GM Francisco Vallejo Pons

Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Full name
Francisco Vallejo Pons
Born
Aug 21, 1982 (age 37)‎
Place of birth
Es Castell, Menorca (Spain)
Federation
Spain
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Bio

Francisco Vallejo Pons (nickname “Paco”) is a five-time Spanish chess champion. He won in 2006, 2009, and the three consecutive years of 2014-16. He was also a regular at the Linares super-tournament as the host national favorite. 

Vallejo is a member of the 2700-rating club and remains a top-40 player into 2020. Vallejo’s highest world ranking and highest rating came six years apart; he ranked 18th in 2005 and hit a 2724 rating in 2011.

Vallejo plays at Chess.com under the name GMVallejo.

Early Life And Career

Francisco Vallejo Pons was born in 1982 on the Spanish island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea, one hour southeast of Barcelona by plane and seven hours by ferry. A prodigy, Vallejo played in the under-10 world championships in 1991 when he finished second. In his youth, Vallejo learned at the Villacarlos School of Chess. An IM by 1996, he finished second at the 1998 Spanish Chess Championship.

Vallejo joined the grandmaster ranks in 1999 at the age of 16. The next year he won the Under-18 World Youth Championship. Other winners of that event who went on to have great success as adults include Vladimir Kramnik (1991), Peter Svidler (1994), and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2003).

In 2002, still just 19 years old, Vallejo played the Linares tournament for the first time. Although he was the lowest-rated player in the field (almost 100 points below the next lowest), he won in the penultimate round to place sixth in a seven-player field that included world champions Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand

Vallejo also participated in the 2002 and 2004 FIDE championships, winning in the first round and losing in the second on both occasions.

Prime Years

Vallejo played every Linares event during 2002-06 and again in its last rendition in 2010, although he never cracked the top half of finishers. 

He ranked 18th on the January 2005 FIDE list with a 2686 rating. It is the highest world ranking he has achieved. That year he also defeated the reigning classical chess champion Kramnik in 2005 in a blindfold game.

The year 2006 was even better for Vallejo. He won his first Spanish Chess Championship, and it may not even have been his best event of the year. At a “Young Masters” tournament in Cuernavaca, Mexico, he tied 2002 FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov for the tournament victory by scoring 6.5/9, a half-point ahead of then up-and-coming American Hikaru Nakamura. Also in 2006, Vallejo was hired as a trainer for Veselin Topalov prior to the latter’s world championship against Kramnik.

Vallejo’s second Spanish Championship came in 2009. In January of that year, he cracked the 2700 threshold, ranking 28th in the world with a 2702 rating. He also added Anatoly Karpov to the list of world champions he has defeated, doing so in a game at the Donostia Chess Festival.

Vallejo won a 2012 rapid match against Topalov, the former FIDE champion and world number-one. 

Vallejo’s third Spanish Championship came in 2014, and he began a streak of three consecutive victories in the event, which cemented him as the best active Spanish player.

Francisco Vallejo Pons, 2016
Vallejo at a 2016 rapid tournament in Munich, Germany. Photo by David Llada.

For all his successes, Vallejo has never been a candidate for the world championship. Most recently, a +3 -1 =6 score in the 2019 Isle of Man Grand Swiss set him 1.5 points off of the lead as it was Wang Hao who qualified for the Candidates Tournament.

Vallejo has nonetheless won two games against the current world champion, albeit the 2004 and 2011 versions of Magnus Carlsen, who blundered a piece in the 2011 game.

Chess Olympiad

Vallejo has been a mainstay at the Chess Olympiad as well. The 2004 Olympiad was held in Calvia on Mallorca, the island west of Menorca where Vallejo was born. It was the first of three straight Olympiads where the Spanish team, with emigre Alexei Shirov on the first board and Vallejo on the second, finished in the top 10. (Shirov played for Spain from 1995-2011 and rejoined their federation in 2018.)

Francisco Vallejo Pons, 2008
Vallejo at the 2008 Dresden Olympiad. Wikipedia.

At the 2014 Olympiad, Vallejo won his first-board matchup with Kramnik that added a standard victory to his blindfold one nearly a decade earlier.

Legacy

Vallejo is one of the best Spanish-born players ever and has an easy argument for number-one. He is the only Spaniard (outside the Latvian-born Shirov) to achieve a 2700 rating since FIDE began producing the rating list in 1971. Spain has produced other great players, including the country's first-ever grandmaster and seven-time national champion Arturo Pomar and six-time champion Antonio Medina. Go back far enough and the great 16th-century writer Ruy Lopez comes to mind. But Vallejo’s accomplishments stack up to all of them.

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