GM Joel Benjamin
GM Joel Benjamin
Chess Life Online is happy to welcome Joel as our new Q+A columnist. Send your Q's to [email protected]
Joel Benjamin has seen the board from many angles. At 13 years old he became a national master. He broke Bobby Fischer’s record for the youngest ever master and was hailed as a prodigy. In 1981 he breaked from full time chess activity to attend Yale, where he majored in history. He was editor in chief and founder of the witty but now defunct magazine Chess Chow (1991-4), which ran articles with titles like “Eat Like a Grandmaster” and diagram captions such as: “Time Control to Major Tom.”

His most famous gig was in helping the Deep Blue IBM computer team to defeat Garry Kasparov in 1997. Joel Benjamin was the official Grandmaster consultant for the 1997 rematch (Deep Blue lost to Kasparov in 1996). Joel trained the computer to think more positionally and thus augment computers’ traditionally awesome calculation skills. Joel enjoyed the discipline of his first 9-5 job (rare hours for chess pros), and found that after the intense year working with Deep Blue, his skills had improved. Shortly thereafter, Joel won his second U.S Championship. In 2000, he won his third. Benjamin also goes into U.S Championship history books for playing in a record 22 consecutive championships.

Benjamin was featured in Game Over, a documentary about the Deep Blue-Kasparov. The energetic but neurotic Kasparov contrasts with a cool and collected Joel Benjamin, who calmly disputes Kasparov’s claims that Deep Blue was aided during the games by a Grandmaster.

Joel plays offbeat openings like the Two Knights’ Tango and the Pirc defense in order to lead his opponents to uncharted chess waters. He doesn’t often win straight from the opening, and is famous for squeezing out small edges. He once called the British GM Michael Adams, #4 in the World a favorite player, pointing out modestly that Michael had an even stronger version of his own minimalistic but lethal style.

Joel claims that his own training program as a teen wasnt very rigorous, but he improved rapidly because of the “sponge” method. He went to as many tournaments as he could, and absorbed as much information from other people’s games and analysis, not just his own.

Joel lives in New Jersey with his wife Debbie Quinn, a member of the Irish Women’s Olympic Chess team and son, Aidan. Benjamin also plays for New Jersey in the U.S. Chess League. Read Benjamin's CLO article on the league, "New Jersey Knocked Out" and "GM Joel on Knocking Out the Competition." From 2006 to February 2010 GM Joel Benjamin answered your questions on the CLO advice column, "Ask GM Joel."