Leinier Dominguez: I Try to Reach My Limits in Chess

By Lemay Padron Oliveros*

Lenier Dominguez. Photo: chess24.com

HAVANA TIMES — There isn’t a lot of protocol to go the Cuban Grandmaster Leinier Dominguez’s home. When trying to open the gate to reach his front door, I stopped and thought about whether one of those watchdogs, of which there are many in the Havana neighborhood of Fontanar, would come out to greet me. But, nothing like that happened.

According to what Leinier himself told me later, even though he really likes these dogs, he has resisted having one because he travels quite frequently with his wife Yanelis and then he would have to find somebody to feed him.

When entering his home, a board with a game of chess with glass pieces receives you in the middle of a small table in the middle of this living room, and you already realize that you aren’t in anyone’s old home, but in a kind of temple where Caissa, the goddess of 64 squares, rules.

However, Guines, Cuba’s own hero clarified that even though the goddess of chess has marked his life, God is the one who rules in his home, which is a statement most Evangelists, who have been practicing a long time, say early on in a conversation.

Sitting down face-to-face, we began to talk like two Cubans who don’t see each other enough, but as always our native land draws us in, we talk naturally, as if this wasn’t an interview, and we even joke as the conversation progresses.

Sometimes, you can hear Sebastian, the most precious gift life has given him, complaining in the back. “To tell you the truth, he lets me rest, he’s quite calm. We both liked the name, it has nothing to do with chess, it’s a classical name,” he talks to me about his first-born, who is about to turn three.

Do you sometimes wake up at night thinking about moves?

LD: Yes, that has happened before, not very often, but it does happen. I spend a lot of time thinking about chess, even though I’m not directly studying it. When you enjoy it so much and you can have all the positions in your mind, it isn’t difficult to do this while you are doing something else.

So, is chess always with you?

LD: I try not to take chess with me everywhere, but it’s hard for someone who enjoys it and has spent their entire life playing, to not think about it all the time, and you surprise yourself sometimes analyzing a position where you aren’t sure or have a constant idea, you work on it unconsciously. I always carry my laptop around with me and I always play some chess even when I am on holiday. I’m not going to study on my holiday, but I always look things up, even though I get in trouble with my family.

Talking about your family, does this extraordinary mind help you with household chores?

Leinier and his wife at the Paris Grand Prix in 2013. Photo: columnadeportiva.com

LD: It isn’t so exceptional in that aspect, I have to improve a lot yet in this other game of chess. My wife could give you a dissertation, I’m a little hopeless when it comes to household chores, but I try my best and I am trying to get better. For example, the other day, I went out to look for something with a container and I came back without the lid. 

How do you find a balance between life and chess?

LD: I have always tried to reach my limits in chess, to be ambitious in the sporting sense, I try to exploit my greatest potential, but I am also trying to live a balanced life, to dedicate time to my family and to live a more balanced life. Recently, I’ve been trying to go down this route and to not dedicate 10 or 12 hours to training so much, that’s what I have been feeling I need to do recently. 

It’s a well-known fact that chess is a difficult sport, and there are even legends of bad-tempered players, etc…

LD: I don’t think I’m like that, although I know a lot of people who are. That’s why I like to live as balanced a life as possible, and that’s why I don’t spend so many hours on chess. I am always going to play, even if my best scores stop coming because I enjoy preparing myself and playing, I think I am going to be playing for a very long time still.

Is it better to take part in many tournaments or to dedicate yourself to training?

LD: That is something that you are always trying to figure out and you can never be sure what the correct dose is. I sometimes used to think that I wasn’t playing enough and at other times I would realize that it was getting out of hand and so I would play less, that’s why I am trying to find the right balance.

How do you choose whether you take up an invitation or not?

LD: It always depends on the tournament calendar to select tournaments and training. I hardly reject any of them, in fact, the general remedy is to look for the greatest number of options you can. When I was among the top 10, I used to get more invites and I couldn’t accept all of them, but generally-speaking I can manage it all quite well.

Places you would never reject, or where you have felt better?

Leinier Domínguez and Karjakin Sergey. Photo- FIDE.

LD: I like Spain a lot, ever since the first time I went in 1996. It had a good chess movement even back then, and maybe it was also because of the language that I had a greater relationship with people there, that’s why I’ve always enjoyed going. Other interesting places were Russia on the whole, because it’s where I’ve seen people most play and admire chess, and fans know a lot about the sport, maybe it’s because of all of the tradition they have. The public hold Grandmasters in great esteem. I think that’s where general knowledge about chess is slightly higher than everywhere else, it’s a country renowned for chess.  I have seen this here in Cuba too, but not at the same level, but the atmosphere among fans has always been very good, in Santa Clara, for example, where I have played more tournaments. In Havana, Holguin, Las Tunas, Matanzas, you can breathe in this positive atmosphere among fans too.

Recently, you never miss club tournaments…

LD: I have always enjoyed group tournaments a lot, because people comment on everyone’s matches. On the spot, you have ideas about your colleague’s plays and even though you can’t say anything in middle of the tournament, you always exchange ideas after and you learn, especially when it’s a high-level tournament. In the ones I take part in, there are elite players, both in Russia and Spain, and I have always found this environment of always analyzing games before and afterward very beneficial. These three years have taught me a lot, and when I’m playing with Cuba too, which are even more special, because we give it our all for a good score, and it’s something that team tournaments don’t have.

Do they speak in Russian?

LD: To me in English, I would really like to know Russian, but I haven’t been able to learn. My wife graduated in Russian language and I have tried to learn a little, but I haven’t had the time to really sit down and learn it. It would be really useful because meetings before and after the tournament are in Russian.

Can you put your own individual performance at risk for the group?

LD: It can happen; the team’s result is above an individual result. If at a certain time, the team needs you to win the match by half a point, even if you feel you can win the play, you need to always put the team’s interests first, except in the extreme case that it’s a play you can 100% win.

What are the features of these contracts?

Lenier Domínguez. Photo: juventudrebelde.cu

LD: It was initially to play the Russian League, but this tournament is a qualifier for the European Championship and then the European takes you to the World Championships. If the team gets through, I go with them to wherever they go. Sometimes, interests between Spanish and Russian clubs have clashed, but my priorities lie with St. Petersburg. The Spanish club doesn’t really take part in the European championship, not even if they qualify, for other reasons, and I don’t run into any problems really. They haven’t been as constant in Spain as they have in Russia either, which has never missed a tournament ever since we established this link, it’s more stable and that’s why I give it priority.

Another interesting experience outside of Cuba was when you were a part of the Hungarian Grandmaster Peter Leko’s advisory team…

LD: It was really useful, I learned a lot about how to train and to get myself prepared. I have tried other versions and there have been some interesting projects. They help me here in Cuba, like what happened recently before I took part in the Baku Cup, when several Grandmasters from the island met, which was essentially focused on my and (Lazaro) Bruzon’s participation in the Cup, and even though it is a useful experience for everyone, they try to help us. Maybe it isn’t as professional as it should be, but they make an effort.

Is it very expensive to be on a team like this?

LD: I haven’t sat down with a pen and paper to do the math, it’s quite expensive what goes with accompanying a chess-player when they want to be a world champion. In my case, there has also been talk about me living abroad and I could, but I haven’t been given the opportunity because it’s very complex, it implies many things. It could be done from here, you don’t always have to live abroad, but it’s a financial issue more than anything else, it’s hard to have a top trainer, or an analytical team who helps you. I don’t believe everyone can do it either, maybe those who rank among the top 10 in the world today can or could have this support at some time, but it’s hard, not just for me but for the great majority of chess players. I would like to, but it’s hard.

How important is physical training to you?

LD: I have always liked sports more than what I practice, I like to follow tennis tournaments, it’s been a while since I’ve played. Generally-speaking, I feel good when I do sports because I feel it’s important for tournaments. When you are in better physical shape, you play better on the whole and this is something which I haven’t really been on top of too much lately. I haven’t given it the attention it deserves and I need to take up physical exercise again seriously because I think it really does help in chess a lot.

*From Lemay Padron Oliverosblog