Interviews Sep 11, 2014 | 10:53 AMby Colin McGourty

Vallejo on Bilbao, the Spanish title and more

Spanish star Paco Vallejo “retired” in 2012, but it never seemed to stop him playing chess. Recently he’s been in fine form, beating Vladimir Kramnik and Le Quang Liem at the Olympiad and winning the recent Spanish Championship outright. In a few days’ time he faces his toughest challenge yet in the Bilbao Masters against Anand, Aronian and Ponomariov. That was one of the topics he addressed in a recent exclusive interview for chess24.

Paco Vallejo was in command at the Spanish Championship, racing to 6.5/7 | photo: José Antonio Díaz

Paco Vallejo: "Since Cuba I've noticed a change in my attitude"

Interview by Spanish chess24 editor and IM David Martínez

I’ve known Paco for 23 years and recently he's been looking happier than ever. As well as stringing together two very good performances in a row he’s looked comfortable in the tournaments, enjoying his time there. The entry of new blood into Spanish chess, in the form of Iván Salgado, David Antón and Ángel Arribas, has provided him not only with healthy competition but also good company with which to pass the time. In this interview we discuss various topical issues, including the recent controversy involving the well-known journalist Leontxo García.

David Martínez: How did things go in Linares?

Paco enjoying analysing with Salgado, Ljubojevic and Jesús de la Villa | photo: Juan Trigás

Paco Vallejo: I had a great time. The atmosphere was very good, particularly after the games. The tapas here is fantastic and I’ve played a lot of table football and darts. Arizmendi is a phenomenon in the midfield, and Arribas is very solid in defence. I’m pretty good, and some of those who consider chess players geeks would be surprised at the way we play table football, padel or other sports 

Although you won the classical event relatively easily you did poorly at the faster time controls. Are you very bad at blitz, or does it only seem like that to me?

Come on, I wouldn’t say very bad  I'm usually at the top on chess24… but blitz requires a lot of practice, and above all to be “fresh”, with a lot of energy. I’ve come into my two most recent events, Dubai and Linares, pretty tired.

Despite claiming not to study any chess you play the Najdorf and lots of main lines, like the one you played against Arribas. Who are you trying to kid?

Ok, each game is its own world... I don’t remember saying too often that I don’t study, but it’s certainly the case that I’m not the most methodical guy in the world. However, no-one has ever gifted me anything and I can assure you that I love to be better after the opening, and for that you need to work.

Against Arribas I decided to play the most critical line possible because I had a hunch my opponent was on his own very early on:

1. d4 e6 Inviting Paco into "his" French.

2. c4 Vallejo has a very wide repertoire and usually varies his openings very well, depending on his opponent. Especially when playing against non-elite players he mines his repertoire for the kind of position that will suit him best. Of course against top-level professionals that's easier said than done, since in any line, even if they're not expecting it that day, they're well-prepared. It costs a lot of effort to maintain a place in the elite!

2... d5 3. ♘f3 dxc4 The Queen's Gambit usually leads to calm positions, but on this occasion they choose the sharpest line.

4. e3 ♘f6 5. ♗xc4 a6 6. 0-0 c5 7. ♗b3 b5 All this is well-known. Black rushes to develop the queenside in order to control the centre better. Paco responds with the most critical line.

8. a4 b4 9. ♘bd2 ♗b7 10. e4 This move speeds up the game. Black can't capture the pawn due to the compromised position of his king in the centre.

10... cxd4

10... ♘xe4? 11. ♘xe4 ♗xe4 12. ♖e1 The rook will wreak havoc on this file. 12... ♗d5 and now various moves are dangerous for Black, though the simplest is (12... ♗b7 13. d5 opening the position) 13. ♗g5 ♗e7 14. ♗xe7 ♗xb3 (14... ♕xe7? is impossible due to 15. ♗xd5 exploiting the pin.) 15. ♗xd8 ♗xd1 16. ♖axd1 ♔xd8 17. d5! and it's clear the ending is going to be torture for Black given his pieces are still "at home".

This was a crucial game, since Ángel Arribas (left) eventually finished runner-up, half a point behind Paco Vallejo. Gabriel del Río was third. | photo: José Antonio Díaz

11. e5 ♘fd7 12. ♘c4 ♘c6 13. ♗g5 f6? A serious mistake from Arribas which already costs him the game.

13... ♕c7 is the normal move, and the position remains double-edged.

14. exf6 gxf6 15. ♖e1! The enemy king is in the centre - attack!

15... ♘c5 The rook can't be allowed to enter the action.

15... fxg5 16. ♖xe6+ ♗e7 17. ♘d6+ winning.

16. ♘fe5! Making way for the queen to get to h5.

16... ♘xe5

16... h5 could be met by 17. ♘xc6 ♗xc6 18. ♘e5 ♗d5 (18... ♗b7 19. ♕c2! threatening to enter on g2, and if 19... ♖g8 then 20. ♕h7 ) 19. ♗xd5 ♕xd5 20. ♗xf6 and the black king will find no shelter.

17. ♘xe5 ♕e7 Trying to get the black king out of the centre. Paco doesn't allow a breathing space.

18. ♘d3! Making way for the rook. The threat is to exchange on c5 and hit e6.

18... ♘xb3 19. ♕xb3 ♔f7

19... ♗d5 would be met by 20. ♕xd5 exd5 21. ♗xf6 ♔f7 22. ♗xe7 ♗xe7 23. ♖e5 and a won ending.

20. ♘f4! White's pieces coordinate perfectly!

20... ♗c8 21. ♕f3 Not a moment's rest! The queen attacks a8 and threatens to give check on h5.

21... ♗g7 Arribas tries to give up material to stay in the game, but Paco goes for the king.

22. ♖ac1! The only piece that was yet to join the party. Black is completely tied down.

22... ♕a7 23. ♗xf6 No less than ten moves after being attacked by the f-pawn - during which time the bishop hasn't been fazed for a moment! It now delivers the final blow to the black position.

23... ♗xf6 24. ♘h5 ♔e8

24... ♕e7 can be met in many ways: 25. ♘xf6 is the most straightforward: (25. ♖c7 ♕xc7 26. ♕xf6+ ♔g8 27. ♕g5+ ♔f8 28. ♖e4 and the coordination of the three pieces against the king is decisive.) 25... ♕xf6 26. ♖c7+ ♔g6 27. ♕g3+ ♔f5 (27... ♕g5 28. ♖g7+ winning the queen.) 28. ♖f7! ♕xf7 29. ♖e5+ ♔f6 30. ♕g5# What a mate!

25. ♕xf6 And Arribas resigned. A withering attack from Vallejo.

1-0

From your “retirement” after Bilbao 2012 until Capablanca 2014 you hadn’t beaten any really top player. What sort of boost did it give you to beat, for example, Ivanchuk with Black?

You’re referring to the “victory without merit”?

Leontxo García's article "Vallejo struggling in Cuba" was published in El País on 14 May 2014. It included: "Vallejo’s first half has been disappointing: a draw without a fight against Almasi, one-sided losses to So and Leinier Domínguez, a victory with very little merit against an unrecognisable Ivanchuk and this draw, where he missed at least four winning lines. Two of them weren’t difficult for a top-level grandmaster."

Well, beating Ivanchuk is cool, even if only at marbles, and I’ve had the luck to beat many of the very best. Honestly, I’m not too bothered about my stats, but in Cuba I noticed a change in my attitude. 

The win against Ivanchuk (at that moment in the world Top 20 with a 2753 rating), marked a before and after moment for Paco. In the next round he won again, with Black, against Hungary’s Zoltan Almasi (2693) | photo: María del Carmen Ramón / Cubahora

How are you looking forward to the upcoming tournament in Bilbao?

It’s only six games - there’s little margin for error, and moreover I haven’t done so well against my opponents there in the past, though the same went for Ivanchuk. I’m glad to have another chance and we’ll see how it goes. (Paco’s statistics for classical games against his opponents in Bilbao are Anand: 0 wins, 10 draws, 2 losses, Aronian: 0 wins, 10 draws, 3 losses, Ponomariov: 1 win, 3 draws, 8 losses)

I have to admit that every time you play I take a look at 2700chess.com. Do you do the same?

Honestly I prefer to see how others are doing – Caruana and co. – rather than my own results. I’d say I almost never check my rating until after a tournament’s over.

After beating Anand, many people predicted a long reign for Carlsen. Now, after Caruana’s streak, there’s some doubt. Who would you bet on being world no. 1 in a couple of years?

Us gamblers are cowards – if the odds were the same I’d go for Carlsen, of course.

You recently had a big argument on social media with the journalist Leontxo García. Could you explain what happened?

You rarely see me take the easy way out. I’m brutally honest at times, which is something that works well at all levels.

Leontxo is a bona fide journalist – he’s hard-working, educated, has a great memory and ultimately has a lot of virtues that even I can see, despite our enormous differences in other regards.

Paco at the closing ceremony of the Spanish Championship. Behind him, in a tie, is Leontxo García. At his side, the Spanish and Iberoamerican Chess Federation President Javier Ochoa | photo: José Antonio Díaz

Let’s put this in perspective... I’ve known Leontxo since I was a child, I’ve given him dozens of interviews, he’s praised and criticised me whenever he felt it was appropriate and I’ve never said a thing about it. Sometimes he’s “surprised” me as some of his articles seemed bad or not entirely convincing, but I don’t like to discuss things too much and even less to get into a fight with someone. We all make mistakes - me more than anyone. That’s perfectly acceptable.

But I believe Leontxo has a problem, which is becoming visible a mile off with the internet, and that’s his total inability to handle the slightest criticism. I can understand that, since for decades no-one has complained, but that’s become a serious defect today. 

A few years ago I won a gold or silver medal in the European Championship, and no-one wrote a line about it anywhere, which annoyed me a little seeing as space can be found to criticise a draw. Nor was there any space when I beat Kramnik…

What happened recently got completely out of hand. I posted a phrase on my Twitter account: “Me trontxo” (a play on Leontxo’s name and the Spanish phrase “me troncho” – I’m cracking up)

Ivan Salgado is not only Paco's Spanish teammate but also a good friend and fellow Real Madrid supporter

Honestly, there was some humour in it, but after his aggressive response it wasn’t a laughing matter and there was nothing left to do but address Leontxo directly. I told him that the phrases he used to refer to Salgado – “a cloistered monk”, “Stakhanovite” etc… – had made me laugh (I don’t think I was the only one).

So ok... he once again responded very aggressively and I lost patience. No more being “funny” (trying not to offend) and I started to use more appropriate terms for the situation. His phrases were wrong, unproven and, moreover, made Ivan look like a fool, like a real loser. He talked of a “monk”, “without parties or distractions”, when I was with Ivan myself at the Bermuda Party, the Caribbean Party and so on… Ivan has also organised parties.

I found that a new low and, to make matters worse, he also mentioned that Ljubo, at 63, is a great fighter (hinting that Salgado and Vallejo aren’t) – although Ljubo had more than 200 draws in less than 20 moves. There are some uncomfortable truths.

"And another thing that I've never reproached L.G. for is that on several occasions he did his best so that I wasn't invited to Linares and Bilbao"

The theme of Linares and Bilbao came to light because of all this, but it’s something I’ve known about for a long time, and from various sources. Later people told me that Leontxo has called me a “slanderer” (a liar, among friends) and some other gems besides his “not a hard worker” (lazy, among friends).

He also said he didn’t want to destabilise me during the tournament, though meanwhile he sent me a private e-mail, which was again quite aggressive.


Before publishing this interview chess24 wrote to Leontxo García to get his opinion. He responded as follows:

I’m working 16 hours a day and will keep on doing so until the Spanish Championships in Linares and the European Cup and Masters Final in Bilbao come to an end. Additionally, a new chess program starts on Cadena SER (2.5 million listeners) on Sunday and I’m working together with different political groups so that the Congress of Deputies approves two motions to promote the educational and social value of chess. I don’t have time, at the moment, to argue or to contest lies, slanders, distortions and demagoguery. Moreover, I don’t want to damage the sporting performance of Paco Vallejo, who’s enjoying a splendid run of form at the moment. I’d only like to point out one thing: what he said about the tournaments in Linares and Bilbao is a lie. I don’t see how you can say you’re 100% sure of something if it’s all a lie. And I understand even less how during 20 years we’ve had excellent personal relations and he’s never talked to me in private about such differences. If he had, it would probably have saved the publication now of such garbage, which I’ll respond to at some point.

Leontxo also later tweeted a link to a letter from the organising committees of Bilbao and Linares, in which they said he had never tried to persuade them not to include Vallejo. They also urge an end to an argument that, "does nothing but harm to Spanish chess".

In that spirit, let's switch to the future. Paco is now in Bilbao, or Bilbo as it's known in Basque, getting in some early preparation for the Bilbao Masters!

The tournament will be covered live here on chess24, with video commentary by Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent.

See also:


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