It's All About the Benjamins (and Klempners)

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the July 2023 issue of Chess Life Magazine. Consider becoming a US Chess member for more content like this — access to digital editions of both Chess Life and Chess Life Kids is a member benefit, and you can receive print editions of both magazines for a small add-on fee.

My phone suggested the text was from “maybe Leah” but I recognized it was my nephew Jonah, starting off succinctly with, “Are you playing in Foxwoods in April?” Well, I wasn’t planning to, as I haven’t played anywhere since the U.S. Senior Championship last July. It’s nothing to do with COVID-19; I just don’t like most tournaments (two games a day) and have a lot of family responsibilities to deal with.

But now Jonah wanted to play in the under 1600 section and shoot for the $2,000 first prize. He would bring his fiancée Brittany along and make a vacation out of it.

A vacation — what a great idea! Spring break was coming up for my kids and we had to go somewhere. My son Aidan had been watching a lot of chess videos over the past year, and he is playing frequently on So I wasn’t surprised when he said he was up for the tournament.

I started getting ambitious, but my recruitment efforts went no further. My 12-year-old daughter Amy, unfortunately, has never gotten interested in chess. Though a former Olympiad player for Ireland, my wife Debbie would sit this one out and keep Amy amused (as well as making sure everyone got to their rounds on time).


Team Benjamin / Klempner
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photos courtesy SLCC (J. Benjamin), courtesy subjects (A. Benjamin, J. Klempner)


The Nephew

Jonah Benjamin Klempner has had a relatively brief but eventful chess career. He entered his first tournament in third grade where he shocked us by pulling off the “Bobby Fischer Double Knight Checkmate.” While enthusiastically congratulating him, I pointed out that there was no such thing. But darned if he didn’t checkmate the guy with two knights. One of them apparently flew from h4 to f6 in one move... but these things happen in scholastic chess, of course.

I had the chance to chaperone Jonah for a tournament in ninth grade, where he introduced me to dubious kid strategies like the “Fishing Pole.” I enjoyed writing about the experience in Chess Life Online in the June 2011 classic, “Diary of a Chess Uncle. ... or Trophy Fishing.” He would go on to represent his high school and get his picture in the local paper playing for said team.

Now 26, Jonah has recently graduated from Georgetown Law and passed the New York bar exam. With a rating of 1571, he was seeded second in his section, making him (at least on paper) quite possibly the best prize candidate in the family. Jonah, however, hadn’t played a tournament in quite a while, and I don’t think he has been working too much on his game.


The Son

Chess unclehood can be nerve-wracking, but it does not compare to mentoring your own child. I introduced Aidan to the game slowly, and by kindergarten he would pIay games with me. I would carry him along for a while before finishing him off. When you are a grandmaster, it just isn’t plausible to lose to a five-year-old, and I don’t believe in doing that anyway. I have seen enough chess parenting horror stories to know what mistakes to avoid. And yet... one of our early lessons was the four-move checkmate, which I thought would be cool and fun. But when I executed the checkmate, Aidan broke into tears, whining, “Not again!” I thought quickly and switched the board around so that I had the checkmated side, turning the tears into smiles. Phew!

Later in his development, I brought Aidan to a chess class at ICA — International Chess Academy, the top program in Bergen County. The instructor was a bit befuddled as to what he could teach Aidan better than me. But some things you would rather hear from a coach than dear old dad.

At age 10 Aidan was ready to play in tournaments, and his enthusiasm peaked when we won the family prize at an ICA tournament. But after a few more tournaments he was done. Not the end of the world. He’s never lacked for activities, be it sports, video games or whatever.

Now Aidan is 14, the same age as Jonah during the “Chess Uncle” story. He has not only outgrown his dad — standing six feet tall now — he has outgrown his little boy rating of 539.  With all the videos he has been consuming and all the practice games on, I could tell he was hundreds of points stronger than his rating. His opponents in the under 1100 section would definitely be within reach.


The Professional

Even before Jonah’s text, it was dawning on me that I had to play in something, somewhere. I was thinking April would be a good time, so the Foxwoods suggestion was somewhat serendipitous. At age 59, I know that my financial equity for most open tournaments is negative. There’s too much stress on my body, and too many underrated kids. But family vacations are supposed to cost money, so I wasn’t concerned about getting in the prize money.

I had a peek at the advanced entries when I entered, and saw a dearth of GMs, or highly rated players in general. Grandmasters often don’t enter in advance in Goichberg tournaments because they don’t have to shell out an entry fee. But when I arrived on Thursday, I saw that nothing had changed. I was actually number three on the wall chart.

You noticed I said Thursday. The Open sections are often, rather inconveniently, stretched an extra day to get in nine rounds, making title norms possible. In this case the first round of my section was also the first night of Passover. Since I wrote the play this year I could hardly miss the family Seder.

So I took two half-point byes and rode up on Thursday. The kids had to miss a day of school as spring break did not begin until Friday, but I didn’t think their high honor rolls would be in jeopardy.


So Far, So Good

The first two days were a rousing success. I managed to win my first three games, albeit with some struggles and less-than-optimal time management. Aidan beat his first adult in round one.



After defeating another unrated in round two, Aidan took down an opponent 400 points above him. With Jonah scoring two out of his first three, the family had a whopping 8/9 after three rounds!


Into the Grind

I managed to make it to round six before having to face my first talented youngster. Such is my isolation that I had not encountered, let alone played, FM (and soon to be IM) Brewington Hardaway yet.


Brewington Hardaway
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Brewington Hardaway (courtesy Marshall Chess Club)


I was pleased to outplay the 14-year-old star ... for a while.



The middle rounds were not kind to the family. Aidan stumbled with one draw in his second three games. He was probably winning in round five, but in the other two he realized belatedly that his Black openings were not quite in order. Jonah never managed to win back-to-back games throughout the event.


Final Exams

After beating the young master Sudarshan Sriniaiyer in a long game with mostly bad technique, I found myself already a winner in my book. I would start the final day against another grandmaster, something I rarely manage anymore.


GM Bartlomeij Macieja
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GM Bartlomeij Macieja (courtesy UTRGV / David Pike)


Bartlomeij Macieja is a fascinating player. The head coach for the chess program at UT Rio Grande Valley has great understanding betrayed by an inability to make moves in any reasonable sort of time. I had already seen him beat the clock in two on-the-delay finishes, and in our game, he went down to the final minute even though I played most of the game with my pieces on the back rank.



My opponent deservedly took home a shared first prize after drawing with one of his college players, FM Jakub Fus. While not quite as old as me, Macieja was thrilled to win a tournament at the relatively advanced age of 45!

Meanwhile, I earned another game on board one against the co-leader.



I should be miffed at throwing away my shot for an extra three grand, but I had already exceeded my expectations at finishing in the money (tied for third through fifth) of an open tournament for the first time in forever. I was also the first in the family to finish, so I finally got to be a nervous chess dad again.



I found Aidan by the pairing charts and gave him a big hug. I also heard his opponent remark (with humor in his tone, thankfully), “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my room to cry.”

Aidan finished with 4½/7 in 11th place, just outside the prize list, and I’m thrilled that he has found chess again on his own terms. The blitz specialist proclaimed classical chess to be cool — take that, Magnus. After adding 300 points to his US Chess rating, I expect Aidan will enter more events in the future.

The catalyst of the weekend ended up with the most disappointing tournament. Turns out it’s not easy to balance business and pleasure. A late-night poker session with Cousin Rob, an escape room session, and an ice-cream lunch are not the best preparation for the grind of CCA tournaments.

Jonah has retained that happy-go-lucky nature from his youth. One young opponent avoided several blunders by maintaining finger contact on the moving piece. In between moves he danced in the aisle. Did this bother my nephew? “No,” Jonah told me. “He was so cute — I wanted to dance with him!”

Jonah may have managed only 50%, but he continued his history of memorable chessboard moments, overcoming a sleepy start to make a brilliant save.



I think I will need to gather the clan for Parsippany next February. Especially as there are some good players on Debbie’s side of the family, too...

2023 Foxwoods Open
At a Glance

April 5-9, 2023 | Mashantucket, CT

Open: 1st-2nd: GMs Bartlomiej Macieja, Jianchao Zhou, 7/9. 3rd-5th: FM Jakub Fus, IM Olivier Chiku-Ratte, GM Joel Benjamin, 6½. U2200: Shami Abdullayev, Micah Simon Dubnoff, Nathan Hsichen Chang, Carter Ho, 6/7. U2000: John J. Kennedy, Anand Vaneswaran, 6/7. U1800: Dmitriy Kovalkov, Timothy R. Bartlett, 6/7. U1600: Charles Shen, 6½/7. U1400: Cantay Ozkan, Jack Diao, George Cui, 6/7. U1100: Charles Edward Pratt, Tommy Kozlek, 6/7. Mixed Doubles: Charles Shen, Shalini Shankar, 11. Blitz: GM Jianchao Zhou, 9/10.