Chess Trust Chairman Harold J. Winston Inducts 3 Grand Masters into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame

Nick de Firmian Joel Benjamin - Photo by Jennifer Shahade Larry Christiansen

3 GMS Inducted to U.S. Chess Hall of Fame
By Harold J. Winston, Chairman, US Chess Trust

On Saturday May 3, 2008, at the World Chess Hall of Fame and Sidney Samole Museum in Miami, Florida, GMs Joel Benjamin, Larry Christiansen, and Nick Defirmian were inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame by Chess Trust Chairman Harold J. Winston.

An audience of over 100 was present, including GM Yuri Averbakh of Russia, GM Susan Polgar of the USA, Chess Trust President Shane Samole, Former USCF Presidents Tim Redman (Chess Trust VP for Chess in Education), Don Schultz, and Harold Winston, Former USCF VP Frank Camaratta, Former USCF Executive Director Al Lawrence, Former USCF Editor and Executive Board Member Frank Brady, players from the US Senior Open,  Larry Kaugman (who won the US Senior open with a perfect score of 5 wins, no lesses or draws) , members of Chess Collectors International – President Dr. Thomas Thomsen of Germany, President Emeritus Dr. George Dean of the USA, and their spokesman Floyd Sarisohn, Chess Trust Executive Director Barbara DeMaro, and current USCF Executive Board member Paul Truong.

The 3 GMS each made brief remarks and Al Lawrence, Volunteer Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, presented them with replicas of the plaques that are now in the museum.

Each of the GMs contributed materials, now on display in the museum, including a photo of Nick DeFirmian at a demonstration board with dancing girls in front of him, taken in Sweden.

In introducing the GMs, Winston noted that they had “ably represented the U.S. in many Olympiads” as well as being top contenders in US tournaments in the 1980s, the 1990s, “and into the 21st century.”

All three have won three US Championships and each has one sole US Championship.

Curiously, when Joel Benjamin won his sole championship in 1997 he had to beat Larry Christiansen in the finale; when Nick DeFirmian won his sole championship in 1998, Nick had to beat Joel Benjamin at the end; and when Larry Christiansen won his in 2002, Larry had to finish with a win against Nick DeFirmian.

Joel Benjamin had prepared remarks, stating this was the “pinnacle” of his career and validated everything he had done. Joel praised Bill Goichberg’s innovative work in scholastic chess, and said he particularly enjoyed playing in the US Championships in estes Park, Colorado from 1985-1987 and playing on the USA team at the Olympiads. Joel applauded the Hall now inducting players at a younger age and said he would be able to enjoy this honor for a long time. He said it was “especially joyous because of the guys going in with me.” Joel said Larry and Nick had “showed him the ropes” and he had looked up to them.

Larry Christiansen told the audience that chess had been an ideal way to get him out of the house from 7-11 pm each evening. Larry said playing on the Olympiads for the USA had been “a hell of a lot of fun.”

Nick DeFirmian said playing in the Olympiads and the US Championship had been “great years” and ended: “Thank you so much by inducting me before I’m dead.”

Both Larry and Joel had their wives with them. Joel’s mother Phyllis Benjamin was also present, as was his uncle, Martin Merado, and other relatives. Also at the induction ceremony Floyd Sarisohn of CCI made a presentation to Shane Samole.

That evening at a banquet at the Boca Raton Marriott, site of the US Senior Open and of the Chess Collectors International meeting, Harold Winston inducted Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch into the World Chess Hall of Fame, in recognition of his great playing career and his chess teaching. FIDE had previously voted for Tarrasch’s installation.

Winston also summarized the achievements of GMS Benjamin, Christiansen, and DeFirmian. Susan Polgar gave a short speech, Larry Kaufman was recognized for winning the US Senior Open and other tournament awards were presented, and Chess Collectors International also recognized significant achievements of their members.

Don Schultz arranged for the banquet and Chess Trust Chairman Emeritus Harold Dondis was present.

Induction Speech By Harold Winston

We have three highly deserving inductees this year, who have ably represented the U.S. in many Olympiads and have been among the top contenders in America’s top tournaments in the 1980s, the 1990s, and on into the 21st century.

All of them have three U.S. Championships to their credit, each has one sole US Championship. Joel Benjamin beat Larry Christiansen in the finale to win in 1997; Nick DeFirmian had to beat Joel in the finale to win in 1998; and Larry had to beat Nick to win in 2002.

All have been separately recognized as Grandmaster of the year by the US Chess Federation. None of them has won the U.S. Senior Open yet, however.

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin has competed in a record 23 consecutive US Championships. In 1997, he took first place all alone; he tied for lst in 1987 and 2000.  Joel also has five second place finishes to his credit.  He’s played on six US Olympiad teams, winning silver and bronze medals.

Joel won an individual gold medal on the 1993 world best US World Team.  He’s won and tied for first at six World Opens and three U.S. Opens (1985, 2001, 2005).

Joel broke Fischer’s record for youngest US mater, became a GM in 1986, and served as consultant for IBM’s Deep Blue in its 1997 win vs. Gary Kasparov.

Joel was Grandmaster of the Year in 1998 for achievements in 1997, played Board 1 for Yale University when it won the Pan American Intercollegiate Championship in 1983 and was the first winner of the Samford Fellowship in 1987.

Joel has chess parents, his late father, Alan Benjamin, who I greatly respected, was NY State Chess Assn. President and a USCF Committee Chairman; his mother Phyllis, who is present, has also been active in NYSCA (as Secretary) and in USCF committee work.

Larry Christiansen

Larry Christiansen, born in 1956, has won 3 US Championships, and was sole champion in 2002.

He’s represented the U.S. on eleven Olympiad teams and on the 1993 winning team in the World Team Championship. Larry won 15 international tournaments, including Linares 1979, Linares 1981, Munich 1991, Vienna 1991, Reykjavik 1998. Larry won three U.S Junior Championships, in 1973, 1974, and 1975.

He became a Grandmaster in 1977, at 21 years old, without having been an International Master first, a very rare achievement. Larry is among the greatest attacking American players in history and author of acclaimed books emphasizing attack in chess. He was Grandmaster of the Year in 2002, served as editor of Players Chess News for four years, won 3 U.S. Opens, sole champion in 1986, and for 10 years was a member of the top team in the German Budeslig, and was known as the “killer from Porz.”

Nick DeFirmian

Nick DeFirmian was another 3 time US Championship winner, sole champion in 1998. He represented the U.S. nine times at Olympiads, eight times as a player, once as team captain. Nick was Grandmaster of the Year in 1998 and won six of seven international tournaments he entered that year.  Nick was editor of the 13th, 14th and 15th editions of a chess classic, Modern Chess Openings.

Nick became a grandmaster in 1985, was sole winner of the World Open in 1986 and tied for lst in 1982. He has won the American Open, the US Open, served as President of Prochess from 1986-1990, and is considered one of the most popular players of his generation.

Siegbert Tarrasch (World Hall of Fame)

Tarrasch in Dresden 1892

Photo – Dresden 1892
Standing: Heyde, Schmid, Blackburne, Noa, Hoffer, von Scheve, Walbrodt, Zwanzig
Sitting: Loman, Schottländer, Winawer, Mason, Schallopp, von Bardeleben, Tarrasch, Mieses, Albin, Alapin

Siegbert Tarrasch of Germany (1862-1934) a medical doctor, was one of the top players in the world from about 1890-1914. He won four major tournaments in succession, from Breslau, 1889, to Leipzig, 1894. Tarrasch decisively defeated Frank Marshall in 1905 in a match by 8 wins to 1 win, with 8 draws. Tarrash lost a world championship match to Dr. Emmanuel Lasker in 1908.

Tarrasch was one of the five original Grandmasters as one of the finalists at St. Petersburg, 1914. He was the most influential chess teacher of his time; variations in the French Defense, Queens Gambit and Ruy Lopez are named after him. His books include The Game of Chess and his famous quote is: “Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.”

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