Reports Jul 22, 2019 | 9:30 AMby Colin McGourty

Dominguez wins Dortmund despite late Nepo surge

Leinier Dominguez has set another milestone on his return from a 2.5 year break from classical chess by winning the 47th edition of the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting and entering the world Top 10. His unbeaten +2 left him half a point ahead of the other 2700 players in the field, with Ian Nepomniachtchi winning his last two games to finish above Radek Wojtaszek, Richard Rapport and Teimour Radjabov on the tiebreak of most wins.

Dominguez 1-0 Nepomniachtchi turned out to be the crucial game | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

The excitement in this year’s Dortmund supertournament came early on, with 8 decisive games in the first 3 rounds. Leinier Dominguez had raced to 2.5/3, while defending champion and rating favourite Ian Nepomniachtchi was struggling on 1/3. From that point onwards, however, there were just 2 wins, both for Nepo, in the remaining 16 games, to leave the following final standings (you can click on any game to open it with computer analysis):

Dominguez is well and truly back

At the start of 2019 Leinier Dominguez didn’t even feature on the FIDE rating list of active players, since it was over 2 years since he’d last played a FIDE-rated classical game – a loss to Anish Giri on 12th November 2016 in the final round of the European Club Cup. It wasn’t that the loss was so painful the 5-time Cuban Champion decided to give up chess, but that the 33-year-old world no. 17 had taken the decision to move to the US. The requirements both for residency in the US and switching chess federation meant he played only rapid and blitz events for the next two years, although he never stopped working on chess and, as a member of Team Fabi, was involved in top level training and World Championship opening preparation.

The return for Dominguez, now as a US player, came on March 20th 2019 with a draw against Varuzhan Akobian in Round 1 of the US Championship – more than 2 years and 4 months since his last classical game. There was no looking back, as Leinier went on to score an unbeaten +4 and only miss out on a playoff against Hikaru Nakamura by half a point.

Dominguez only missed out on a US Championship playoff after missing a win against Timur Gareev in the final round | photo: Austin Fuller, official website

That saw Dominguez return to the May FIDE rating list in his old no. 17 spot, and an unbeaten +5 in the Russian Team Championship, his first chess event outside the US in over 2.5 years, saw him climb to no. 11 on the June rating list. Now after Dortmund he’s currently no. 10 on the live rating list, and likely to finish there or better (no. 9 Mamedyarov is playing MVL in the Riga final, while the Chinese League this week might still have an impact) on the official August FIDE rating list. That would match Leinier’s career-best no. 10 ranking in May 2014.

Dominguez did the hard work early in Dortmund, with wins over Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu and, crucially, Ian Nepomniachtchi, in Rounds 1 and 3. Leinier drew the remaining 4 games, with the one scare coming in Round 6, when bottom seed Kaido Kulaots sacrificed a pawn for the kind of attack a Najdorf player dreams about on the white king. 

Kaido Kulaots was the one player who had Dominguez on the ropes in Dortmund | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

In the end, however, Leinier held the position with relative ease and was the fifth different player to win Dortmund in the last five years:

  • 2015: Fabiano Caruana
  • 2016: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
  • 2017: Radek Wojtaszek
  • 2018: Ian Nepomniachtchi
  • 2019: Leinier Dominguez

Nepomniachtchi’s damage limitation

Defending Champion Ian Nepomniachtchi’s tournament was in ruins after he lost a second game, to Dominguez, in Round 3, and after draws against Wojtaszek and Radjabov in the next two rounds his chances of winning the event had all but gone. A lesser man might have crumbled, but Nepomniachtchi restored both pride and rating points by going on to win his final two games:

The victory over German no. 1 Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu featured something you don’t see every day – a miniature win against the super-solid Petroff Defence! Nepo came prepared with a typical modern opening idea:

We’re all taught to finish development before launching attacks, so here 9.0-0-0 or developing the f1-bishop had been the moves, but nowadays computers have encouraged us to ignore such principles. Nepo went for the immediate 9.h4!?, later played 12.Kf1 and found a decisive blow on move 19:

A rocky tournament for Nepo, but without him the event would have been much poorer | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

Black is trying to hold his house of cards together by meeting 19.Qf5 with 19…Re1+!. Even then White would be better, but 19.Re3! both stopped that idea and threatened to exchange the defender of the h6-pawn. That the computer’s second best move in this position is now 19…Ba6, simply giving up a bishop, tells you all you need to know about how bad things had become. Nisipeanu resigned.

Fridman-Nepomniachtchi in the final round followed a 2009 Kramnik-Carlsen Amber Rapid game for 16 moves, with Nepo later saying the first 20 or so moves were part of his preparation. He played so fast that he ended the game with 1 hour and 45 minutes on the clock, with that speed a factor in Daniel Fridman collapsing in what must have been a drawn ending.

Those two wins meant Nepomniachtchi not only restored most of his rating losses but finished in a deserved 2nd place, since the tiebreaks were having more games with Black (he had 4, like Wojtaszek) and then most wins, with no-one matching his 3.   

The nearly men

The 2700 players all justified their rating in Dortmund, with Radek Wojtaszek, Richard Rapport and Teimour Radjabov matching Nepomniachtchi’s +1. They all did it with an unbeaten +1, but could all have regrets over not building on a fine start. Richard Rapport beat Nepomniachtchi in the very first round, but then drew his remaining games. It meant he hadn’t made a dramatic breakthrough after winning the Danzhou Masters in China in the run-up to Dortmund, but his new-found solidity sees him up to world no. 17.

Richard Rapport isn't dazzling us the way he used to on the chessboard, but perhaps becoming tougher to beat is what he needs to make the next push for the top | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

2017 Champion Wojtaszek’s only win came in Round 2 against Daniel Fridman, but he was incredibly close to adding a win in Round 5 against Nisipeanu:

46.Qc3!, targetting f6 and keeping an eye on e1, would have kept full control here for Wojtaszek, but after 46.b5?! Qe6! there was the unpleasant choice between exchanging off into a probably drawn ending or going as he did for 47.Qf3 Qe1! and the threats to the white king eventually led to the loss of the b5-pawn and a drawish position with pawns on only one side of the board.

When Wojtaszek won Dortmund in 2017 he beat Nisipeanu in the final round, but this year he couldn't quite get the full point against the German no. 1 | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

Teimour Radjabov’s problems with winning games of chess continued as he never built on a victory over Nisipeanu with Black in Round 2. He did at least fight in the final round by playing a risky variation of the French against Kulaots, but as with Dominguez in the previous round, he came closer to losing than to beating the bottom seed.

Par for the course

The identity of the final three players was the one pre-tournament ratings would have predicted, but -2 was a respectable result. The German players Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu and Daniel Fridman both won one game and lost three, while although Aeroflot Open qualifier Kaido Kulaots ended as the one player not to win a game, the 43-year-old had a very decent supertournament debut. After losses in the first two rounds he drew the remaining five games, and had some star names on the ropes in those encounters.

The final round of Dortmund 2019 | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

So Dortmund is over, but its traditional summer companion in Biel is just beginning! This year the top event is an 8-player contest in classical, rapid and blitz chess, with Peter Leko the early leader after 7 rounds of rapid chess on Sunday. You can follow all the games here:

The Mamedyarov-MVL final of the Riga Grand Prix gets underway on Monday, while the Paris Grand Chess Tour (Nakamura, MVL, Caruana, Mamedyarov, Nepomniachtchi, Giri, Anand, Grischuk, Duda, Dubov) starts on Saturday! You can follow all the action live here on chess24. 

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