Alexei Shirov and Sabrina Vega are the 2019 Spanish Champions

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/26/2019 – Seven players tied for first at the Spanish Championship in Marbella. The first tiebreaker criterion left Alexei Shirov, Paco Vallejo and Iván Salgado on the podium, in that order. Among the women, Sabrina Vega obtained her sixth national title, while Liudmila Kolotilina and Mónica Calzetta got second and third places respectively. | Photo: Spanish Chess Federation

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Nail-biting finale

Both winners of the 2019 Spanish Championship, Alexei Shirov and Sabrina Vega, confessed that perhaps they did not deserve the titles they had just received. Indeed, some fortuitous circumstances led to their victories, but that says more about how closely contested the tournament actually was — when a host of strong players compete in a "regular" nine-round Swiss, luck tends to play a bigger role than usual.

Of course, to discredit Shirov and Vega's victories due to this fact would also be out of place. Shirov played his usual brand of enterprising chess from start to finish, proving that his strong results of the last few months have not been sheer coincidences. Vega, in the meantime, only had one big hiccup, but her back-to-back wins in rounds seven and eight showed what she is made of.

For the Soviet-born grandmaster, this was his second triumph at a Spanish Championship, and it came a year and a half after he decided to go back to represent the Iberian country (he did not participate in the 2018 edition). Vega, on the other hand, obtained her sixth title in the competition, and her fourth in five years.

Spanish Chess Championship 2019

The top boards on the final day of action | Photo: FEDA

But why undeserved?

In the case of Shirov, it had all to do with the fact that he won his last game in Marbella on time, while a piece down! He reached the final day of action as part of an eleven-player chasing pack a half point behind co-leaders José Carlos Ibarra, Iván Salgado and José "Pepe" Cuenca. Ibarra and Salgado signed a quick draw and reached seven points, while Cuenca, for a second year in a row, had a magnificent performance before failing to deliver in the final hurdles — Cuenca had White against Manuel Pérez Candelario and could have finished clear first with a win, but ended up losing, having to settle for a bitter eighth place.

Besides Shirov and Pérez Candelario, three other players that reached round nine on 6 out of 9 won their last encounter to tie for first — Paco Vallejo, David Antón and Jaime Santos. The top results of round nine:

  White   Result   Black
1 GM Ibarra Jerez, Jose Carlos ½-½ GM Salgado Lopez, Ivan
2 GM Cuenca Jimenez, Jose Fernando 0-1 6 GM Perez Candelario, Manuel
3 GM Narciso Dublan, Marc 6 0-1 6 GM Vallejo Pons, Francisco
4 GM Del Rio De Angelis, Salvador G. 6 0-1 6 GM Anton Guijarro, David
5 GM Shirov, Alexei 6 1-0 6 GM Asis Gargatagli, Hipolito
6 GM Larino Nieto, David 6 ½-½ 6 GM Santos Ruiz, Miguel
7 GM Santos Latasa, Jaime 6 1-0 6 IM Diaz Camallonga, Carles

As you can see above, Shirov played on board five, despite having been part of the leading group until round seven. This was due to his defeat in round eight against Salgado. Salgado, playing White, spent no more than three minutes on any of the 39 moves he made in that game — the 2017 Spanish champion had studied that exact variation before the game, all the way to the end. 

Then, Shirov's rival in the deciding round was the dangerous Hipólito Asis, who finished third in 2018. As early as move 15, Asis took advantage of a miscalculation by his famed opponent:

 

White's queen has been stuck on the side of the board for a while now. Shirov had spent over half an hour on moves 5 and 6, which led to him failing to correctly assess the danger surrounding his queen later on. Asis played 15...g5, which can only be responded with a piece sacrifice: 16.xg5 fxg5 17.xg5+.

But Shirov is not one to give up easily. Although Asis actually never lost the thread, his rival permanently created tough problems for him to solve. Furthermore, with the unforgiving 90'+30" time control in place, the players were solely relying on the increment at some point.

And when Asis was probably looking for the most precise way to take down the giant, a small lapse of inattention made him "forget" about the clock. That was it: Shirov won on time while a piece down and secured first place due to his superior tiebreak score. Contrary to popular belief, there is drama in chess.

Hipolito Asis

Hipólito Asis was inches away from defeating Alexei Shirov | Photo: FEDA

Much like Shirov, Vallejo bounced back from a loss to reach the podium. The rating favourite was defeated by Cuenca in round seven, but he delivered when it mattered the most, as he beat Pedro Ginés and Marc Narciso in the last rounds to tie with the co-leaders on '+5'. Vallejo ended his game against Ginés in style:

 

It is no surprise to see this kind of open battle in Ginés' games (see the report after round six), but of course this can also backfire from time to time, especially when facing someone as strong as Vallejo. Spain's number one is completely winning on the diagrammed position. The game ended with 29.f5+ exf5 30.f4+ f7 31.xd5 e5 32.xc4 d8 33.gxf5 xf5 34.e7+ and Black resigned.

Francisco Vallejo Pons

Spain's number Paco Vallejo | Photo: FEDA

Ivan Salgado

Iván Salgado finished undefeated and took home the bronze | Photo: FEDA


Top games from Rounds 7-9

 

It is quite clear why Shirov thought his victory was undeserved, but did Sabrina Vega also won on time in the last round? Actually not — the six-time women's national champion lost in round nine. Her mentioning that she did not quite deserve the title had more to do with Mónica Calzetta's performance, who had a great tournament but could not quite make the most of her chances. Most notably, Calzetta obtained a clearly superior position against Pepe Cuenca in round five, but ended up losing that encounter.

Having said that, Vega's performance was also worthy of praise, and Calzetta still has seven national titles to her name.

While both multiple champions lost their final round encounters, Liudmila Kolotilina defeated Raúl Pindado to tie Vega's 5½ out of 9. Thus, Kolotilina secured second place. 

Sabrina Vega

A smiling Sabrina Vega holding her trophy | Photo: FEDA

Let us not forget that this was the strongest ever Spanish Chess Championship. It not only delivered top-notch competitiveness, but also a fair share of spectacle. We expect the high standards to be kept in the future...perhaps with a couple more rounds added to the schedule.


Final standings (top 15)

  Title Name Elo Points APRO
1 GM Shirov, Alexei 2666 7 2462.4
2 GM Vallejo Pons, Francisco 2694 7 2452.8
3 GM Salgado Lopez, Ivan 2594 7 2429.8
4 GM Anton Guijarro, David 2686 7 2400.3
5 GM Santos Latasa, Jaime 2581 7 2375.4
6 GM Perez Candelario, Manuel 2623 7 2359.9
7 GM Ibarra Jerez, Jose Carlos 2540 7 2348.3
8 GM Cuenca Jimenez, Jose Fernando 2523 2464.2
9 GM Santos Ruiz, Miguel 2583 2447.4
10 IM Merario Alarcon, Andres 2394 2314.7
11 IM Huerga Leache, Mikel 2456 2256.8
12 GM Larino Nieto, David 2473 2235.9
13 FM Mingarro Carceller, Sergi 2329 2232.1
14 IM Garza Marco, Sergio 2400 2191.4
15 IM Gines Esteo, Pedro Antonio 2463 6 2360.9

...142 players


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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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