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Joel Brings Home the Benjamins at Northeast Open Print E-mail
By Al Lawrence   
August 9, 2011
GM Joel Benjamin
When I walked into the Stamford, Connecticut, Sheraton—two half-byes late due to what is these days a thankfully rare migraine—I thought the headache’s sometimes bizarre after-effects may be playing tricks with my personal time-space continuum. But a quick check of the official cross table confirmed that a championship duo from the 1980s and 1990s indeed appeared on boards one and three at the 17th Annual Northeast Open, flanking Swiss tournament regular Sergey Kudrin. Hall-of-famer and three-time U.S. Champ GM Joel Benjamin sat tall, calm and bespectacled above his black pieces on board one, while fellow former child prodigy and U.S. Open and World Open champion Michael Rohde mused over the white chessmen on board three.

Despite their still-youthful appearances (well, after all, they’re hardly the Gandalfs of chess—Benjamin is still in his 40s and Rohde in his early 50s), both of these well-liked GMs have lengthy chess resumes that deserve at least a quick recap. Each took time out from chess to complete bachelor degrees at Yale. (Their attendance overlapped one year, and Rohde later went on to get a law degree at Cardozo.) As a junior, Benjamin broke Fischer’s record by becoming the youngest-ever U.S. master, and won all three scholastic titles, plus the U.S. Junior (twice). He went on to win many big tournaments, including the U.S. Open, earning his GM title in 1986. He was IBM’s GM consultant when Deep Blue defeated World Champion Garry Kasparov. He is an award-winning publisher and author and a popular commentator—frequently appearing on ICC’s event coverage. He holds the record for most consecutive appearances in the U.S. Invitational Championship (by my memory, 22 and counting!) —that’s a great chess trivia question but by no means a trifling achievement! (He’s also the youngest-ever inductee into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, receiving his plaque in 2008 in a ceremony, along with friends Nick de Firmian and Larry Christiansen.) Benjamin has the reputation for trying the offbeat and for converting even small advantages to full points.

Rohde, a few years older, was a self-taught prodigy, growing up in New Jersey, just outside of the New York City chess mainstream. Like Benjamin he was a multi-level scholastic champ and chess master at 13. He played in the great Lone Pine championships at 15, earned the GM title in 1988 and was a regular winner on the circuit. Rohde wrote the popular Chess Life column “Game of the Month” for 15 years until 2006. And “Michael Rohde” is the hard-to-believe answer to another trivia question: Who won the brilliancy prizes in three consecutive U.S. Invitational Championships? Rohde did it 1986-1988. Michael is renowned for his attacking style.

Benjamin, married to Irish Olympiad chess player Deborah Quinn Benjamin and the father of an eight-month-old and a three-year-old, has just recently come back to tournament play with a string of victories. In fact, this year’s Northeast Open marked his fourth tournament win in a row, including the Canadian Open and the Edmonton Invitational, both held last month. Rohde, with sons 22 and 16, is married to well-respected tournament director Sophia Rohde. The two of them run Little House of Chess (www.kidschess.com) teaching programs and are offering a summer chess camp at the Spence School on Manhattan’s upper east side.

Benjamin (N.J.), after winning four straight games, closed the show in Stamford with a clincher-draw with black against GM Sergey Kudrin (Conn.), who tied for second place with IM Ilye Figler (N.Y.) in the 37-player Open section.

After three rounds of play, Benjamin and Figler had the only perfect scores, so this match-up was crucial.
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Bb5 Nge7 7.0-0 a6 8.Nxc6
8...Nxc6 could be considered--at least it unblocks black's bishop.
9.Ba4 Bd7 10.c4 Ng6 
Taking a defender away from d5 doesn't seem the best idea. Perhaps 10. ... Qc7 or even 10. ... g6, trying to untangle by fiachettoing and castling asap, despite the resulting weakening of f6, are better tries.
11.exd5 cxd5 12.cxd5 exd5 13.Nf3 Be7 14.Bb3
The square we're normally taught to encamp the bishop on in such isolated d-pawn positions is Be6. The shift to an "attacking diagonal" doesn't pay off for black. 
Sometimes refutations are straightforward. 
Now there's no minor-piece-protection on the a4-e8 diagonal for the black king. 
16.Ba4+ Kf8 17.Re1 Rc8 18.Bd2 Qb6 19.Be3! 
An expert might find it hard to move this piece, just developed, to a new square. But Grandmaster Benjamin sees an outright refutation of 18. ... Qb6. 
19...Bc5 20.Rc1 
Black's king is vulnerable on f8. It's easiest to see this in the suicide variation: 20...Bxd4 21.Rxc8+ Bxc8 22.Bxd4, when the threat of 23. Re1 mate wins immediately. 
20...Kg8 21.b4! Qxb4
21...Bf8 22.Nc6 Qc7 23.Na7 Qb8 24.Nxc8
22.Rb1 Qa3 23.Rxb7 Qxa2 24.Bb3! 
Of course, many moves win, but this is the "compassionately merciless" coup de gras. 
25.Bxd5! 1-0
Another move that wins the "most deadly" award. Both 25. .. . Rf8 and 25. ... c7 lose to, among others, 26. Nb3.  

A ruthlessly precise game by Benjamin.

Benjamin won $1,300; Kudrin and Figler each took home $500. Rohde (N.Y.) had given up a draw in round three to NM Oliver Chernin (Conn.) and then went wrong in a promising position against Figler in the final round, placing fourth and winning $233. David Hua (N.J.) won the under-2250 prize ($700) with four points. Sam Barsky (N.Y.), who won his fourth-round game despite being down a rook and some pawns, beat Chernin in round five to share the under-2250, second-place prize with Michael Finneran (Conn.). Both scored 3.5 points and each got a check for $233.

A junior-senior pair topped the 47-player under-2050 section with 4.5: Leonid Tkach (Mass.), a youthful septuagenarian, and Avery Chen (Conn.), a rising young star.
Leonid Tkach

Avery Chen

Each won $600. Danny Feng (N.Y.), Stanislav Busygin, and Robert Kwong (N.Y.) tied for third, sharing $500.


A real old-fashioned king hunt in the last round by one of the third-place winners in the under-2050 section.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 0-0 8.Bb3 Ng4 
An equalizing "trap." If 9.Nxc6 Nxe3 10.Nxd8 Nxd1 11.Nd5 Rxd8 12.Rxd1 Kf8, and many would prefer Black's bishops.
9.Qxg4 Nxd4 10.Qg3 Qa5 11.Bd2 Nxb3 12.cxb3 d6 13.h4 h5
A matter of taste perhaps, but I prefer 13. ... Bd7, i.e.: 14.h5 Qe5 15.Bf4 Qe6, when black is ready to counter with an active game.
Now black's queen must retreat, leaving white with a small advantage.
14...Qd8 15.Bc3 Bg4 
Again, d7 looks like the positional choice for the bishop. 
16.f3 Bd7 
After g3, perhaps e6 is now a good square for the bumped bishop. 
White wants to attack and has the idea to play 18. Bxg7 and 19. Nxh5. But castling in either direction or getting his queen reactivated with 17. Qg5 might have been a better idea. 
This move certainly equalizes and gives black lots of play without much risk--a very practical approach. Another interesting way was to "play into" white's "threat": 17...Rc8 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Nxh5+ Kh7 20.Nf4 Qa5+, when it's likely pretty even but dicey.
18.bxc3 Qa5 19.Kd2? Rac8 20.Nd5 Kg7 21.Qg5 Be6 22.b4? 
Or 22.Nb4 Rc5, when 23.Qxe7? is a blunder: 23. ... Rfc8 24.Rac1 Rxc3 25.Rxc3 Qxb4 26.Rhc1 Qd4+
22...Qa3! 23.Rhc1 Qb2+ 24.Kd3 Bxd5! 25.exd5 Rxc3+ 26.Rxc3 Qxa1 27.Qxe7(?)
27.Qd2 Qb1+ 28.Ke2 Qxb4, when black is still winning, but at least white isn't yet mated.
27...Qd1+! 28.Ke4 Qb1+ 
28...Qe2+! 29.Re3 29...Qc4 mate!
29.Kd4 Qxb4+ 30.Kd3 Qb1+ 31.Kd2 Qxa2+ 32.Kc1 Qxd5 33.Rc7 a5 34.Rxb7 Rc8+ 35.Kb2 Qd2+
36.Ka3 Rc3+ 37.Ka4 Qd5 38.Qd7 
It's mate in four here, beginning with 38...Qc4+ 39.Kxa5 Qc5+. But black, probably in time pressure, sees another clear way to win.
38...Rc2 39.Rb3 
Now Busygin finds the Kavorkian combination. 39...Ra2+ 40.Ra3 Qc4+ 0-1 

Michael-David Mangini
Michael-David Mangini (Conn.) went undefeated, collecting four points to win the $500 under-1850 prize and gain 120 points. In fact, Mangini played no one who didn’t have at least a 120 rating-point advantage over his pre-event rating of 1741. In the last round, Mangini played a solid game, unimpressed with the 350+ rating difference, to beat me without ever being in a wisp of trouble. Thomas Knoff (N.Y.) and Joshua Abady (N.Y.) shared the $300 second prize for those under1850.

Joseph Han (Conn.) took first in the 35-player under-1650 division, scoring 4.5 and a check for $700. Sebastian Lazar (Conn.), Henry Qi (N.Y.), John Galvin (N.Y.), Rajendra Krishnan (Conn.) all scored 4.0 to share second place, each winning $225. Jacob Klegar, Kevin Jordan, and Sofia Ozol (all of Conn.) shared the under-1450 prize and each won $233.

Andrew Rogozinski (Conn.) scored 4.5 to take clear first and $600 in the under-1250 section, which attracted 20 aspiring players. Hong Jin (N.Y.) took second with 4.0, winning the $200 unrated prize. Robert Walton, Jr., (N.H.) and Erik Brodsky (N.Y.) shared the third prize and each won $200. Guy Greenstein (N.J.) took the $200 under-1050 prize, while Holly Ansel (N.Y.) won second under-1050 and $100 with three points.

Harold-Stenzel.jpgVeteran national tournament director Harold Stenzel (left) is a former chess master who has supervised some of the biggest and most important tournaments in the country. He was ably assisted by Jabari McGreen. The 139-player tournament, part of the Continental Chess Association’s roster of annual events, was run without a hitch and results were posted on USCF’s website, which shows rating changes immediately, before the weekend was technically over.

Keep your eye on Joel Benjamin’s new winning streak. Perhaps there’s another chess-trivia question in the making.

May - Chess Life Online 2011

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