Features May 15, 2014 | 4:04 PMby GM Jan Gustafsson

Pacoman in Havana

With six of the ten rounds of the Capablanca Memorial in Cuba behind us it’s high time we took stock. How is our esteemed Spanish colleague Grandmaster Paco Vallejo faring so far against Ivanchuk, Dominguez, So & co?

Jan Gustafsson reports sadly not from, but about, Cuba. Ok, mainly about our man in Havana.

Paco Vallejo with his new secret weapon, coach A.P. Monk | photo: Vallejo’s smartphone

Francisco “Paco” Vallejo is not only the Spanish number 1, probably the best Spanish chess player of all time, a chess24 video author and globetrotter, but also perhaps the most active inactive player of our time. And perhaps the most voracious, but more on that later.

Since he announced his retirement from chess in 2012 he’s produced 118 tournament games according to my database. The previous holder of that title, Loek van Wely, just couldn’t keep pace (111 games in the same time frame).

After his highly-undeserved tournament victory in the Bangkok Open Paco took his new coach with him to the next sunny destination, Havana. It’s hard to fault his tournament selection.

The start went awry, with two defeats for Paco in the first four rounds, first against world no. 10 Leinier Dominguez and then against the So-called front-runner.

But he’s back! His new relaxed approach to chess already took him back to the magical 2700 in Thailand and now he’s also back in the tournament in Cuba!

His first win was against none other than the brilliant Vassily Ivanchuk, who’s having a bad event and is struggling at the bottom of the table on 2/6:

19... g4 20. ♖ad1 No retreat! Ivanchuk instead continues developing and tries to profit from the pin on the d-file and the holes around the black king. Vallejo, however, cooly refutes those plans and remains a knight up, so that the miserly

20. ♘e1 had to be prefered. White can follow up with Rd1 and Nc2 and face the future with confidence.

20... gxf3 21. ♕xf3 ♖f8! Two birds with one stone. f5 is covered and the threat of Qd5 is parried since it can now be met by Rf7. Was this the move the Ukrainian missed? In any case, after this he never came close to equalising and Vallejo confidently converted his edge. 0-1 (53)

Curiously that wasn’t the first time in the tournament that Ivanchuk gave up a piece for a pawn as White. For those who missed it:

Ivanchuk - Almasi

14.Nf6+? gxf6 and 0-1 after 34 moves.

Back to Paco: his win against Ivanchuk was followed by another against Almasi. That took him not only back to 50% but also meant he’d played four of the six decisive games so far and thus disproved malicious rumours from those who’d assumed he was treating Cuba more as a holiday tournament.

Against the Hungarian as well he took the Pac(o)man approach, this time grabbing an exchange:

19. ♕xa7 ♗g4! The threat of Be2 is surprisingly tough to parry.

20. ♕a5 The Hungarian voluntarily gives up the exchange, but fails to get enough compensation. His options were limited, though. Only

20. ♖be1 stops Be2, but after 20... ♕c6 the threat is suddenly Ra8, winning the queen! After something like 21. ♕a3 ♖a8 22. ♕b3 ♔h8 (stopping Bxe4) Black seizes control of the game.

20... ♗e2 21. ♕d2 ♗d3! The bishop keeps an eye on both rooks.

21... ♗xf1 22. ♕xd5+ ♔h8 23. ♖xf1 was less clear.

22. ♖bc1 b6! Not letting him off the hook.

23. c6 There was nothing else.

23. ♖fe1 bxc5 24. ♖xc5 ♖b2! wasn't an option, while after

23. cxb6 ♖xb6 the threat is again the lethal Rb2.

23... ♗xf1 Pacman strikes, although even stronger was the calm

23... ♖a8! with the plan of Ra3, Rfa8 and total control. White is defenceless. The monster on d3 is in no way inferior to a rook.

24. ♕xd5+ ♕f7 25. ♕xf7+ ♖xf7 26. ♗xf1 ♖f5 The ensuing ending is also impossible to hold long-term. With a2, f2 and c6 the rooks simply have too many points of attack. Paco safely converted his advantage. 0-1 (60)

The tournament goes on today, with Vallejo playing White against So. The latter is playing well, leading the table with an undefeated 4/6 and definitely deserved more attention in this report.   

1GMWesley So2731PHI1½½1½½411.251
2GMFrancisco Vallejo2700ESP001½1½37.25½4
3GMLeinier Dominguez2768CUB½1½½½½9.7522
4GMVassily Ivanchuk2753UKR½0½½0½27.0026
5GMZoltan Almasi2693HUN0½½01½6.755
6GMLazaro Bruzon2682CUB½½½½½½39.5023

But So isn’t our man in Havana. Will Pacoman gobble up another victim?

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