GM Pascal Charbonneau on Blitzing the Donald Benge Memorial
By GM Pascal Charbonneau   
April 7, 2010
GM Pascal Charbonneau, Photo 2008
Interrupting the quiet of a lazy Saturday afternoon, my ringing cell phone displayed a number I did not recognize.  Grabbing my courage with both hands, I picked up. It was my friend and former boss (and many time sponsor of the Canadian Olympiad team!), Sidney Belzberg.

He had decided to sponsor a blitz tournament at the Marshall Chess Club, the mythical New York location, with a generous first prize of $1000, in memory of an old friend of his, Donald Benge.  Donald was former Utah State chess champ, a coin collector, and inventor of, among many other games, the popular game “Conquest”. 

I admit with chagrin that few things these days ensure that I will play chess (too much work, too many headaches, didn’t hear my alarm, the dog eats my clock, etc); however, Sid’s involvement did just that.

And despite the fatigue that inevitably sinks in after 7 PM, I walked into the Marshall excited to play and resolute not to lose any games on time. 

It’s in these moments that the Marshall’s magic springs back to life; another blitz tournament had been organized on March 9th to commemorate Fischer’s birthday, and an amazing turnout (which included a non-playing Pascal who must have had some kind of toothache) where Alex Lenderman came out on top.  And this time, on April 5th, fifty players including twelve grandmasters took part in the event. 

Marcus Fenner, the new very dynamic manager of the Marshall, rearranged the tables to fit the many participants and provided them with a hearty and healthy buffet to which chess players are unaccustomed.

And so it began. 

In a typical twist of fate, I was paired rather awkwardly against Sid, and while it is in my nature to always try to win every game, I knew that after I beat him, I’d better win the whole tournament. Otherwise it would be a case of biting that hand that feeds you…


Now resolved to win the tournament, my decisions- if at times animalistic- were natural.

In round two I was paired against the iconic Treger, who can not be underestimated, and quite quickly blundered my queen to a neat trick (a better move would have probably won on the spot for me) .. and I found myself in a rather precarious material imbalance of rook + three pieces vs a queen and two rooks.  I will leave the math to my dear readers, but I was shocked by a draw offer from my opponent, who was a bit lower on time but still had over 2.5 minutes.  I felt obligated to ignore it for a few reasons, and won on time after a rather tricky battle despite the material “imbalance”…

It then became obvious to me that I was not at the top of my game (at least not yet), and that salvation was to be found in speed if not in quality.

My next game with Alex Lenderman showcased that beautifully when I quickly and confidently hung a pawn in the opening.  However, fighting back I eventually won the pawn back with some interest and managed to pull the win.  I felt unstoppable in my fortune until I ran into the Ehlvest wall…the ironic thing is, for once, I had a marvelous position, but was lower on time and got promptly taken down. 

Ehlvest for some time looked unstoppable until round seven when he finally tripped up (with six out of six) against a determined Alex Lenderman, who was still upset about his loss to the writer of these lines. 

In the meantime I had, post-Ehlvest-trauma, recovered and begun to play much more solidly, confidently, and thus, quickly.  I managed, with a varying but at times noticeable degree of clarity, to win against Stripunsky, Paragua, Kleiman and Hess. 


Here's a fragment from my game against Jake Kleiman. I am Black and we just traded rooks on a8. I went for this with a trap in mind: Ne3 is bad because of Nxe3 Bxc6 and now Qa1! :) Jake played Ne3 and I had the chance to play it out.


In the final round Ehlvest and I were tied with 7 out of 8 and faced Stripunsky and Kekelidze (a Georgian GM who has been spending some time in the US) respectively.

The exterior of the Marshall Chess Club
I chose the KID, as nothing felt more in the spirit of the moment. I managed to get a complicated game, until I missed a simple tactic that gave white a crushing position.  Determination and Caissa on my side, I survived until I reached a slightly dubious rook ending but with thirty seconds on my clock vs five, the win was certain.  It was hard not to feel slightly like an animal for winning by means of virtual flag, but this is just the nature of the beast.  I did not know until then that Ehlvest had lost, and so a draw would have been sufficient for first place as well. 

And so I thank Sid for bringing me out to play. The work and the headaches will inevitably return. However, I love chess, the thrills of blitz, the Marshall, and I’ll always be back…

Hungry to play a rich blitz tourney yourself? Details on the $10,000 US Championship Blitz Open (May 24, Saint Louis) are coming soon. See the press release with the basics here.