Favorites into León final after Ponomariov cruises

6/8/2003 – Ukrainian FIDE champ Ruslan Ponomariov continued his domination of Spaniard Paco Vallejo by routing him in their semifinal match 3.5-0.5. This set up a final of favorites between Topalov and Ponomariov. The good news for Vallejo is that he now has something in common with Spassky and Karpov. Report and games

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Ponomariov rolls over Vallejo


León Semifinal #2
Official siteEvent introSemi #1Game replay/download page

When you are 2700 you don't need luck, nemesis, or voodoo to put up big numbers. Still, Ruslan Ponomariov's dominating score against Francisco "Paco" Vallejo seems to go beyond the Elo difference. In nine encounters – five classical and today's four rapid – Vallejo has lost seven and drawn two against Super Mariov.

Vallejo loses bad positions, he loses good positions. He plays great defense only to blunder at the final moment. He offers draws in superior positions. There is something that the top Spanish hope in 400 years just can't handle about Ponomariov.


Ruslam?

Psychology comes into play in these situations in games where you have a slight advantage. Do you pull out all the stops and risk for a win knowing that you will rarely get such a chance? Or do you figure that things can only go wrong and take the sure draw?

In game one of the semifinal Vallejo had just that situation in this position. He has a clear advantage but instead of playing for a breakthrough against Black's weakened kingside he took the repetition with Qa7 Rc7 Qe3. In the post-match press conference Ponomariov said he was surprised his opponent hadn't looked for more.

Another noteworthy aspect of game one was Vallejo's Ba7 maneuver on moves 24 and 28. This trick, covering the a-file to give white a chance to double rooks, has a fine pedigree. Spassky used it against Karpov in 1974 and later in the year Karpov used it with crushing effect against Unzicker.

That half point was the high point of the match for the Spaniard. In game two he again got play on the a-file and then did a fine job of generating play on the kingside and in the center. Ponomariov counterattacked and had enough threats with his knight and queen to force a draw.

Vallejo made the wrong choice again and played for a win. In the diagram he needed to bail out with 36...Qf6 and White would have to force the perpetual check with 37.Ne7+ Kf8 38.Ng6+. (Black can add 36...Nxf3+ 37.Kd1 before 37...Qf6 with the same repetition.)

Instead Vallejo walked into a forced mate with 36...Qxf3?? and was lost after 37.Qh8+ Kf7 38.Re7+! Kxg6 39.Qxg7+. Black resigned as it's mate in two.

In game three Ponomariov wrapped up the match by outplaying Vallejo in an equal endgame. The organizers had decided that they would play all four games and Ponomariov took the opportunity to further tweak the collective nose of the hometown fans by winning the superfluous fourth game in an instructive endgame display.

The Topalov-Ponomariov final can only be called a toss-up between two uncompromising fighters. Topalov eliminated the youngster from the 1999 FIDE KO and then they didn't meet again until a draw in Corus Wijk aan Zee this past January in which the Bulgarian had winning chances.

Photo courtesy of León press officer GM Zenón Franco.


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