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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 2015 New England Open Brattain - Khater
 FM Mika Brattain
  December 2015

FM Mika Brattain (2436)
NM Sherif Khater (2215)
75th New England Open (5)
Caro-Kann (B10)

After a draw with Steve Winer, the tournament's sole leader, I was at a solid 3/4 needing a win to have any chance of catching up to the top of the standings. Fortunately, Steve had black against Denys Shmelov and drew rather quickly, so I spent most of this long game knowing that a win would put me in a tie for first going into the last round.

1. e4 c6 2. c4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. cxd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6!?  

This is more of a sideline when White's pawn is still on d2 because White has really good chances of hanging onto the extra isolated pawn on d5. 5... Nxd5 is more natural.

6. Nf3 

6. d4 transposes into a theoretical line of the Panov-Botvinnik attack, which I had no interest in. As will be seen, there is an advantage in leaving the pawn on d2. However 6. Bc4 can be played immediately to reduce Black's options.

6... Bg7 

Thanks to my move-order, it's not too late for 6... Nxd5.

7. Bc4 0-0 8. 0-0 Nbd7 9. d3 

By avoiding d2-d4, White now has a nice chain of pieces supporting the d5-pawn. 

9... Nb6 10. Qb3 Bf5 11. Bf4 

11. Re1 is also possible. If 11... Nfd7? (11... Rc8) 12. Bg5! is already almost winning.

11... Rc8 12. Rfe1 Nfd7?! 

This is a very natural attempt to "play around" the pawn on d5 but fails for tactical reasons.

13. d6?

13. Bg5! basically refutes Black's play. After 13... Nc5 (13... Re8 14. d6) 14. Qa3± Black's e7-pawn collapses, for example if Black tries to defend with 14... Re8? 15. Bb5! Bd7 16. d6! is winning.

13... exd6 14. Bxd6 Nc5 15. Bxc5 Rxc5

Black has just enough compensation for the missing pawn, although still needs to be careful.

16. Qa3!?

This was my attempt at stirring up trouble 16. Ne4 and 16. Re3!? are both alternatives, but everything is equal if Black plays correctly.

16... Qc7 

The unexpected exchange sacrifice 16... Nxc4! 17. Qxc5 Nxb2 equalizes immediately.

17. Rac1 Bh6?

17... Rc8 piling forces on the c-file was correct. After 18. Ne4 Rc6 19. b3, the game is objectively balanced, although I like the extra pawn.

18. Rcd1 Bg7 

If 18... Bg4 trying to mess up White's kingside, 19. Nb5 Qc6 20. Nbd4!

19. Nb5± Nxc4 20. dxc4 Qb6 21. Rd6 Rc6 22. Rxc6

White chooses to go for mass simplifications. A waiting move like 22. b3 was possible too.

22... bxc6 23. Qxa7 Qb8

23... Qxa7 24. Nxa7 Bxb2 25. Nxc6± was a different possible simplification. With two extra pawns White has decent winning chances, even against the "full" bishop pair.

24. Qxb8 Rxb8 25. Nbd4 Rxb2 26. Nxf5 gxf5 27. Re8+ Bf8 28. g3 f6 29. Nd4 Rxa2 30. Rc8!+-

Suddenly White is threatening everything: the c6- and f5-pawns, as well as Ne6, winning the bishop. 30. Nxf5? allows Black to activate his pieces: 30... Kf7 31. Rc8 Bc5! 32. Ne3 Bxe3 33. fxe3²

30... Kf7 31. Rxc6 Ra5 32. Kg2 Kg6 33. Nf3 f4 34. gxf4 Rc5 35. Rxc5 Bxc5 36. Nh4+ Kf7 37. Kf3 Ke6 38. Ke4 Bxf2 39. Nf5

With an extra pawn and the superior minor piece, I knew the win was not far away. But Black has the fifth-rank under control so cracking his position required a little finesse.

39... Bc5 40. Nd4+ Kd6 41. Nb3 Bg1 42. h3 Ke6 43. Nd4+ Kd6 44. Nf3 Bf2 45. Kf5 Be3 46. Nh2! 

The Knight maneuver to g4 decides the game, as Black is tied down to the f6-pawn allowing the White king to get to d5 with impunity.

46... Bd4 47. Ng4 Ke7 48. Ke4 Bg1 49. Kd5 Kf7

49... h5 50. Nh6, and Nf5 follows.

50. c5 Ke7

50... h5 trying to trap the knight doesn't work: 51. c6 hxg4 52. c7+-

51. c6 Bb6

Nxf6 was threatened.

52. f5 Bc7 53. Ne3 Bf4 54. Nc4 Bc7 55. Kc5 Kd8 56. Ne3 Kc8 57. Nd5 Be5 58. Kc4

Black is completely pinned down and I spent the next several moves coaxing the h7- pawn all the way down to h4 where it becomes weak and denies Black a waiting move, allowing me to set up a winning zugzwang.

58... Kd8 59. Kd3 Kc8 60. Ke4 Kb8 61. Kf3 h5

To prevent Kg4-h5-h6

62. Ke4 Kc8 63. Nb6+ Kd8 64. Nd7 Bc3 65. Kd5 Ke7 66. Nc5 Be5 67. Ne6 Bg3 68. Ng7 h4

Now I can finally finish the game off.

69. Ne6 Be5 70. Nc5 Bh2 71. Ne4 Be5 72. Kc5 Kd8 73. Nd6 Kc7 74. Nb5+ Kc8 75. Kd5 Kd8 76. Ke6 Kc8 77. c7‡

White will be able to play Kd6-c6, with mate to follow, or win the f6-pawn depending on where the bishop goes.

77... Bb2 78. Kd6

This lengthy win put me right back in the tournament, and with a last-round win against Chris Chase I took home a share of first place in the 2015 New England Open.