitable time to remember how he has become a household name among the chess elite. Born in Havana, he won the Cuban national championship five times, getting the title for the last time in 2016. In December 2018, Domínguez transferred federations and began to represent the United States.

Besides winning the Cuban national championship and the Capablanca Memorial (three times, in 2004, 2008 and 2009), Domínguez obtained a number of remarkable victories in tournaments abroad. 2008 was a big year for him, as he tied for first at the Biel Chess Festival with Evgeny Alekseev, finishing ahead of Magnus Carlsen, and won the World Blitz Championship played in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a tournament that included the likes of Vassily Ivanchuk, Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk.

Leinier DomínguezNonetheless, we will focus on his astounding tournament victories in Barcelona 2006 and Thessaloniki 2013. In the former, he proved he had what is needed to break into the elite by scoring seven wins and two draws against a field that included international stars and strong representatives from Spain. In the latter, he defeated Veselin Topalov in the last round of a strongly contested event, in which he ended up leapfrogging Gata Kamsky in the standings table and getting a remarkable 2926 TPR (Tournament Performance Rating).

Both times, the Cuban-born grandmaster got tournament victory with wins in the very last rounds.

[Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich]

Ciutat de Barcelona 2006

Still rated 2655, a 23-year-old Domínguez arrived in Barcelona as the fourth seed of the event, with Vassily Ivanchuk, Viktor Bologan and Oleg Korneev ahead of him rating-wise. Peruvian star Julio Granda and Dutch legend Jan Timman were also in the mix.

Domínguez kicked off the event with a crucial win with black over Bologan. Out of a Najdorf Sicilian, the Cuban grandmaster expanded on both flanks of the board. Things got sharper when Bologan decided to open up the position on the kingside:

 

20.h4 turned out to be a bit hasty. The game continued 20...Nxh4 21.g3 Nxf3 22.Bxf3 Qxf3 23.Rxh6 Bg7 24.Qxg5 f6 25.Qh5:

 

Here Domínguez found the strongest continuation, 25...Ne5. Going for 25...Qxf2 must have been very tempting, and in fact White does not have a mating attack afterwards, but centralizing the knight was the way to go. The queens were swapped immediately afterwards and Black showed good technique to convert his positional advantage into a 49-move win.

Leinier Domínguez

Leinier Domínguez at the Magistral Ciutat de Barcelona 2006

Two draws followed, against Timman and Korneev. And then came the streak of six wins that allowed him to win the event ahead of Ivanchuk.

Going into the last round he was a half point ahead of the Ukrainian genius in the standings table and had to play with the white pieces against him in a direct confrontation for the title. Ivanchuk played 1...g6, 2...d6 and 3...Bg7, showing his intentions to get a double-edged struggle. Domínguez responded in kind, giving up a pawn for activity on move 12:

 

White has a space advantage and a chance to attack Black’s kingside, thus 12.g4 Nxg4 13.Ng5 Nxe3 14.Qxe3 e6 15.Qh3 h6:

 

White cannot back down now — 16.Nxf7 Qxf7 17.Rxg6 Qxf4+ 18.Kb1

When the smoke cleared, Ivanchuk was a pawn up but also had a much weaker king and the queen’s opponent able to give perpetual check at any given moment. Domínguez knew that a draw would have been enough to secure tournament victory, but kept looking for tactical chances in the simplified position. His efforts were rewarded with a 69-move win over the strongest player in the field.

Vassily Ivanchuk

Unpredictable genius Vassily Ivanchuk in 2006

All Domínguez’s games from the tournament

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Thessaloniki Grand Prix 2013

The fourth stage of the FIDE Grand Prix Series 2012-2013 was an incredibly hard-fought event, with Domínguez, Gata Kamsky and Fabiano Caruana the protagonists of a fierce struggle to get the title — in a field that also included top stars Alexander Grischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov, Alexander Morozevich and Vassily Ivanchuk.

Domínguez in fact kicked off the event with a loss, against Kamsky, who would end up sharing second place after reaching the last round in the lead. The Cuban’s luck turned around in round three, when Ivanchuk wasted a completely winning position playing white against him:

 

White has a clearly superior position, with the safer king and the more active pieces. Ivanchuk’s 32.Qxc8, however, gave Black some chances to look for counterplay (32.Bf4 or 32.Bg3 would have kept his large advantage). After 32...Qxe1+ 33.Kh2 Be5+ 34.Bxe5+ Qxe5+ g3 the engines still think White is better, but it is always difficult, psychologically, to go from clearly winning to slightly better. Domínguez had the momentum going for him and ended up outplaying Ivanchuk in the endgame.

Thessaloniki

The playing hall in Thessaloniki | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

This was the first of a three-game winning streak, in which the Latin American defeated Peter Svidler and Rustam Kasimdzhanov in the next rounds. Two draws followed, and then two crucial consecutive wins, first against Morozevich and then against Caruana:

 

As the official report mentioned, by playing 30...Rxb5, “Domínguez took the courageous decision to sacrifice an exchange, which crippled White’s pawns but more importantly gave the Cuban control of the only open file and of many key dark squares”.

Black ended up getting strong passed pawns in the centre, but White was still an exchange up. Caruana faltered on move 56:

 

56.Rd7+ was inaccurate (56.Rh2 would have left Black without a clear path to make progress), as it gave Domínguez the chance to hide his king on b3 and advance his d-pawn — 56...Kc4 57.Rc7+ Kb3 58.Rh2 Rg3 59.Rd7 d3+ and Black went on to score the full point six moves later.

Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Domínguez

Fabiano Caruana v Leinier Domínguez | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

With two rounds to go, Domínguez was sharing the lead with Kamsky. In round 10, however, Kamsky beat Morozevich and Domínguez only drew with Grischuk. In the last round, Kamsky had black against Caruana, while the Cuban had white against Topalov. Caruana and Domínguez won, giving the latter tournament victory and a remarkable 2962 TPR. 

GM Cristian Chirila analyzed both key last-round encounters:

 

Leinier Domínguez, Veselin Topalov

Leinier Domínguez v Veselin Topalov | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler, Veselin Topalov

“And then the b-pawn advanced and advanced and advanced!” Grischuk, Svidler and Topalov | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

All Domínguez’s games from the tournament

 

Links




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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