Paco Defeats Pono In Death Match 37 Overtime

Paco Defeats Pono In Death Match 37 Overtime

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In a thrilling overtime finale, GM Francisco (Paco) Vallejo Pons upset GM Ruslan Ponomariov in Death Match 37.

As per the now well-trodden rules, Death Match 37 consisted of 90 minutes at the time control of five minutes plus a two-second increment (a.k.a. 5|2), followed by 60 minutes of 3|2 and 30 minutes of 1|1.

Despite reaching promising positions, Vallejo struggled in the blitz, but he dominated in the bullet time control. He ultimately mounted one of the most impressive comebacks in Death Match history.

The victor: Is Paco Spanish for dreamboat?!

The beginning of the match was plagued with humorous technical and logistic issues. As host and commentator IM Danny Rensch wryly noted, "Technical issues are winning the day."

On hand for the bumpy start were loads of strong players such as GM Eric Hansen who patiently stated, "The good thing is they are both very good chess players. This is all worth it."

The first issue was Daylight Savings Time (John Oliver: How is this still a thing?!) wreaking havoc with intercontinental scheduling. Ponomariov was derailed by the time change and was 15 minutes late to the match.

Vallejo mobilized an extra hour of daylight to help win the Death Match!

Per the rules, Pono forfeited two games in the 5|2 portion of the match. Interestingly, those two games were a nice offset for Ponomariov's rating advantage.

As GM Georg Meier noted in the chat, "If Pono wasn't sleeping, I think he's still the favorite "

Soon enough the chess was under way. Although it was Ponomariov who had just woken, it was Vallejo who began groggily. Shocking all, he blundered his queen in game one.

With the first blunder of the day out of the way, the next three games were drawn; however, Ponomariov missed strong winning chances in both games two and three.

In game five, Ponomariov struck again as Vallejo fell into a case of L.P.D.O. in an already difficult position.

Around this point, viewers began to speculate as to whether Vallejo would manage a win. Thus far, he had no whiff of a good chance.

Although ultimately a draw, game six saw Vallejo's consternation continue as he suffered throughout and only escaped when Ponomariov missed a win on move 52.

Ponomariov applied unrelenting pressure throughout the 5|2 time control.

Game six closed the 5|2 portion of the match to Vallejo's significant relief. Despite his two-game forfeit, Ponomariov had tied the 5|2 segment and the overall match.

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 5|2 Score
GM Ruslan Ponomariov 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 4
GM Francisco Vallejo Pons 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ (including two forfeits)

The good news for Vallejo was that he was confident in his speed. He was happy to see the time control accelerate to 3|2.

After a simple draw in game one, Vallejo repeated the opening of the match — a Reversed Gruenfeld in which he accepted a disgusting pawn structure in return for the bishop pair.

This time the opening worked as Vallejo's pieces soon ruled the board. He hit Ponomariov with a smattering of tactics and was soon winning. Ponomariov resisted well and never gave up a clear finishing blow.

Tough resistance aside, no one was more surprised than Ponomariov when Vallejo blundered on move 73 and was suddenly unable to stop Ponomariov's passed pawn!

Ponomariov even apologized in the chat for his brutal swindle. He offered Vallejo a seemingly bashful, "Sorry."

Vallejo must have been fired up after this turn of fate. He immediately got on the board with a bruising victory. In a decisive kingside attack, Vallejo infiltrated Ponomariov's overextended position with both a deadly knight invasion and a powerful rook lift.

This excellent return victory looked like a resurgence for Vallejo, but it was not to be. Ponomariov landed three straight wins starting with this cute beginner's tactic!

Three straight wins! Had Ponomariov KOed Vallejo?!

Ponomariov's third victory was just as brutal as his first in the 3|2. Once again, Vallejo was totally winning, but he never found the knockout blow. After prolonged resistance from Ponomariov, Vallejo erred and suddenly it was his king that was the more exposed.

A sense of deja vu swept over the spectators as Vallejo, seemed angered by another horrific swindle, returned again with a brutal miniature.

Today's lesson: Don't anger Vallejo!

A textbook example of mating the uncastled king! As swift as this victory was, there was no more time left for the 3|2 time control, and Ponomariov ended the mini-match with a two-game lead.

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 3|2 Score
GM Ruslan Ponomariov ½ 1 0 1 1 1 0 4.5
GM Francisco Vallejo Pons ½ 0 1 0 0 0 1 2.5

Running hot, Vallejo carried the energy of his final 3|2 victory into the 1|1 time control as he rattled off his own streak of three wins! Echoing Vallejo's favor to open the match, Ponomariov opened the bullet with a blunder of a queen.

Game three was likely Vallejo's best win, as he was in the driver's seat all game. He seemed to relish increasing the pressure until Ponomariov finally cracked.

After suffering all match, Vallejo suddenly held the match lead and all the momentum!

At this point, Ponomariov righted the ship and leveled the match by trapping Vallejo's overextended bishop.

Two draws followed, but clever wins were missed in each of them. Ponomariov first missed a win by falling into the trap of recapturing by rote.

There's no such thing as a boring recapture. 

Next Vallejo was yet again totally winning when he inexplicably discarded the key pawn. One can only speculate that the ensuing profanity made his wallpaper blush.

After such a letdown, Vallejo was on track for victory yet again when he fell for a third massive swindle!

Mr. Swindle delivered again!

Ponomariov had a point lead with only enough time for a single game remaining. He was well on his way to the necessary draw when disaster struck...

This leveler closed the 1|1 mini-match as a 5-3 victory for Vallejo, but more to the point, it left the overall match tied!

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9(OT) 1|1 Score
GM Ruslan Ponomariov 0 0 0 1 ½ ½ 1 0 0 3
GM Francisco Vallejo Pons 1 1 1 0 ½ ½ 0 1 1 6

Only two previous death matches reached overtime. Death Match 12 saw GM Marc Arnold triumph over GM Alexander Ipatov and Death Match 21 saw GM Georg Meier triumph over GM Imre Balogh.

Death Match overtime rules state that play continues in the 1|1 time control with colors rotating until a player achieves a victory.

There was no need to wait long, as Vallejo capitalized on his momentum and rapidly broke through as Black in the first overtime game.

In the post match interviews, the players were still on a competitive high and exuded enthusiasm and energy. Vallejo reported that he was as nervous as in any classical tournament.

Despite the turnabout, Ponomariov was also laughing and upbeat. This was his first foray into such an online arena; let him know that you want to see him do more such matches! Maybe he will play in the Grandmaster Blitz Battle Qualifier?!

The full match with commentary is posted at

Watch live video from Chess

For his match victory, Vallejo received $500 plus $150 for a bullet victory and a split in 5|2. Ponomariov received $200 guaranteed plus $150 for victory in the 3|2 and a split in 5|2.

The complete Death Match historical archive including coverage, records, and statistics is available here.

NM Sam Copeland

I'm the VP of Chess and Community for I earned the National Master title in 2012, and in 2014, I returned to my home state of South Carolina to start Strategery: Chess and Games. In late 2014, I began working for and haven't looked back since.

You can find my personal content on Twitch , Twitter , and YouTube where I further indulge my love of chess.

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