Benjamin Takes Manahattan

By Michael Goeller

In 1978, at age 14, Joel Benjamin won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship and wrote a very nice article in Chess Life & Review about his achievement. There he reports that the tournament was "a twenty-player round robin ... played in two sections at a one-game-a-week pace, giving plenty of time for preparation. And when both sections ended in a tie at 7.5 points, George Kramer, Larry D. Evans, Sergey Kudrin and I engaged in a playoff for the championship trophy." As the games and picture below suggest, it was Benjamin who won the playoff -- and with a perfect 3-0 score! Where indicated, I have drawn upon Benjamin's comments in the 1978 article and in his more recent book American Grandmaster (Everyman 1978) in annotating these games.

 

Joel Benjamin - George Kramer [A29]

Manhattan Chess Club Championship/New York, NY USA 1978


1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Ne7!?

Apparently this was a Kramer specialty, the idea being to control the d4 square with Nbc6 and Nf5.

 

6. Nf3 Nbc6 7. b4! a6

7... Nxb4 8. Qa4+ Nbc6 9. Nxe5

 

8. a3 g6 9. Bb2 Bg7 10. d3 O-O 11. O-O Nf5 12. Rc1 Ncd4

12... Nfd4 is more consistent.

 

13. Nd2 c6 14. Nc4 Nd6 15. Nxd6 Qxd6 16. Ne4 Qe7 17. e3 Ne6 18. Qb3 Kh8 19. Nd2

"The Knight belongs on c4" Benjamin noted in 1978, already trusting his strong chess instincts. White's play is now completely directed at the dark squares, with the e5 pawn the focus of attack. The immediate 19. f4 , however, was probably most accurate to prevent Black from gaining counterplay by f5-f4 himself.

 

19... f5 20. Nc4 Nc7 21. Qa2!?

Shades of Richard Reti! The Queen "belongs on" a1 to increase the pressure on e5.

 

21... Bd7?

Black must try 21... f4! when 22. exf4!? (22. Qa1?! f3 23. Bh1 Bh3 24. Rfd1 Rae8 actually looks better for Black) 22... exf4 23. Rfe1 may give White play on the e-file, but Black seems ok.

 

22. Qa1 Rae8 23. Rce1 Nb5 24. f4! e4?!

24... exf4 25. exf4 Bxb2 (25... Qf7 26. a4 Nc7 27. Nd6) 26. Rxe7 Bxa1 27. Rxd7 Bf6 28. Rxb7 Benjamin

 

25. a4 Nc7 26. dxe4 fxe4










27. Nd6! Rb8 28. Nxe4 Nd5 29. Nc5 Rf7 30. Bxg7+ Rxg7 31. Qd4 Be8 32. e4 Nf6 33. f5 Rd8 34. Qb2 Rf7 35. e5 1-0


Joel Benjamin - Larry D. Evans [B13]

Manhattan Chess Club Championship/New York, NY USA 1978


The following is probably the first game of Benjamin's I remember seeing, and it inspired me as much as Fischer's games to adopt the Exchange Variation against the Caro-Kann. Note that his opponent in this game was the well-known American chess teacher Larry D. Evans and not his more famous and older name-sake Larry M. Evans.

1. e4 c6 2. d4

At the earlier GHI International, Benjamin had tried a very unusual system against Evans and should have won on that occasion also: 2. f4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. c3 Bg4 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O h5 8. Na3 Nh6 9. Nc2 Nf5 10. d3 Be7 11. Nfe1 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 g5?! 13. fxg5 Bxg5 14. Nf3! Bxc1 15. Raxc1 Qa5 16. Ne3! Nce7 17. d4!? c4 18. Ng5!? Qd8 (18... Qxa2? 19. Nxf5 Nxf5 20. Rxf5! exf5 21. e6) 19. Rce1 Rc8 20. Qd2 Rc7 21. Rf3 b5 22. Ref1 Qc8 23. Rh3 Nxe3 24. Qxe3 Nf5 25. Qf4 Rh6 26. g4 (26. Nf3 Rh7 27. g4) 26... hxg4 27. Rxh6 Nxh6 28. Nh7 Nf5 29. Qxg4 ( after this, Black's King gets safely out of town -- better was 29. Nf6+! Kf8 (29... Ke7 30. Qg5!) 30. Qxg4) 29... Kd7! 30. Nf6+ Kc6 31. Nxd5! Rd7 (31... Kxd5?? 32. Qf3#) 32. Nf6 Rd8 33. Qe4+ Kb6 34. Rf2 Rh8 35. Rg2 Rh3 36. Rg8 Qc7 37. Ne8 (37. Qxf5!! exf5 38. Nd5+ Kc6 39. Nxc7 Kxc7 40. Rg7) 37... Qc6 38. Qxc6+ Kxc6 39. Rf8 Rd3 40. Rxf7 Rd2 41. b3 b4!? 42. cxb4 c3 1/2-1/2 Benjamin,J-Evans,L/New York 1977 -- likely both players were in time pressure, but White still has winning chances after 43.Rc7+ etc.

 

2... d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 g6 6. Bf4 Nh6! 7. Nd2

Perhaps better is 7. Ne2 according to Benjamin.

 

7... Bf5 8. Ndf3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Bg7 10. Ne2 Nf5 11. O-O O-O 12. Rfe1 Nd6 13. Ng3 b5? 14. h4?!

Benjamin cannot explain why he did not simply win a pawn by 14. Bxd6 Qxd6 15. Qxb5 Rfb8 16. Qe2

 

14... b4 15. h5 bxc3 16. bxc3 Rb8 17. hxg6 hxg6

Both sides prosecute the typical plans in this position: Black plays his minority attack, creating a pawn weakness at c3, while White plays for a kingside attack. I always prefer the kingside attack: while Black tries to pick up a pawn, White tries to take down the king!

 

18. Ng5 Qd7 19. Qf3!

White carefully maneuvers his pieces to their optimal squares for attack while limiting Black's defensive resources on the kingside. Too cute is 19. Nh5?! Qg4!=

 

19... Rb5

a) 19... Bf6 20. Bxd6 (20. Qxd5? Rb5) 20... Qxd6 21. Qg4 Bxg5 22. Qxg5 Benjamin

b) 19... e6 20. Qg4 (20. Nh5!?) 20... Rb2 21. Qh4

 

20. Bxd6!

Securing the g4 square for the queen while eliminating Black's best defensive piece.

 

20... Qxd6 21. Qg4 Bf6










Benjamin now drops a bomb on e6, but there was little Black could do to prevent some detonation on that critical square. For example, Benjamin gives the line 21... Rfb8 22. Qh4 Rb2 23. Re6!! Qd7 (23... fxe6 24. Qh7+ Kf8 25. Qxg6 Nd8 26. Nh5) 24. Rxg6! fxg6 25. Qh7+ Kf8 26. Qxg6 e6 27. Nxe6+ Kg8 (27... Ke7?? 28. Nf5#) 28. Nf5

 

22. Ne6!! fxe6

22... Rfb8 23. Nf5 Qa3 24. Nh6+ Kh7 25. Nxf7

 

23. Rxe6 Qd7

23... Qc7 24. Qxg6+ Kh8 25. Nf5! Rfb8 26. Nh6! Benjamin(26. Nxe7 Fritz) 26... Bg7 (26... Rf8 27. Re3! followed by Rh3 with deadly threats.) 27. Nf7+ Kg8 28. Ng5!

 

24. Qxg6+ Kh8 25. Re3 e6

25... e5 26. Qh6+ Kg8 27. Nh5 Bh4 28. Rh3 Bxf2+ 29. Kh1 is similar to the game continuation.

 

26. Qh6+ Kg8 27. Nh5 Bh4 28. Qg6+ Kh8 29. Qh6+ Kg8 30. Qg6+

Trying to gain some time on the clock. But 30. Rxe6! is the simplest win.

30... Kh8 31. Rh3 Qh7 32. Qxh7+

In his notes to the game in Chess Life & Review, July 1978, Benjamin notes that 32. Qg4 "wins more quickly, but I was in mild time pressure."

 

32... Kxh7 33. Rxh4 Kg6 34. Nf4+ Kf5

Benjamin notes that "the Black King drifts into a mating net, but the endgame is lost anyway."

 

35. Re1 Rf6 36. g3 Rb2 37. Kg2 Rc2 38. Rh5+ Kg4 39. Reh1

and mate cannot be prevented.

1-0

 

Joel Benjamin receives the trophy from club manager Jeff Kastner
while Manhattan Chess Club president Moses Mitchell looks on.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Joel. American Grandmaster: Four Decades of Chess Adventures. Everyman Chess 2007. p122.

_______. "1978 Manhattan Chess Club Championship." Chess Life & Review 33.7 (July 1978): 358.

 

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Copyright © 2008 by Michael Goeller