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Benjamin Wins Millennium Print E-mail
By IM Bryan Smith   
March 3, 2008
CLO columnist GM Joel Benjamin, winner of the Millennium Open. Photo Kimberley Hodge
“Lucky” Route 13 begins Northeast of Philadelphia, travels under the rumble of Philadelphia’s elevated train, traverses the Delmarva peninsula, and finally crosses the picturesque 23 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel into Virginia Beach, the site of the 2008 Millennium Open.

As I drove through a particularly bleak stretch of Eastern Maryland I noticed one of the glowing signs floating in the darkness: “The Road to El Dorado”.  I was not sure what it was advertising, but wondered if perhaps it meant that I was going to be taking home part of the tournament’s $12,000 prize fund.  This was not to be, as I might have guessed when shortly afterwards I was caught driving slightly faster than I ought to have been.  John Fedorowicz told a story about how last year he and Nick De Firmian were stopped for speeding on the same stretch of Maryland on the way back from the same tournament, but after seeing the chess board in the back seat of the car, the officer decided to let them off with a warning.  My cop was not so nice.  The lesson for American chess-warriors should be obvious: when traveling on Route 13, do not speed; but if you must, keep a chess board visible!

Once I got there, I was able to enjoy a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean from the hotel, one of the best features of the Millennium Open. 

Photo Kimberly Hodge

This year GM Joel Benjamin took clear first in a highly professional manner—four smooth wins and a last round draw to clinch the tournament.  Key was his fourth round win with black against the rapidly improving FM Ray Kaufman.  In a Nimzo-Indian, Benjamin sacrificed a knight on g2 and his “lurking” b7-bishop became a monster:


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 d6 7.Bg5 Nbd7 8.e3 b6 9.Ne2 Bb7 10.Qd3 a6 11.Nc3 c5 12.Rd1 Rc8 13.dxc5 dxc5 14.f3

Perhaps 14.Bf4, preventing black from freeing the d-file with ...Ne5, was more promising.
14...Ne5 15.Qc2 Qc7 16.Be2 Ng6 17.e4 Nh5 18.Be3 f5 19.0–0 Nhf4 20.exf5 exf5 21.Rfe1 Nxg2!

Position after 21...Nxg2

Joel sacrifices just in time, before White consolidates with Bf1.
22.Kxg2 Nh4+ 23.Kg1 Nxf3+ 24.Bxf3 Bxf3 25.Nd5
25.Rd2 f4 26.Bf2 Qf7 also gives Black a very strong attack.
 25...Qf7 26.Qf2?!
After 26.Rd2 Rce8 followed by ...f4 Black’s threats are hard to stop.  Perhaps 26.Rc1, keeping the second rank free for the queen, is the best defense.
 26...Bxd1 27.Rxd1 Rce8 28.b4 Qh5 29.Rc1 Re4

The rook thunderously enters the game.
30.bxc5 bxc5 31.Nf4 Qh6 32.Nd5 f4 33.Bxc5 Rfe8 34.Kh1 Re2 35.Qxf4 Rxh2+ 36.Qxh2 Qxc1+ 37.Bg1 Qxc4 38.Qh5 Qe4+ 39.Kh2 Re5 0–1

IM Larry Kaufman and his son Ray tied for second and third place with four points.  Ray spent some time in Europe and came back vastly improved—he tied for first in the Liberty Bell Open, and now had a good result in this tournament.  Probably it will not be long before he receives the International Master title.

Special mention should be made of 2240-rated Richard Francisco.  In the second and third rounds of the tournament, he had the most difficult pairings imaginable: black against two of the tournament’s three GMs—John Fedorowicz and Mark Paragua.  He didn’t complain, however, and scored 1.5 points out of the two!

Unfortunately my own result in this tournament was something I would prefer to forget.  As I sat down to play the 2200-rated Yuri Barnakov in round one, I realized I had no desire to play chess.  The game ended in a draw despite my multiple extra pawns when I carelessly allowed perpetual check.  In round two I stumbled into a not-particularly deserved victory.  Then in round three I provoked sacrifices against IM Larry Kaufman, which turned out to be more dangerous than I imagined.  After subsequently completely flunking the blitz tournament where I was the highest rated player and the prizes were substantial, I decided to quit attempting to play chess, for at least this tournament.  I do not usually withdraw from tournaments, and in fact wins in round four and five would have given me a prize, but I simply could not conceive of playing any more chess.  Perhaps I am not the only person who sometimes experiences this kind of malaise; the affable tournament director Mike Atkins attributed it to the fact that I am a “chess professional”; but in fact I remember feeling this way sometimes while in college as well.

Once again this year the Millennium Festival featured its unique exhibition between two grandmasters, in which the players talk aloud about their moves in separate rooms.  Last year De Firmian and Fedorowicz played; this time Fedorowicz returned to face Benjamin.  It’s not hard to understand why Fedorowicz is a favorite for these exhibitions—he told many funny stories, and the audience in his room burst out into laughter on almost every move.  However, telling a ten-minute story and then thinking about his move for five seconds probably did not allow him to play his best, and Benjamin won decisively.  It would be nice if such exhibitions became more common in tournaments—they are very entertaining (and sometimes instructional as well) for all involved, and at the very least should disprove the widespread myth that grandmasters are “boring”.

Millennium Festival Final Standings:

1  GM Joel Benjamin (4.5/5)
2-3 IM Larry Kaufman, FM Ray Kaufman (4/5)

Under 2200
Udayan Bapat (4.5/5)

Under 1900
Jonathan Hundley, Michael McHale, Keith Melbourne, Ilya Kremenchugskiy, Adam Sultan (4/5)

Under 1600

Kevin Zhou (4.5/5)

Under 1300

Cesar Flores, Benny Lebon, Blaine Eley

Blitz Tournament
Kazim Gulamali- 9/10

Photo Gallery by Kimberly Hodge 

Which piece is Fed reaching for?

Another photo of the beach at dawn.

Tournament Director Ernie Schlich

Joel explains why you shouldn’t bring your queen out early.