GM Joel Benjamin Did Not Do His Homework

In the fourth round of the US Senior Chess Championship being held at the St. Louis Chess Campus International Master Igor Khmelnitsky,

Igor Khmelnitsky wins Irwin en.chessbase.com

with the white pieces, faced Grandmaster Joel Benjamin.

The game began:

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 d6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Qa5 5.Qe2

Position after 5 Qe2

Regular readers know of my predilection for this particular move of the Queen, but that stems from the famous Chigorin move in the French defense after 1 e4 e6 2 Qe2, and not because the move putting the Queen in front of the King should be played just because it is possible. After Joel played 4…Qa5 Igor had a small advantage which was larger than if his opponent had played the choice of Stockfish, 4…Qb6. Igor’s choice of 5 Qe2 jettisoned the advantage. Why would any titled player make such a move? The SF program at Lichess.com shows the best move is 5 Bd2. Here’s the deal, after 5…e5 6.dxe5 dxe5, white plays 7 Bd2. After the following moves, 7…Na6 8.a3 Be6 9.Nf3 O-O-O 10.Nd5 Qa4 11.Nxf6 gxf6 12.b3 this position is reached:

Position after 12 b3

Yasser Seirawan, Christian Chirila, and Alejandro Ramirez, were big on the exchange sacrifice after the move 12…Rxd2, which they, and the ‘engine’ liked. The question was would Joel pull the trigger?

The plan had been to use this game in the previous post in lieu of the game with Shabalov so there would be two exchange sacrifices rather than the possible sacrifice of the knight on f7, which Joel declined. That was prior to my doing the due diligence that should have been done earlier. I did not go to 365Chess.com and check out the opening because, well, you know, who in his right mind would play such a lame move as 5 Qe2 in that position? What was found rocked the AW. Not only had the move of the Queen been previously played but it had been played against non other than GM Joel Benjamin!

Cemil Can Ali Marandi (2552) vs Joel Benjamin (2526)
Event: St Louis Winter B 2018
Site: Saint Louis USA Date: 11/07/2018
Round: 3.3
ECO: A45 Queen’s pawn game
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 d6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Qa5 5.Qe2 e5 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Bd2 Bg4 8.f3 Be6 9.g4 Nbd7 10.h4 b5 11.Nd5 b4 12.Qa6 Qxa6 13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.Nxe6+ fxe6 15.Bxa6 Nc5 16.Bc4 a5 17.a3 Rb8 18.axb4 axb4 19.Nh3 Bd6 20.Ra7 Nfd7 21.Ke2 h6 22.g5 Ke7 23.gxh6 gxh6 24.Rg1 Kf6 25.Nf2 h5 26.Bg5+ Kf7 27.Be3 Rb7 28.Raa1 Be7 29.Bg5 Nb6 30.Bd3 b3 31.Bxe7 Rxe7 32.Rg5 Kf6 33.Rag1 Rhh7 34.f4 Reg7 35.Nh3 Nxd3 36.cxd3 Rxg5 37.hxg5+ Kg6 38.fxe5 Rf7 39.Ke3 1-0
https://www.365chess.com/game.php?back=1&gid=4152899&m=10

It was then obvious why Igor had played the move of the Queen. Joel had lost the game played years ago, so Igor, after doing his due diligence, decided to play it again while putting the question to GM Benjamin. Had Joel done his homework? One would assume GM Benjamin would have spent much time replaying and annotating the lost game because even lower rated players will scrutinize their losses, so that in the event the same position occurs on the board in a future game they will be prepared and have an answer. Obviously, this did not happen in this case, and it cost Joel dearly. This position was reached in both games after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 d6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Qa5 5.Qe2 e5 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Bd2:

Position after 7 Bd2

When seeing the position for the first time GM Benjamin played 7…Bg4. He played a different move against Igor:

IM Igor Khmelnitsky vs GM Joel Benjamin
2022 US Senior Chess Championship
ECO: A45 Queen’s pawn game
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 d6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Qa5 5.Qe2 e5 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Bd2 Na6 8.a3 Be6 9.Nf3 O-O-O 10.Nd5 Qa4 11.Nxf6 gxf6 12.b3 Qb5 13.Qxb5 cxb5 14.Be3 Bc5 15.Bxb5 Bxe3 16.fxe3 Nc5 17.Nd2 Rhg8 18.g3 h5 19.b4 Nd7 20.Bd3 h4 21.Kf2 Nb6 22.a4 hxg3+ 23.hxg3 Kd7 24.a5 Nc8 25.Rh6 Ke7 26.Rf1 Rh8 27.Rfh1 Rxh6 28.Rxh6 Nd6 29.Rh1 Rc8 30.Ke1 Ba2 31.Kd1 Be6 32.Kc1 Rg8 33.Rg1 Rh8 34.Kb2 Rh2 35.Kc3 Bd7 36.a6 b6 37.Nc4 Nb5+ 38.Kb2 Nc7 39.Na3 Bc8 40.b5 Ne6 41.Kc3 Nc5 42.g4 Rh8 43.g5 fxg5 44.Rxg5 Kf6 45.Rg2 Bd7 46.Rg1 Rc8 47.Kb4 Be6 48.Nc4 Bxc4 49.Rf1+ Kg7 50.Bxc4 Rc7 51.Bd5 Rd7 52.Ra1 Rc7 53.Ra3 Kf8 54.Bc6 Ke7 55.Ra1 Kd6 56.Bd5 Ke7 57.Rh1 f6 58.Rh8 Rd7 59.Rc8 Rd8 60.Rc7+ Rd7 61.Rxc5 bxc5+ 62.Kxc5 Rd6 63.c4 Kd7 64.Kb4 Kc7 65.c5 Rd8 66.b6+ Kb8 67.c6 axb6 68.c7+ 1-0
https://lichess.org/broadcast/us-senior-championship-2022/round-4/SuM3mEGU

After surfin’ on over to the analysis program at Lichess.com it was learned the best move in the position, according to the Stockfish program, is 7…Bc5, something Joel should have known. I have previously written about how the programs are revolutionizing the opening phase of the game and how older players who refuse to do their homework are being cut to pieces, metaphorically speaking, over the board (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2022/06/04/ben-finegold-loses-to-alexander-shabalov-before-drawing-out-the-string/). It is not my intention to judge any player too harshly because we are still in a pandemic. The play has been erratic, if not atrociously abominable, replete with what Yasser likes to call “howler” moves being made with regularity. Still, coming to the board without being prepared is unforgivable. Older players simply MUST forget most of what they have learned about the openings they play and look at them with “new eyes.” The days of getting by with what you know, Joe, are over. It is no longer possible for older players to “wing it.” Seniors can no longer say, “I’ve had this position a million times!” It no longer matters how well one thinks he knows the opening because, as Bob Dylan sang, “Things Have Changed.”

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