Francisco Vallejo Pons is no longer a chess professional, but he is still among the world’s best players, as he demonstrates in the following game.

Francisco Vallejo Pons is arguably the best player Spain has ever produced. He burst onto the international chess scene as a teenager playing against the star players in Linares (which at the time was the pre-eminent tournament in the world). Since then he has scored victories against most of the world’s top players. He is well known for his highly creative style of play.

In 2012, he announced his retirement from professional chess, but he continues to play from time to time, and with success. In this year’s Spanish Championship,  he was the top seed, but he faced serious challenges from young players like David Anton Gujjaro. Nevertheless, he won convincingly with a score of 7.5 points out of 9. Vallejo took the early lead, but suffered a defeat in Round 7. He bounced back with this win in Round 8 against, Salvador G Del Rio De Angelis, a strong and experienced grandmaster.

For me, it was good, and encouraging, to see that “amateur” grandmasters can still play well and succeed!  

Del Rio de Angelis, S. vs. Vallejo Pons, F.
81st ch-ESP 2016 | Linares ESP | Round 8.2 | 12 Aug 2016 | ECO: A83 | 0-1
1. d4 f5 The Dutch has been steadily gaining fans, particularly strong players who are a bit tired of having to memorize long variations in openings that have been heavily analzed.
2. e4!? Obviously an entertaining way to play against the Dutch!
2... fxe4 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Nc6 5. d5 Ne5 6. Qd4 Nf7 7. h4 The game is still following a known path with hundreds of games having previously started the same way.
7... c6 8. O-O-O Qb6 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. Qxe4 Qxf2 It looks pretty risky to take this the pawn on f2, but Black's hope is that with a quick Bh6 and Qe3 he will be able to exchange the queens.
11. Nf3 White's development is a lot faster. There have been almost 50 games in which Black now played Bh6+, but, in general, it seems that White's initiative with the queens on board is very dangerous. Vallejo had prepared a surprising way to force a trade of queens:
11. Bd3!? would be a fun novelty to try at some point. It would avoid the queen exchange, at least temporarily, and Black's lag in development would remain a serious problem.  )
11... f5!
11... Bh6+ 12. Kb1 Qe3 13. Qa4 and White manages to avoid the queen exchange and keep Black's development in check.  )
12. Qxf5 Qe3+ 13. Kb1 d6 It is quite impressive how Black is able to force the exchange of queens.
14. Qd3
14. Qh5 Qh6 and Black also succeeds in trading the queens.  )
14... Qxd3 15. Bxd3 Bg7 I think Vallejo correctly assessed this position as more pleasant for Black. Black has the bishop pair and the dark-squared bishop can be quite useful in the long run, as will become evident. I also like the positioning of the knight on f7; it doesn't interfere with the other Black pieces and defends the g5 square.
16. Ng5 I am not sure if White should have exchanged the knight on f7. Maybe he thought it was too effective.
16... h6 17. Nxf7 Kxf7 18. Be4!? The start of an interesting regrouping maneuver. One of the problems in White's position at the moment is that it is hard to find a useful plan, or good squares for his pieces.
18... Bd7 19. Ne2! Bf6 20. Rd3 White is playing aggressively, which is probably a good strategy considering that, in the long-term, the Black bishops probably give Black the better prospects.
20... Rhg8 21. Rb3 Rab8 22. Rf1 a5!? A nice move. The threat of a4 isn't crushing, but it is annoying. And White can't play a4, as after c5, it will be hard to defend the pawn. Vallejo also probably realized that cxd5 isn't great, so he doesn't try to force the action.
22... cxd5 23. Bxd5+ Be6 24. Nf4! Bxd5 25. Nxd5 and activity of White's pieces gives him about equal chances.  )
23. Ng3? White completely misses Black's reply: cxd5 followed by Be6. The idea to move to h5 seems natural, but White does not have enough time. The bishop exchange after cxd5 and Be6 doesn't seem as if it should be a big problem for White, particularly as the same idea the last move was no big deal. But it sometimes happens in chess that one move changes everything, but one player, or both, fail to make the psychological adjustment. By playing Ng3, White has removed the knight that was crucial to defending against cxd5.
23. Nf4! was the best move. Once it becomes apparent how strong cxd5 and Be6 are, Nf4 immediately suggests itself. The psychological problem is that the bishop on f6 is no longer pinned, so it seems as if Black can simply win a pawn by
23... Bxh4 but after
24. Nh5+ Ke8 is no longer possible because the rook on b8 is not defended, so dxc6 wins.
24... Bf6 25. Nxf6 exf6 26. Rbf3 or Rb6.  )
23... cxd5! 24. Bxd5+ Be6 Exchanging bishops does not seem like a big deal, but afterward, all of White's pieces are not well placed, even the rook on b3. And the knight on g3 cannot move because of the threat of Rxg2.
25. c4
25. Bxe6+ Kxe6 Bxh4 is threatened, and if h5, then Be5 wins the pawn as well.  )
25... Bxd5 26. cxd5 Ke8! 27. Nf5
27. h5 Be5 and the pawn on g2 falls. After
28. Nf5 Rxg2 29. Nxh6 Rh2 Black will win the pawn on h5 and White will have no compensation.  )
27... Kd7! Black is in no hurry.
27... Rxg2 28. Nxd6+!  )
28. g3
28. Nxh6 Rxg2 29. Nf5 b5! The White rook is stuck on b3. Soon, Black will be able to bring his rook on b8 into the action. For example
30. Rh1 Rc8!? 31. Rxb5 Rcc2 and White's position is collapsing. The h-pawn isn't too dangerous because the dark-squared bishop can easily keep an eye on it.  )
28... h5 29. Rff3 b5 30. Ne3 Be5 31. a4 A desperate attempt to develop some activity for his pieces, but because of the pressure on b2, it doesn't change anything
31. Nf1 a4 32. Rbd3 Rbc8 and Black is dominating the board. He can follow with Rg4 and Rb4, or double his rooks on the c-file. Meanwhile, all White's pieces are unable to do anything constructive.  )
31... bxa4 32. Rxb8 Rxb8 33. Nc4 Bf6 34. Kc2 Rb4 35. Rf4 An interesting moment. The computer suggests a few ways to win, but they are all very subtle. For a player during the game, it isn't so obvious. For now, Black's extra pawn isn't that useful on the queenside, while White has everything else blocked. If Black plays Rb5, White can keep things under control with Rf5. So how does Black improve? Vallejo found a really nice and simple way to create the final break.
35... Rb3!? A fun continuation suggested by the computer was:
35... Rb5 36. Rf5 Rb3! Now g4 isn't possible.
37. Rxh5 Rb4! And White can't play Rf4. But it isn't over yet:
38. Kd3 Bxb2 39. Nxb2 a3! I mentioned this line just because it is so pretty. But, in a practical game, Vallejo's solution was a lot more sensible and simpler.
...   )
36. g4 hxg4 37. Rxg4 Rb4! This is the idea! Now White can't support his rook, and there is no way to stop Bxb2. A sweet way to end things!
38. h5 Bxb2


Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 89 in the world, he just finished his sophomore year at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.