Pinar del Rio.— Even if she decided never to play chess again, Lisandra Ordaz has already made history. During the Don Modesto Castellón tournament at the end of 2017, she became the first Cuban woman to break the 2,400 Elo rating barrier, winning the title of International Master.
At 29 years of age, although Lisandra hopes to perform well in the upcoming international Capablanca in Memoriam competition, and to be selected for the Cuban team that will participate in the 43rd Chess Olympiad, she also has other dreams.
Lisandra explains that she began playing chess at the age of eight, out of curiosity more than anything, because, as she herself notes, “I preferred contact sports.”
It was the passion of her coaches that would gradually lead her to fall in love with the game, and begin to play it seriously. Aged 11 she entered the Preparatory Sporting Academy (EIDE) in Pinar del Río, and aged 15, she was named Woman International Master after finishing second in the Cuban Sports Olympiad, and moved up to the national pre-selection team.
In 2010, she finished top of her team which achieved an historic fourth place in the Khanty-Mansisk Olympiad.
Lisandra participated in various Olympiads after that; competing as a Grand Master in 2012 and 2014.
But then she suddenly stopped competing.
“I had been suffering health problems for several years and the most important thing was to recover and come back stronger. For two years, I hardly competed because I started coaching another female player who is currently one of the top figures in Mexico.”
While the national chess championships were taking place, Lisandra Ordaz was competing in other parallel tournaments.
Isn’t it a contradiction that Cuba’s World Chess Federation (FIDE) number one ranked woman player isn’t also national champion?
I’d like to be national champion, I’ve never given my family, my people or myself this joy, but once I reached 2,400 Elo, I was almost 300 points above the average of the tournament, and this forced me to win practically every game to maintain my lead, that’s why I participated in the Eldis Cobo men’s tournament while the women’s national championships were going on.
Soon you will receive the title of International Master (unisex). Do you find competing against men strange?
I’ve almost always played against men, since I was a little girl. This helped me a lot and made me unafraid to compete against them. In 2010, when I won my first International Master (unisex), I was only half a point off the Male Grand Master, and since then most of the tournaments I have participated in have been mixed.
What do you think about the debate around women chess players’ ability as compared to male players?
Chess is a historically male dominated sport; women’s competitions began a lot later. However, we have made progress, for example, before we hardly won any titles or had notable performances in male tournaments, but this is increasingly changing.
How and with whom do you train?
I’ve been training alone for a few years now, using books or the computer, although my second coach,José Manuel Cruz Lima, still advises me.
The world’s top chess players have entire teams dedicated specifically to training…
Having a person to guide and prepare you, to organize your time, is key. This is what we should be working to achieve at a national level, the ideal thing would be for every top athlete to have a coach or a training team.
In sports that receive more media coverage, athletes say their dream, ever since they were children, was to make their national team. Does the same go for chess?
Of course; when you start to compete in events, you go in with the mentality of making the Cuban team. This is what you work for, to make the national team and represent your country.
How does it feel to be the first Cuban woman to break the 2,400 Elo rating barrier?
It feels great to have achieved this goal. There were a lot of emotions that day, even tears, because it’s the result of over 20 years in this chess world.
What are you working toward now?
Firstly, to maintain my Elo rating, and hopefully improve it, as well as work to win the title of Grand Master. I’m pleased with what I have achieved, but I still have many dreams to fulfill.