Today in Italy: Vallejo-Pons Beat Short to Lead the Field by 1 1/2

Short lost a difficult game today with white against Vallejo-Pons, who has really stole the show in Reggio Emilia, taking clear first. In the opening, Nigel again played the Steinitz variation of the French, as he did against Morozevich, but against Vallejo-Pons tried a more ambitious plan than against Moro, where he exchanged in the center with dxc5 on move 6. Perhaps inspired by a few too many glasses of Italian wine, Short tried an interesting but risky idea in this game, playing h4 and Rh3 early to go for quick kingside complications. This rook lift never provided the kingside attack that Nigel was counting on, however, and later in the game it simply looked misplaced as Short’s position came under enormous pressure. I can’t help but see a parallel between this rook lift and the one which Magnus played against Luke Mcshane in London, where the move also seemed dubious if interesting. Perhaps there is something to this idea of pushing a rook pawn and lifting a rook early in the opening to deviate- but to my patzer eyes it looks like a dubious deviation to leave book and create complications at the expense of coming out of the opening with an objectively worse position. I hope we see it work somewhere though- perhaps it will show up in the next Chess Vibes Openings issue.

Also decisive today was the game Gashimov- Godena, which featured a Ruy Lopez, Classical, in which Gashimov found a pretty knight fork that ended matters. All other games were drawn. Going into round five, six players are tied for second place with 2/4, while Vallejo-Pons leads the field in clear first.