The Cuban Leinier Domínguez, Eighth Best Chess Player in the World Despite His Stumble in Barcelona

Domínguez, in the center, analyzes his game against his Indian rival, Pranav, and his coach, Vladimir Chuchelov, in Sitges. (ChessBase)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 January 2024 — The unexpected departure of Leinier Domínguez in the Sunway Sitges tournament (Barcelona) last December did not prevent the Cuban from starting the year as the eighth best chess player in the world, according to the International Chess Federation (FIDE). With 2,752 Elo* and playing under the American flag, it is not the most notable score of the great master, but it is his best mark in the international ranking.

The Cuban has been one of the top ten of FIDE on three other occasions, always with a better score than this year and in 10th place. In May 2014, he had 2,768 Elo; in August 2019, 2,763, and in October of that same year,  also 2,763.

Domínguez – who at 40 is the oldest member on the list – was in seventh place for several weeks and had his sights set on the Candidates Tournament, which will be held in April in Canada. However, on September 16, in Barcelona, he agreed to a draw with the young Indian chess player Anand Pranav and withdrew from the tournament for health reasons.

His participation in the Sitges contest responded to a FIDE requirement that participants in the Candidate Tournament win in a competition outside the country they represent

His participation in the Sitges contest responded to a FIDE requirement that participants in the Candidate Tournament win in a competition outside the country they represent. According to the Spanish journalist Leontxo García, the measure – which has generated great controversy – forced Domínguez to “fly urgently” to Spain, with a view to complying with the Federation and guaranteeing the points he needed.

It couldn’t be. García himself, in his comment on the Cuban’s performance in Sitges, where he was the great favorite, concluded that Pranav – a 17-year-old prodigy and with only 2,520 Elo – had “embittered” the day.

In fact, after 43 moves and playing with white, Domínguez could only reach a draw with his opponent. The Cuban started with a Spanish opening and built a solid defense, but from the 23rd move he made a series of mistakes that cost him the victory. When they agreed on a draw, Pranav kept his rooks and a bishop, and Domínguez his queen and a knight.

Two days later he appeared on television talking about his departure from the tournament. “I had all the desire in the world to fight for a spot in the Candidates Tournament,” he said. “I’m simply risking too much if I continue. I could have played better. I don’t regret it.”

The FIDE world ranking included this January, in addition, the Camagüeyan Carlos Daniel Albornoz in the group of chess players with more than 2,600 Elo. The Cuban, towards whose career the official press remains vigilant, was the winner of the Carlos Torre in Memoriam tournament, held last December in Mexico. Until February, when FIDE updates its results again, Albornoz will occupy 186th place in the world.

None of the successes of the so-called ’Idol of Güines’ is echoed by the official Cuban press, which this Tuesday celebrated the results of Albornoz

At the top of the list remains the Norwegian genius Magnus Carlsen, with 2,830 Elo, followed by far by one of Domínguez’s traditional rivals, the Italian-nationalized American, Fabiano Caruana, with 2,803. Below 2,800 are the Japanese Hikaru Nakamura, the Chinese Liren Ding, the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, the French Alireza Firouzja and the Filipino Wesly So, who is followed by Domínguez.

None of the successes of the so-called Idol of Güines is reported by the official Cuban press, which on Tuesday celebrated the results of Albornoz and reviewed the list up to Nepomniachtchi, without daring to allude to Domínguez.

The Cuban Chess Federation, of which Domínguez was the most valuable asset until he left for the United States, invited emigrated chess players to play in Cuban national championships if they left the foreign federations with which they had affiliated. In the best of his world game, Domínguez did not react to the measure or to the statements of the ruling party, who promised to make an “exception” if he requested it.

The person who was definitively ruled out, because he was “disrespectful” of the regime, was the great master Lázaro Bruzón. Following his critical position against the Government, Bruzón did not refrain from commenting on the draconian conditions of the Cuban authorities. “They have the Cuban people sunk into the utmost misery and despair and they know what they have to do, which is a radical change of the system,” he said at the time.

*Translator’s note: The Elo rating system calculates the skill level of chess players.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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