(1) Ivanchuk,V (2729) - Vallejo Pons,F (2650) [D44]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (13), 10.03.2006

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5
[Recently, Black has faced some problems in the main line of the Vienna variation after 6...c5 7.e5 . The move played in the game seems to suit Vallejo's general approach better: in this tournament he has repeatedly proved his willingness of defending passive or simply dangerous positions for the mere sake of an extra-pawn.]

7.a4 c6
Unexpectedely, we have reached a position that is typical for the Botwinnik system, where the moves ...c6 and ...Bb4 are played in reversed order. This transposition can be considered a partial success for White, because in the Botwinnik Black has several alternatives on his seventh move, 7...Qb6 being the relatively safest one.

8.e5 h6 9.exf6 hxg5 10.fxg7 Rg8
The alternance of actions on the opposite wings makes these variations quite difficult to handle. The position has become completely chaotical, but the next phase of the game will have a calmer character: both sides need to develop some more pieces before starting new complications.

11.g3 Bb7 12.Bg2 c5 13.0-0 g4

The attitude towards pawn moves in the opening varied along the decades. In their chess text books, Lasker and Capablanca recommended that a player should not move more than 2-3 times with the pawns before completing his development. Nimzovitsch went a little further and stated that the advance of a pawn can be considered an auxiliary move in the process of mobilisation of forces, but not really a developing move. Modern theory and practice sustain a more flexible evaluation. In several lines of the Sicilian, Black effectuates 5-6 pawn moves before even starting to develop, which proves that building a pawn barrier in front of the opponent's pieces can sometimes be just as useful as developing his own. Reformulating, this means that under certain circumstances pawn moves can and should be considered to form part of the process of development, contrary to Nimzovitsch opinion. The diagrammed position cannot be judged easily from this point of view, because we have an extreme situation here: out of the first 13 moves Black has made none less than 9 (!) with his pawns, seriously neglecting the piece development. At the same time, it can be seen that White has more or less completed the first phase of mobilisation. Black's initiative looks threatening, but it is clear that in the case it gets extinguished without causing any major damage to White's position, he will suddenly find himself in big trouble.

14.Nh4 Bxg2
Regrettably, Black has to exchange one of his very few developed pieces, leaving the long diagonal rather weak.

In the meanwhile, White improves the position of his knight, whose next jump will be to f4.

[Black has so many things to do that it is not easy to decide what to start with. Vallejo's move (which is a novelty) is easy to understand. Previously, 15...cxd4 had been played, but after 16.Nxb5 Nc6 17.Qxg4 a6 18.Qe4 Rc8 19.Qh7 White managed to defend this dangerous pawn in Sakaev-Yakovich, Kazan 2005.]

[Psychologically, a very hard move to find. Black is allowed now to build an impressive pawn centre. In fact, in some comments to a game where 15...cxd4 (instead of 15...Rxg7) had been played, the rather inoffensive 16.dxc5 had been recommended. Ivanchuk's move has two main purposes: to restrict the possibilities of development of the black knight and to open the a-file for the rook at the same time. Just as simple as that. The central tandem of black pawns is not so dangerous, since the white knights still have the e4- and f4-squares at their disposal. The first thought when we see such messy positions is that a lot of concrete calculation is required in order to find the right path. However, I believe that the more chaotic a position is, the lesser the posibilities of calculating "everything" becomes, at human level at least. Instead, we should use logic and intuition as a veritable Ariadna's knott. I cannot know which was Ivanchuk's process of thinking in this game, but his brilliant play can be explained in a logical way, without the help of long and forced variations.]

16...cxd4 17.Ne4 f5
Black could not develop his knight because the d4-pawn would be lost and with it, the whole game. Therefore, Vallejo makes just another pawn move (the eleventh!), questioning the stability of the e4-knight. Under different circumstances, such a fantastic pawn structure would entirely compensate for a reasonable material defficit such as an exchange, but the delay in development can be amore serious problem than that.


What a beautiful pair of knights! Ivanchuk hits the Achile's heel of Black's position: the e6-square. Obviously, there was no question of retreating with the attacked knight, since this would have lowered the rhytm of the attack.


[From an aesthetical point of view, this is an awfull move. The king gets in a way of the very few developed pieces, the g7-rook. It looks like if a bad wizard had just mixed Black's castle and teleported it to a strange place at the same time. True, accepting the sacrifice with 18...fxe4? would have led to fatal consequences after 19.Nxe6 Qf6 20.Nxg7+ Qxg7 21.Qe2 . Black's central pawns are in big danger. After 21...Qe7 22.Qxc4 the main problem is that the long awaited development of the knight with 22...Nd7 would allow the decisive activation of the rook with 23.Ra6 ; One of Black's problems is that he cannot develop the knight to d7 because his d4-pawn would be hanging. This suggests that 18...Qb6 would be a better way to defend the e6-pawn, apart from the fact that b6 is such a nice square for the queen. True, after 19.Qc2 Black can neither capture on e4 because of the simple 20.Qxe4 when too many black pieces and pawns would be hanging, nor develop the knight because of 20.Ra6, but with the twelfth pawn move 19...a5 he would make the mentioned threats quite real. This would have led to a position where, finally, deep and accurate calculation would have been needed in order to avoid losing thread.]

I find no words to praise this brilliant but basically simple move. Ignoring the threat against the central knight, White develops just another piece, taking another weak square under observation. Black is in dire straits already.

19...fxe4 20.Rxc4
Against any retreat of the bishop, White would simply capture on d4 with gain of tempo and depriving Black of the possibility of developing his knight for 1-2 more moves. Next, he would attack and capture the e4-pawn, putting the e6-pawn under irresistible pressure and, finally, he would start the king's hunt. Obviously disliking such a predictable scenario, Vallejo decides to maintain his remaining structure intact, but in fact he just makes things easier for White.

20...Bc5!? 21.Rxc5

With such a unusual structure, it is easy to overlook that the material is completely equal. White has a decisive attack for free.

21...Nd7 22.Rh5
depriving Black of his last hope: the transfer of the knight to f3. The numerous threats against the central pawns (such as Qxd4, Qb3 or Re1) are impossible to parry.

22...Nf6 23.Re5 Qd6?
Not a good square for the queen.

Vallejo might have initially intended to place his queen on b4, in order to maintain the d4-pawn defended, while preventing Qb3, but noticed in the last moment that this would lose to 25.Rxf6+. 1-0