Zombies & Grandmasters Grace Asbury Boardwalk
By Steve Immitt   
October 24, 2011
GM Nick De Firmian, Photo Betsy Dynako December 2010
GMs Joel Benjamin and Nick DeFirmian, the number one and number two seeds in this past weekend's Boardwalk Open in Asbury Park, New Jersey, found themselves face-to-face over a chessboard, probably for the umpteenth time.  Rated nearly a full class above the other players, they each dutifully dispatched their three lower rated assignments (although in DeFirmian's case, this required him to defeat the tournament's number three seed, IM Justin Sarkar in the penultimate round).  But they were each slowed down a bit by a draw as well. DeFirmian was nicked by up-and-coming youngster David Hua, while Benjamin had to share the point with IM Mikhail Zlotnikov after a fierce time scramble in their 2nd round game in the fast schedule.
When their inevitable last-round matchup came, the threat of an intense, drawn-out battle for all the marbles was probably no match for the mellifluous melody of the waves crashing to the shore, and Joel and Nick (who are also good friends off the chess board) split the point.
That gave FM Thomas Bartell, who was half a point back at 3 points, the chance to finish in the Winners' Circle as well.  To do that he would need a win, and his last-round opponent was IM Justin Sarkar.

It was the last game of the entire tournament. Bartell did accomplish his mission after a speculative Knight sacrifice on Sarkar's 34th move.

Benjamin, DeFirmian and Bartell each finished with 4 points after 5 rounds, tying for first and winning $777 a piece, but DeFirmian also received the additional $90 bonus prize for finishing with the best tiebreaks.
A logjam of six players finished atop the Under 2100 section with 4 points: Victor Levine, Nigel Bryant, Stan Busygin, George Maxfield and Paul Howe each received $359, while Grant Oen capped off his first three wins with two pre-declared byes on Sunday to take home the $538, which included extra money for Under 1900 honors. Peter Schepel finished with 3½ to pick up the $269 second Under 1900 prize.
Sean Senft and Erik Blad bested the Under 1800 Section with 4½ points to each garner $673. Two others finished half a point behind. Jeremy Glassman won the $269  third place prize, while James Moresco's opponent disappeared completely without even playing his last-round game on Board Two, giving Jim the $538 Under 1600 prize by default.
In the Under 1500 section, five players finished at 4-1 to divvy up the $1,704 in place prizes: Rohit Desai, Suliman Mason, Jeff C Scott, Simon Thomas and Kevin Gary.  Matthew Lyng and Robert Kaplan each finished the tournament with an even score of 2½ points, but that was all they needed to split the $673 Under 1300 prizes!
Joseph Katerba, a sophomore at nearby Christian Brothers Academy (which fielded a contingent of no less than 18 players for the weekend), scored 4 wins and one draw to finish in clear first place in the Under 1200 Section, taking home quite a bit of lunch money with his $718 prize.  Melissa Biegel and Joshua McEnroe tied for 2nd-3rd a half-point back to take home $359 each. Alex Fowler and Daniel Alpert each ended up with 3 points and a $269 share of the Under 1000 class prize.
It is not uncommon for chess tournaments to find themselves sharing their venue with wedding receptions, family reunions or large, noisy parties.  But this may be the first time that a tournament has been held amidst a Zombie convention.
 In addition to the Boardwalk Open chess tournament, on the weekend of October 22-23 the city of Asbury Park also hosted the "New Jersey Undead Festival."  Thousands of zombies and zombies-in-training came "dressed to kill" for the occasion, complete with head bandages, chain saws and meat cleavers, and all dolled up in their goriest best. Even the food shops on the boardwalk joined in the fun, with selections ranging from "Wake the Dead Coffee" to "Blood Cider" and "Brain Lattes."  One of the attendees suggested, half-jokingly, that some of the chess players could don costumes with appropriately impaled chess pieces.  A broken Rook protruding from one's head, or a large Pawn or two wedged into one's eye sockets would have uniquely complemented the traditionally ghoulish gathering, we were told.

When the Berkeley Hotel, once long-ago one of Asbury Park's "Grand Dames," hosts the 2012 Boardwalk Open, perhaps the city planners will invite a less "cerebral" group to meet there as well.

For USCF rated results, see MSA and see prize breakdowns on boardwalkopen.com.