Shlyakhtenko on Winning at Dreaming King

For a chess tournament, the Dreaming King Open situates itself in an exquisite location: with a vivid, clear lake, reflecting the equally clear sky, palm trees everywhere, and a limitless number of tiny ground squirrels, it is no surprise that this tournament has long been one of my favorites. In 2014, before it was renamed to the DKO, I played my first ever major “adult” tournament here. I've been coming back almost every year since.

Robert Shylakhtenko (photo Eric Rosen)

This time, I quite honestly wasn't expecting a good result. My previous tournament had been a month previously, an IM norm tournament that ended disastrously – I collapsed midway and ended in clear last, the first time this happened to me in recent memory. Despite working a lot on my chess during the winter break, the return of “dreaded” schoolwork meant that opportunities for chess study were limited. I didn't spend any time preparing for the tournament, and, as a result, I wasn't at all sure what my form would be; I came simply to play chess. It's a mysterious fact that it is exactly in such tournaments – where there is no pressure for a good result – that a player tends to have good performances. I ended up winning the tournament with 5.0/6, with four wins and two draws, ahead of six IMs. This article is a look back at how that happened – while I didn't play perfect chess (far from it!), practically all the games were interesting, both to play and to analyze.

Round 1 The tournament had both a 3-day and a 2-day schedule; as it happened, the three top seeds all chose the 2-day schedule, leaving me on Board 1 for the first round. The pairings were posted ten minutes before the round, leaving me with almost no time to prepare. I was playing black against Alex Wang, a 12-year old near-master whom I had already played previously. I quickly checked my notes on a completely random line in the Slav Defense, and sat down to play. The first interesting moment was reached on move 14. Black played 13...bxa3 14. bxa3 c5! and managed to equalize. Was this a good decision?

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 1"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.18"] [Round "1"] [White "Wang, Alex"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2170"] [BlackElo "2413"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2rq1rk1/pb1nbppp/2p1pn2/8/Np1P4/P3PN2/1PQ1BPPP/R1BR2K1 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "4"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] Black played 13...bxa3 14. bxa3 c5! and managed to equalize. Was this a good decision?} 1... bxa3 $2 {No! In chess, you do not have to recapture. Instead white plays} 2. Nc5 $3 axb2 3. Bxb2 $16 {, after which he has achieved all his main strategic goals. If one had to summarize black's plan in Semi-Slav with one sentence, it would be "play for c6-c5 or e6-e5." Here black can't achieve either of those options, and his position is left completely passive. White has huge queenside pressure against the weak c6 and a7 pawns and against the terrible b7 bishop; his position is already clearly better.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Instead white recaptured automatically, and black achieved fine play. Instead of acquiescing to equality, white continued to play ambitiously and soon found his queen misplaced:

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 2"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.18"] [Round "1"] [White "Wang, Alex"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2170"] [BlackElo "2413"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2rq1rk1/pb1nbppp/2p1pn2/8/Np1P4/P3PN2/1PQ1BPPP/R1BR2K1 b - - 0 13"] [PlyCount "35"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#]} 13... bxa3 $2 (13... c5 14. dxc5 Be4 15. Qb3 bxa3 16. Qxa3 Nd5 17. b4 a5 18. bxa5 Qxa5 $11) 14. bxa3 $2 (14. Nc5 $3 axb2 15. Bxb2 $16 {White has overwhelming compensation for the pawn. Crucially, black cannot achieve his freeing breaks, e6-e5 and c6-c5.}) 14... c5 15. dxc5 Be4 16. Qc4 (16. Bd3 Nxc5 $1 17. Bxe4 Ncxe4) (16. Qb2 Nd5) (16. Qb3 Bd5 17. Bc4 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Bxc5 19. Bb2 $11) 16... Bd5 17. Qa6 $2 {White's queen is now misplaced, but black needs to find a way to further increase the tension.} (17. Qf4 Bb3 18. Rd2 Nd5 19. Qe4 Qa5) (17. Qd4 Nxc5 18. Nxc5 Bxc5 19. Qd3 $15) 17... Ne4 $1 {Now black threatens Nxc5, spelling trouble for white. Here my opponent spent three minutes and blundered his queen:} 18. Bb2 $4 (18. c6 Ndc5 19. Nxc5 Nxc5 20. Qxa7 Ra8 21. c7 Qd6) (18. Bf1 Ndxc5 19. Nxc5 Nxc5 20. Qb5 Rb8 21. Qe2 Qb6) ({ The best option was} 18. Rb1 $1 Ndxc5 19. Nxc5 Nc3 $1 (19... Nxc5 20. Qxa7) 20. Bb2 Nxd1 21. Rxd1 Rxc5 22. e4 Qb8 23. exd5 (23. Be5 Bb7 $1) 23... Qxb2 24. dxe6 Rc1) 18... Ndxc5 19. Nxc5 Nxc5 20. Qc4 Bxc4 21. Rxd8 Rfxd8 22. Bxc4 Na4 23. Ba6 Nxb2 24. Bxc8 Rxc8 25. Nd4 e5 26. Nf3 Nd3 27. Kf1 Rc2 28. Rd1 e4 29. Nd4 Rxf2+ 30. Kg1 Rb2 0-1 [/pgn]

A lucky start, which gave me sufficient time to relax before the next game.

Round 2 I was due to play white against one of my oldest friends, NM Gabriel Eidelman. Our previous two contests had ended ignominiously for me: in the first I miscalculated in an unclear position and lost, and in the second I misplayed the opening and was duly crushed. Therefore this game held a certain importance for me. After the opening I emerged with a position that was not necessarily better, but one in which my plan was very simple, whereas methods of counterplay for black were not immediately obvious. As a result I soon gained an advantage on the clock. The defining point of the game occurred on move 24:

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 3"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.18"] [Round "2"] [White "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Black "Eidelman, Gabriel"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B25"] [BlackElo "2220"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4r2/1p2n1kp/3p1ppq/2p1pP2/p1PnP3/2NPN1P1/PP3Q1P/3R1R1K b - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "40"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#]} 24... g5 $2 {The intention was to escape with the queen -- through h5 to e8 and onwards. But positionally this is a mistake, as black creates a hook for white to attack. After Kg2, Rh1, and h4, black's kingside is at risk of losing its structural integrity and his king will become extremely weak.} ( 24... Qh3 $1 {This is what I expected during the game; the queen is actually very annoying here. Otherwise white would play Kg2, h4, g4, Rh1, and the pawns would eventually start rolling, with black's queen still out of play. With 24.. .Qh3 Black interferes with the first stage of white's plan.} 25. g4 h5 $5 26. Rg1 (26. gxh5 $6 g5 $1 {is definitely a structural improvement for black.}) 26... hxg4 27. Rxg4 Rh8 $14) 25. Kg2 Qh5 26. Rh1 {Preparing to attack the farthest-advanced pawn.} Qe8 $6 {Black should keep the queen on h5, where it interferes with white's plan to some extent: h4 will be met with g4, and g4 will be met with Qh4. In the latter case black will probably lose the h-pawn in the ending, but in the meantime can hope to get some practical counterplay on the queenside.} (26... Rfb8 $5 27. g4 Qh4 28. Qxh4 gxh4 29. Kh3 b5 {Black gets some counterplay, and though white is better, he has some practical problems to solve.}) (26... Rg8 $5 {has similar prophylactic ideas. After} 27. g4 Qh4 28. Qxh4 gxh4 {the rook is well placed on the g-file, and white must be careful. For example, the natural} 29. Kh3 Kf7 30. Kxh4 $6 {walks into} (30. Rhf1 $1 {Not taking the pawn immediately is more advisable. Meanwhile white takes the square f3 under control and prepares to post his rook on f2, where it defends the queenside.}) 30... h5 $1 31. h3 (31. gxh5 Rg5 {Next is Rh8 and mate. Note that Rhg1 is always met by Nf3+.} 32. Rdf1 Rh8 33. Ng4 Rgxh5+ 34. Kg3 Rh3+ 35. Kg2 Rxd3 {and it becomes clear that the tide has turned.}) 31... a3 32. b3 Nec6 33. Kg3 Nb4 {with some practical chances to complicate the game. }) 27. h4 h6 28. hxg5 hxg5 29. Ng4 Qf7 $5 {A resourceful defense, despite the looming threat of time pressure.} 30. Rh6 Rh8 31. Rdh1 Rxh6 32. Nxh6 $1 { The stronger recapture.} (32. Rxh6 $6 {allows black to trade rooks with} Rh8 $1 {, since} 33. Rxf6 $2 {is met with} Qh5 $1) 32... Qe8 33. Qd2 {Preparing Ng4, with potential sacrifices on f6, after which g5 will inevitably fall.} Qc6 { Threatening Nxf5.} 34. Ng4 {Or not! After} Ndxf5 35. Nd5 $1 {Black will lose material.} Nxd5 36. cxd5 Qd7 37. Rh7+ $18 Kxh7 38. Nxf6+ Kg6 39. Nxd7 Nd4 40. Qf2 Ra6 41. Qf6+ Kh5 42. Qf7+ Kg4 43. Qf3+ {More aesthetically pleasing than the crude 43. Nf6#.} Nxf3 44. Nf6# 1-0 [/pgn]

As I remarked to Gabriel after the game, this brought my lifetime record against him to a “brilliant” -3...

Round 3 In Round 3 I played NM Vijay Krishnamoorthy as black. After outplaying my opponent in the opening, I fell victim to one of my oldest problems – inaccurate conversion of an advantage. The resulting debacle is almost spectacularly sad.

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 4"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "3"] [White "Krishnamoorthy, Vijay"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A21"] [WhiteElo "2315"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2qk2r/ppp1npp1/2npb2p/4p3/2P1P3/1PP1BNP1/P4PBP/R2QK2R b KQkq - 0 9"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#]} 9... Qd7 {Black's position should be fine, but if white is not careful it can easily evolve into something more.} 10. Qd2 $6 ({He should have prevented the trade of light-squared bishops:} 10. h3) 10... Bh3 11. Bxh3 Qxh3 {White doesn't have sufficient control over the kingside light squares. For this reason black's position is preferable.} 12. Qe2 O-O $15 (12... f5 { Maybe this is more accurate, since after} 13. exf5 Qxf5 14. Nd2 {black has the option of} Qc2 $5) 13. Nd2 f5 14. f3 $6 (14. exf5 $142 Qxf5 15. O-O-O) 14... f4 15. gxf4 exf4 16. Bd4 $2 (16. Bf2 Ne5 {is unpleasant, but better than the game continuation. After} 17. O-O-O a6 $1 {black successfully combines play on both flanks.}) 16... Nxd4 $1 {At first sight this looks like a huge structural improvement for white, but due to his weak dark squares he is unable to coordinate and keep the d4-pawn.} 17. cxd4 Nc6 18. Qd3 ({The most critical line is} 18. Qf2 Nb4 $1 19. Ke2 c5 $1 {, with a strong initiative:} 20. Rag1 ( 20. dxc5 dxc5 21. Qxc5 Rad8 $1) 20... Nc2 21. dxc5 dxc5 22. Qxc5 Rf7 $1 { followed by doubling on the d-file; black is winning.} (22... Rad8 $2 23. Rxg7+ $1 Kxg7 24. Qe7+ Kh8 25. Qe5+ {is a suprising draw.})) 18... Qh4+ 19. Ke2 Qf6 $17 20. h4 (20. d5 {is met very strongly with} Nb4 $1 21. Qb1 Qc3 $19) 20... Nxd4+ 21. Kf2 c5 $4 {Already a questionable decision, permanently weakening the d5 square. As soon as I played this move, I realized that white now had a simple plan: Nb1-Nc3-Nd5, after which the conversion becomes much more difficult. Even more importantly, if knights are ever traded, black's compromised pawn structure will make things difficult for him.} (21... Nc6 $1 { The knight belongs on e5.} 22. Rag1 Ne5 23. Qd5+ Rf7 24. Qxb7 Rd8 {followed by c6 and d5, with a strong attack.}) 22. Rag1 ({Not the immediate} 22. Nb1 $2 { due to} Nxf3) 22... Qe5 $6 {I still didn't recognize the danger. Not only does this free white's h1-rook to eventually move to the g-file (before this, h4 was hanging), it doesn't accomplish anything for black's position.} 23. Rg2 ( 23. Nb1 $5) 23... Rf7 24. Rhg1 Kh8 25. Rg6 a6 26. Nb1 {Here I spent around 20 minutes and ended up playing the most obvious move. I really didn't want to let white play Nc3-Nd5 and in the end managed to prevent this plan from being effective -- only to allow something much worse!} b5 (26... Rd8 27. Nc3 Qh5 28. R6g4 Nc6 29. Ke2 $1 Ne5 30. Qd5 {and it's hard for black to do anything. This is relative, of course, but to me it seemed obvious that the game has gone in the wrong direction.}) (26... Qh5 27. R1g4 Nc6 28. Qd5 Ne5 29. Ke2 {is similar. }) (26... Nc6 $1 {in my opinion, the best practical decision.} 27. Rxd6 (27. Qxd6 Qh5) (27. Nc3 Qh5 28. R1g4 (28. R6g4 {is the same}) 28... Ne5 29. Qxd6 Rd7 $1 {I think this is what I missed (in several lines). Otherwise things are not so clear, but here black just wins.}) (27. Ke2 Qe7 $1 (27... Qh5 28. R1g4 Ne5 29. Qd5)) 27... Qe7 $1 28. Rh1 Ne5 29. Qd2 b5 $17) 27. Nc3 b4 $4 {A positional blunder. I simply underestimated my opponent's response.} (27... Rb8 {Keeping the tension; after} 28. Nd5 Nc6 {black can already consider Qh5 followed by Ne5, bxc4 at any time, and a multitude of other ideas; white's position is still close to lost.}) 28. Ne2 $1 (28. Nd5 a5 $19 {This is what I expected. The knight is completely useless on d5 and white has no way to prevent black's play on the queenside.}) 28... Nxe2 29. Kxe2 $11 {White's pieces are much more active and exercise huge pressure on the d6-pawn. By now I do not believe that black has anything but a nominal advantage.} Rd8 30. Qd5 Qe7 31. Re6 Qf8 $2 ( 31... Qxh4 $1 {black must search for activity.} 32. Rxh6+ Qxh6 33. Qxf7 $13) 32. Rgg6 Rfd7 $16 {By now black's position is so passive that white can do anything he pleases. Regaining my presence of mind, I offered a draw, which was immediately accepted.} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

With this game, I relinquished my share of the tournament lead.

Round 4 It's time to talk a bit about the tournament situation. The two-day schedule started at the same time as our Round 3 with only six players – but three IMs. No one emerged unscathed; IM Dionisio Aldama, IM John Bryant, and Siddarth Sundaram each had 2.0/3. In the three-day, IM Alex Costello and NM Sandeep Sethuraman led with 2.5/3. At the time of the merge, the pairings were Sethuraman vs. Costello, NM Brandon Xia vs. Bryant, and Aldama vs. NM Serkan Salik. Meanwhile, I was to play IM John Watson as black.

John Watson (photo John Brezina)

John Watson is a player I have greatly admired for many years; my first opening book was his Play the French, and my copy of Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy never seems to find its way back to the bookshelf. Thus, it was an exciting honor to play him over the board. The result was the one of the most tense games I have ever played. Out of the opening I emerged with what all “logical” rules of chess dictated was a disadvantage – but neither over the board, nor in analysis did I find a convincing way to prove this. My opponent spent a lot of time – first 24 minutes on move 10, then twenty more minutes on moves 14 and 15. Black's position resembled a springboard, full of pent-up energy: all at once it exploded, and all of a sudden the initiative passed black. On move 22, my opponent had three minutes left; I still had more than 40. I needed to accurately calculate one single variation, which led to a clearly winning position – and I did. But I didn't play it! It seemed to me that it was still possible to ruin the resulting position (perhaps I was remembering my Round 3 game?), and I didn't trust myself. Spending only a few minutes, I played a different, extremely tempting move, sure that I had a decisive mating attack. And then, with two minutes left on the clock, Watson found an incredible resource: the only way to save the game.

Shocked, I thought for fifteen-odd minutes, then some more, and I saw no more than a perpetual check. I decided to play a few moves down the variation – maybe there was something I was missing, and clarifying the position somewhat might help me see it? Suddenly, fortune favored me: my opponent deviated; the position was unclear once again. A difficult combination ending with a quiet move meant that my opponent was left with his king completely exposed on d4 – with only two minutes left, he failed to find the correct continuation and ... I won. This game left an indelible impression on me. Even now, a month after the game, after analyzing with my opponent, by myself, with engine, and others, I still do not think I have a fully accurate picture of what actually happened. Therefore the following annotations should be taken with a rather large grain of salt. I have selected several moments from the game which I think would be of interest to players as a solving challenge; the full game will follow below. I advise readers both to try and solve the positions, and also to click through the analysis in detail: there are a lot of beautiful variations hidden inside.

Exercise 5: How should black seize the initiative?

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 5"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1bq1rk1/1pp1np1p/3p2p1/p1bPp1N1/2B4P/PP2P3/2QP1PP1/R1B1K2R b KQ - 0 1"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] How should black seize the initiative?} 1... c6 $1 2. dxc6 d5 {White's pieces are pushed back and black will find it easier to complete the mobilization of his forces.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Exercise 6: Calculate for 10-15 minutes. What is black's best continuation?

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 6"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1b2rk1/1p2np1p/2Pq2p1/p1bpp1NP/8/PP1BP3/2QP1PP1/R1B1K2R b KQ - 0 1"] [PlyCount "9"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] Calculate for 10-15 minutes. What is black's best continuation?} 1... h6 $1 {Other moves are insufficient -- see the complete game.} 2. cxb7 Bxb7 3. Nxf7 Kxf7 4. hxg6+ Kg7 5. Bb2 d4 $17 {White has insufficient compensation for the piece.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Exercise 7: Black to play [5-10 minutes]

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 7"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r2r2/1b2n1k1/3q2Pp/p1R5/3p1p2/PP1BP3/1BQP2P1/R3K3 b Q - 0 1"] [PlyCount "7"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] Black to play [5-10 minutes]} 1... Rxc5 $1 2. Qxc5 Qxc5 3. Bxd4+ Qxd4 4. exd4 Bxg2 {Black is up a piece and white's pawns are weak. The win is not far off.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Exercise 8: White to play -- what is the best move and how would you evaluate the position?

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 8"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r2r2/1b2n1k1/3q2Pp/p1R5/3p4/PP1Bp3/1BQP2P1/R3K3 w Q - 0 1"] [PlyCount "1"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] White to play -- what is the best move and how would you evaluate the position? [5-15 minutes]} 1. Qc4 $3 {Watson found this move with only two minutes remaining on the clock. White counterattacks the d4-pawn and prepares a flight square for his king on c2.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Exercise 9: Black to play -- candidate moves [15-20 minutes]

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 9"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r5/4n1k1/6Pp/p1R5/2Qp2q1/PP1Kp3/1B1P2P1/R4r2 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "5"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] Black to play -- candidate moves [15-20 minutes]} 1... Rd8 $3 2. Rxf1 Qxg6+ 3. Rff5 $8 Nxf5 {and black is better -- see the complete game for analysis.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Exercise 10: Black to play -- candidate moves [10 mins]

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 10"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/4n1k1/6qp/p1Q5/3K4/PP2p3/1B1P2P1/R4r2 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] Black to play -- candidate moves [10 mins]} 1... Rf7 $1 {A very difficult move to see in advance. Our intuition is so much geared towards checks and captures that one often misses quiet moves like this when calculating. After this white can still hold the game, but it is impossible with 2 minutes remaining on the clock.} 2. Kxe3+ Kh7 {and white's king is very unsafe.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Exercise 11: White to play -- candidate moves [10-20 minutes]

Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 11"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "Shlyakhtenko,Robert"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/4nr1k/6qp/p1Q5/8/PP2K3/1B1P2P1/R7 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "1"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] {[#] White to play -- candidate moves [10-20 minutes]} 1. Rg1 $1 {Simply defending everything. Surprisingly, black has no way to win the game.} 0-1 [/pgn]

The complete game is available here, with extensive notes. The complete game, without notes:

[pgn] [Event "Ex. 12"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.01.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Watson, John"] [Black "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [WhiteElo "2280"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2020.01.15"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.12.24"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Bb4 3. Qc2 Nc6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. e3 O-O 6. Nd5 Bc5 7. a3 a5 8. Ng5 g6 9. h4 d6 10. b3 Nxd5 11. cxd5 Ne7 12. Bc4 c6 13. dxc6 d5 14. Bd3 Qd6 15. h5 h6 16. cxb7 Bxb7 17. Nxf7 Kxf7 18. hxg6+ Kg7 19. Bb2 d4 20. Rh5 Rac8 21. f4 exf4 22. Rxc5 fxe3 23. Qc4 Qg3+ 24. Kd1 Qg4+ 25. Be2 Rf1+ 26. Kc2 Rxc5 27. Qxc5 Be4+ 28. Bd3 Bxd3+ 29. Kxd3 Qxg6+ 30. Kxd4 Rf7 31. Kxe3+ Kh7 32. g4 Qxg4 33. Kd3 Rf3+ 34. Kc2 Qe4+ 0-1 [/pgn]

On the top board, Sethuraman vs. Costello ended in a draw, so both had 3.5/4. Bryant won and had 3.0/4. And Serkan Salik scored a surprise upset victory against IM Aldama and found himself with 3 points as well. Thus, I found myself fortuitously tied for first place.

Round 5 I was paired as white against Alex Costello, who recently earned his IM title at the North American Youth Championships in Canada. Alex is someone who I've played many times and gained a lot of respect for, so this was a game I prepared diligently for (by my standards). I prepared a rare but trendy sideline in the Gruenfeld, an opening I've been working a lot on lately. Before the round there were the usual announcements about the time of the next round, time control, and cellphones, but there was also this: “on the top board we have FM Robert Shlyakhtenko vs. IM Alexander Costello, in what promises to be an interesting game.” Perhaps we should have played a five-move draw to truly invigorate the audience, but both of us were in the mood to fight. Unfortunately the game was rather anti-climactic: in the opening black played a risky deviation and soon found himself down a pawn. Alex, in his usual style, tried to pose problems for me, but for once my conversion was up to the task. Thus I led the tournament by half a point going into the final round.

Round 6 After two blacks in a row on day two, I finished the tournament with two whites. This one was against IM John Bryant, who would only win the tournament if he won our game. Bryant has a very enterprising style, and when he is on form he can quite literally beat anyone. I expected him to play sharply for a win, so I decided to play a solid opening – the Colle. 5 o'clock came and went, and our game started. I pushed the d-pawn, which was promptly met by 1...Nf6. The game continued – 2. Nf3 d5 3. e3 – and suddenly my opponent began to think. Twenty minutes later, he played 3...e6 and offered me a draw. At first I couldn't believe my eyes – maybe I had misread the crosstable? Wasn't a draw sufficient for clear first? In fact I quite rudely exited the tournament hall to check the pairings once more – after satisfying myself that everything was in order, I accepted. Absolutely exhausted after playing an arduous 3-move draw, I pocketed the $1,800 winner's check.

The final crosstable for the 2020 Dreaming King Open can be viewed here. I'd like to thank the San Diego Chess Club and especially Chuck Ensey for organizing these tournaments. With great conditions and perfect organization (every round started on time!), there really are no better events in Southern California.


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Congratulations Robert! Excellent clear 1st place win. I'll have to take a closer look at your games analysis and exercises - pretty impressive. By the way your opening choice against Vijay looks very similar to mine (I played him in round 2 of the American Open). It was great to introduce myself briefly with a handshake, in between games on the final day of the American Open. By the way, taking spontaneous initiative like this generally remains quite difficult for me. In fact I posted a note the other week to congratulate you on your tournament win, which I doubt many saw as it was a late add to another article (Golden State Open report, by David Hater). Last but not least, I enjoyed a past US Chess School article you wrote to this site, which was how I first heard of your name. Robert, I feel happy for you. Even more so, after seeing this article and what you put into it. Regards, Justin

In reply to by Justin Sarkar (not verified)

Thank you! It was nice meeting you at the American Open. I particularly enjoyed watching your last round game against Cameron Wheeler. Robert

In reply to by Robert Shlyakhtenko (not verified)

Thank you Robert! That was quite a memorable day for me and my chess play. Made the most of my double whites, beating a pair of young IMs to tie for 1st. In the penultimate round I played Keaton Kiewra. Was pleasantly surprised after the game to find that my 12th move was given in my notes from a few years ago as a strong novelty with the key variation being exactly what happened in the game: f5 and on ...e5, then Ne6! It was beautiful to play over the board and led to a quick win but at the board I got worried I mixed up lines or something. Oddly enough, I have seen Keaton at tournaments over the years but this was our first time facing each other.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Congratulations. I am looking forward to your participation in the upcoming invitational that took you last year to Orlando and the victory. Denker, Barber, Haring and Rockefeller will be a serious contest within each event.

In reply to by Dewain R. Barber (not verified)

Thank you! Playing Barber last year was one of my fondest chess memories of 2019, so it is a major goal for me to qualify again this time.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The RAR Attacker is so proud of you! This is truly your greatest chess accomplishment. You have become famous among the chess world, keep up the good results! Great article!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Congrats Robert!! Very nice article!!

In reply to by Sethuraman Ganesan (not verified)

Thank you!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Congratulations Robert! I read your article on US chess and I credit you for proving you RARishness to the entirety of US Chess. RAR approves of all victories! One of these days, your accomplishments might compare therewith of Joseph's, only infinity times less!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very nice job, Robert! Mature writing style. Tournament winners are often content to leave readers with the impression that they foresaw everything, but your commentary is refreshingly honest. And readers who study your tactical exercises will be rewarded. Your tribute to John Watson was a nice touch, as far too many young players read books rarely if at all and are unaware of great authors' contributions to our game. Keep up your great playing and writing.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This was an interesting article with great puzzles to boot. I think future Professor Shlyakhtenko will give his students many challenging and insightful exercises for homework. ;-)

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

RAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AWESOME JOB ROBERT!

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