So Retains Leon Title But Pragg Had Him On Ropes
Vallejo, So, Praggnanandhaa and Santos at the opening. | Photo: Leon Masters.

So Retains Leon Title But Pragg Had Him On Ropes

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

Wesley So retained his Leon Masters title after beating Paco Vallejo in the final. This was despite Friday, when the American was close to getting eliminated by India's new star Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu.

The 31st edition of the Torneo Magistral de Ajedrez Ciudad de León was held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Leon, a city about 300km northwest of Madrid. The players were the world's youngest grandmaster Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, Leuven Grand Chess Tour winner Wesley So, and both a rising star and an experienced grandmaster from Spain: Jaime Santos and Paco Vallejo.

As always, the tournament was a knockout with two semifinals and a final, with four games at 20 minutes plus a 10-second increment, and if necessary two blitz games with five minutes and a three-second increment followed by an Armageddon game.

The Leon tournament has seen a lot of exciting chess in its three decades of history, and this edition was no exception. The final was played between So and Vallejo, but only after both had narrowly escaped elimination in their semifinal matches.

Friday: Pragg vs So

On Friday, Praggnanandhaa started with a win right away. So wasn't super sharp yet, as he spoilt a winning advantage in the opening and later blundered away a drawn endgame. Not getting outplayed by a world class opponent in such a complicated ending was quite an achievement for a 12-year-old.

Wesley So Leon 2018

So started with a loss in Leon. | Photo: tournament Facebook page.

The second game was quite level, until Pragg suddenly dropped a piece. But in the next game he got a winning position after brilliant play in the opening. It must have been this game that got So to call his young opponent a "genius" after the match.

Praggnanandhaa Leon 2018

Praggnanandhaa, another "Tiger from Madras" (as the city of Chennai was called before 1996). | Photo: Leon Masters.

So won a good last game where he converted a small endgame advantage. Impressed about his opponent's play, he and his foster mom Lotis Key invited Praggnanandhaa and his team for dinner that evening.

Saturday: Santos vs Vallejo

The other semifinal was even more dramatic. Also here, the youngest of the two started with a win; Santos beautifully outplayed Vallejo in an endgame. You might recall that Santos, still an IM then, also held Anand to 2-2 in the rapid games last year.

After two draws, Santos only need to draw one more time to reach the final. But then, at the end of game four, he made what Tim Krabbé, lover of curiosities, called The Ultimate Blunder: he resigned in a winning position!

Perhaps this was the ultimate, ultimate blunder since it was made in a position where Black only had one legal move. In such cases, Willy Hendriks' motto Move First, Think Later is the most appropriate!

Vallejo eventually went through after drawing the first blitz game and winning the second.

Sunday: So vs Vallejo

The final was the third match where the eventual winner started with a loss. It looked like So forgot about some details in a sharp line of the Nimzo-Indian, even though he had played it as White earlier this year. A good game by Vallejo ensued:


The first move was made by Jose María López Benito, Councilor for Sports of the City of León. | Photo: tournament Facebook page.

So levelled the score right after, as he profited from an unfortunate rook move by his opponent. It wasn't easy to see that just by winning a tempo, White was also winning a piece.

After two draws, in which Vallejo had the better chances, this match also had to be decided in the blitz. So won both games to retain his title, but not before Vallejo got to play an interesting knight move in game two. Sadly for him, capturing is not obligatory in chess.

Games via TWIC.

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