Life Begins at 50: GM Joel Benjamin is American Senior Champion

As one of the most recognizable names in modern US Chess, GM Joel Benjamin has now transcended generations by becoming the 2020 U.S. Senior Champion.  

Benjamin shined in the tournament that collected the U.S.’ ten best players over the age of 50, presented as a Who’s-Who of living legends that included some of America’s favorite coaches, authors and generational stars. The lineup featured five former U.S. Champions who combined for 14 of those national titles, as well as a laundry list of other prestigious designations and achievements over decades of play. Though the Senior Championship was only first recognized in 2019, noteworthy is Benjamin having secured the trifecta of U.S. national titles over his career, including the U.S. Junior Championship (1980 and 1982) and the U.S. Championship (1987, 1997 and 2000).  

“This is an incredible thrill for me,” Benjamin said. “I’ve felt for a long time that we have an incredible bunch of really strong, serious (senior) players, and we should have this opportunity. It makes a huge difference in our lives, it’s the one meaningful opportunity that we have, and it’s just a wonderful thing.” 

 

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2020 U.S. Senior Championship Final Standings

 

Benjamin was solid throughout a fighting Senior Championship event that featured all ten players experiencing at least one victory and one defeat across nine rounds. Benjamin was particularly decisive and scored five total wins to finish 6.5/9, securing clear first by a full 1.5 points over the studded field. The 56-year-old New Jersey GM earned $12,000 for his efforts – the largest prize of his career.  

“I never would have dreamed to do that,” Benjamin said about his large gap in the standings. “In rapid chess, you have more strange things happening, and with all the other players these strange things seemed to balance out. With me, things just kept falling my way. A lot of games could have gone either way.”  

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2020 U.S. Senior Champion GM Joel Benjamin

 

The 2020 Senior Championship is the third in a series of five national championship events hosted online by the Saint Louis Chess Club, with formats that feature all Rapid G/25+5 time controls and three games played per day. The titles of 2020 U.S. Junior and Junior Girl have already been awarded, to GM John Burke and IM Carissa Yip respectively, and the 2020 Senior Championship kicked off its first day Saturday with this brilliant bang by GM Gregory Kaidanov, who sacrificed two minor pieces to earn a winning attack over GM Patrick Wolff in the first round.  

[pgn][Event "ch-USA Senior 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.10.17"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Kaidanov, G.."] [Black "Wolff, Pa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A05"] [WhiteElo "2549"] [BlackElo "2552"] [PlyCount "115"] [EventDate "2020.10.17"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCategory "10"] [SourceTitle "The Week in Chess 1354"] [Source "Mark Crowther"] [SourceDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceQuality "2"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. b3 Bg7 4. Bb2 O-O 5. Bg2 d6 6. d4 b5 7. O-O Bb7 8. Nbd2 Nbd7 9. c4 bxc4 10. Nxc4 c5 11. Rc1 a5 12. dxc5 Nxc5 13. Nd4 Bxg2 14. Kxg2 Qd7 15. f3 Rfb8 16. Qd2 Nd5 17. e4 Nb4 18. Bc3 Qb7 19. Rcd1 Qa6 20. h4 h5 21. Nf5 gxf5 22. Bxg7 Kxg7 23. Qg5+ Kf8 24. Qh6+ Kg8 25. Qg5+ Kf8 26. Qh6+ Kg8 27. Nxd6 exd6 28. Rxd6 Qxd6 29. Qxd6 Ne6 30. exf5 Rd8 31. Qe5 Nf8 32. Qe3 f6 33. Qh6 Nd5 34. Re1 Re8 35. Rxe8 Rxe8 36. Qxh5 Re2+ 37. Kf1 Re5 38. Kf2 Ne3 39. f4 Re7 40. Qf3 Nd7 41. g4 Nc5 42. Qxe3 Rxe3 43. Kxe3 Na6 44. Kd4 Nb4 45. a4 Nc2+ 46. Kc5 Kf7 47. h5 Ne3 48. g5 Nxf5 49. Kb5 Nd4+ 50. Kxa5 f5 51. Kb6 Ne6 52. a5 Nxf4 53. a6 Nd5+ 54. Kb7 f4 55. a7 f3 56. a8=Q f2 57. Qa6 Ke7 58. Qe2+ 1-0 [/pgn]
 

Wolff found his revenge later on Saturday, hanging his rook in exchange for this winning attack with the black pieces against GM Dmitry Gurevich in the third round.  

[pgn][Event "ch-USA Senior 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.10.17"] [Round "3.1"] [White "Gurevich, D.."] [Black "Wolff, Pa"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A15"] [WhiteElo "2399"] [BlackElo "2552"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2020.10.17"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCategory "10"] [SourceTitle "The Week in Chess 1354"] [Source "Mark Crowther"] [SourceDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceQuality "2"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 e5 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O Nc6 7. Rb1 a5 8. a3 d6 9. d3 Bg4 10. Be3 Nh5 11. Nd5 a4 12. Nc3 Nf4 13. Bxf4 exf4 14. Nxa4 Ra5 15. h3 Bxf3 16. Bxf3 Nd4 17. Nc3 c6 18. Kh2 Qh4 19. Rc1 h5 20. Qe1 g5 21. Ne2 Nxf3+ 22. gxf3 g4 23. fxg4 hxg4 24. Qxa5 Qxh3+ 25. Kg1 Be5 26. f3 g3 27. Rf2 gxf2+ 28. Kxf2 Qh4+ 29. Kg2 Kh7 30. Rg1 Rg8+ 31. Kf1 Qh3+ 32. Ke1 Rxg1+ 33. Nxg1 Qh1 34. Qb6 c5 0-1 [/pgn]

Benjamin led at all points of the tournament except early on Sunday, after this fourth-round loss to Gurevich featuring an interesting minor piece endgame and an outside passer. This was Benjamin’s only defeat of the event.  

[pgn][Event "ch-USA Senior 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.10.18"] [Round "4.5"] [White "Gurevich, D.."] [Black "Benjamin, Joe"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2399"] [BlackElo "2506"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2020.10.17"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCategory "10"] [SourceTitle "The Week in Chess 1354"] [Source "Mark Crowther"] [SourceDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceQuality "2"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. O-O Bg4 5. c4 e6 6. d3 Nbd7 7. Be3 Bxf3 8. exf3 dxc4 9. dxc4 Bc5 10. Qe2 O-O 11. Nc3 Qe7 12. f4 Bxe3 13. Qxe3 Qc5 14. Qxc5 Nxc5 15. b4 Nd3 16. Rab1 Rad8 17. Rfd1 Rd4 18. Rd2 Rfd8 19. Rbd1 R4d7 20. b5 cxb5 21. cxb5 Nc5 22. Rxd7 Rxd7 23. Rxd7 Nfxd7 24. Kf1 Kf8 25. Ke2 Ke7 26. Ke3 Kd6 27. Kd4 Nf6 28. h3 Ne8 29. Bf3 Nc7 30. h4 h6 31. h5 f6 32. Bg2 b6 33. Bc6 a6 34. a4 Nxa4 35. Ne4+ Ke7 36. bxa6 b5 37. a7 Nb6 38. Kc5 Na4+ 39. Kb4 Nb6 40. Nc3 Kd6 41. Bb7 Kd7 42. Nxb5 Nca8 43. Bxa8 Nxa8 44. Kc5 1-0 [/pgn]

Despite the loss, Benjamin immediately bounced back with a win over Wolff in the fifth round, and another over GM Alex Yermolinksy in the sixth, to finish Sunday 2/3 and regain sole possession of the lead. The New Jersey GM later credited his success in part to several opposite minor-piece endgames where he held the traditionally inferior knight, including this advantage he squeezed from Wolff.  

[pgn][Event "ch-USA Senior 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.10.18"] [Round "5.1"] [White "Benjamin, Joe"] [Black "Wolff, Pa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B52"] [WhiteElo "2506"] [BlackElo "2552"] [PlyCount "95"] [EventDate "2020.10.17"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCategory "10"] [SourceTitle "The Week in Chess 1354"] [Source "Mark Crowther"] [SourceDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceQuality "2"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bxd7+ Nxd7 5. O-O Ngf6 6. d3 g6 7. Re1 Bg7 8. c3 O-O 9. d4 cxd4 10. cxd4 e5 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 dxe5 13. Nc3 Qb6 14. Qe2 Rfc8 15. Bg5 Bf8 16. Bxf6 Qxf6 17. Nd5 Qe6 18. Rac1 Rxc1 19. Rxc1 Rc8 20. Rc4 Kg7 21. Qc2 Rxc4 22. Qxc4 Qc6 23. Qxc6 bxc6 24. Ne3 Kf6 25. Nc4 Ke6 26. Kf1 Bc5 27. Ke2 Bd4 28. f3 h5 29. b3 h4 30. h3 Bc5 31. Kd3 Bb4 32. a3 Bc5 33. b4 Be7 34. Na5 Kd6 35. Kc4 Bg5 36. Kb3 Kd7 37. Ka4 Be3 38. Nc4 Bd4 39. Ka5 Kc7 40. Ka6 f6 41. a4 Bf2 42. b5 Bd4 43. Na5 cxb5 44. axb5 Kb8 45. Nc6+ Ka8 46. Nxa7 Bxa7 47. b6 f5 48. bxa7 1-0 [/pgn]

Chasing for the majority of the tournament was GM Igor Novikov, who stayed within striking distance but missed his chance in a pivotal seventh round as white against Benjamin, which ended in a draw. The tournament was nearly iced for Benjamin in the penultimate eighth round, when Novikov suffered his only defeat of the tournament against Yermolinsky.   

[pgn][Event "ch-USA Senior 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.10.19"] [Round "8.5"] [White "Yermolinsky, A.."] [Black "Novikov, I.."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2486"] [BlackElo "2554"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2020.10.17"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCategory "10"] [SourceTitle "The Week in Chess 1354"] [Source "Mark Crowther"] [SourceDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.10.20"] [SourceQuality "2"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. e3 Nf6 4. b3 c5 5. Bb2 Nc6 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Be2 Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Re8 11. Nd2 a6 12. N2f3 Ne5 13. Nxe5 Bxe5 14. h3 Bd7 15. Qd3 Rc8 16. a4 Qe7 17. Ba3 Bd6 18. Bxd6 Qxd6 19. Bf3 h6 20. Rfc1 Rxc1+ 21. Rxc1 Rc8 22. Rxc8+ Bxc8 23. Qc3 Bd7 24. a5 Kf8 25. b4 Ke7 26. Nb3 Be6 27. Nc5 Qc7 28. Qd4 Kf8 29. Kf1 Qc6 30. Ke1 Nd7 31. Kd2 Nxc5 32. Qxc5+ Qxc5 33. bxc5 Ke7 34. Kc3 Kd7 35. Bd1 Kc6 36. Kb4 Kc7 37. Ba4 Bd7 38. Bc2 Kc6 39. f4 g5 40. fxg5 hxg5 41. Ba4+ Kc7 42. Bxd7 Kxd7 43. Kc3 1-0 [/pgn]

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