While most of the world's chess eyes were focused on the beginning of the Gary Kasparov-Anatoly Karpov world title match last fall, the 1987 US Championship was held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo. The co-winners were Grandmasters Joel Benjamin and Nick deFirmian, who scored 8-5 each in a hard-fought and close contest. Only half points divided the top half of the field: Benjamin and deFirmian with 8 each; GMs John Fedorowicz, Yasser Seirawan, Maxim Dlugy, and International Master Michael Wilder tied for 3rd-6th at 7; and GM Boris Gulko with 7 points.
Benjamin had finished in second place the last two years, with a better scoring percentage than he achieved in this year's event. Joel recently showed that his result was a good warm-up, as he won a strong Swiss International event held concurrently with the Candidates matches in Saint John, New Brunswick.
For deFirmian, meanwhile, the success in Colorado was quite a reversal from last year's US championship, in which he finished last.
Today's featured game is exciting but flawed, and is another example of how the time clock could have affected an important event. Had deFirmian lost on time, as he came so close to doing, Benjamin would have been the lone titlist and deFirmian would have dropped six places in the standings. Of course, this sort of possibility occurs in many crucial games.
deFirmian Rohde 1. P-K4 P-QB4 2. N-KB3 P-Q3 3. P-Q4 PxP 4. NxP N-KB3 5. N-QB3 P-K3 6. P-B4 P-QR3 7. B-Q3 (a) B-K2 8. O-O O-O 9. K-R1 QN-Q2 10. Q-B3 Q-N3 11. N/Q-K2 Q-B2 12. P-QN4 P-QN3 (b) 13. B-N2 B-N2 14. Q-R3 P-Q4 15. P-K5 N-K5 16. N-N3 NxN ch 17. PxN P-N3 18. P-R3 P-QN4 19. P-B5 (c) KPxP 20. RxP P-Q5 (d) 21. Q-R6! (e) B-N4 22. RxB PxN 23. R-R5 KR-K1 24. QxRP ch K-B1 25. Q-R6 ch K-K2 26. Q-N5 ch K-K3 27. Q-N4 ch K-K2 28. Q-N5 ch K-K3 29. BxKNP (f) NxP 30. B-B5 ch K-Q3 31. R-Q1 ch B-Q4 32. R-R6 ch R-K3 33. BxR PxB 34. B-B1 K-B3 35. B-B4 N-B2 36. QxB ch K-N3 (g) 37. B-K3 ch Resigns
A.This is a more aggressive post than K2, but the bishop may be exposed to an exchange via a Black N-QB3, N-N5, or even a QN-Q2, N-B4 maneuver.
B.More aggressive was 12.... P-QN4, intending N-N3, but White would have responded 13.P-QR4, which would have gained some positional advantage.
C.White is mounting a virulent attack with this pseudo-sacrifice.
D.Black does his best by blocking off one of the White bishops. Of course, Rohde could not consider 20.... PxR; 21.QxP, when mate is simply inevitable.
E.The culmination of White's combination. The threat is now 22.R-R5. Black's actual reply is a blunder. He had to try 21.... KR-B1, when White has many dangerous possibilities, such as 22. QR-KB1; or 22.R-R5; or finally 22.RxP, KxR; 23.P-K6 ch, but I confess I can't find any clear forced win for White.
F.Normally Black would be expected to resign after this shot, but the complications of the game had forced both players into extreme time pressure, and White in particular had but a few seconds remaining on his clock to complete his 40 moves.
G.At this point a curious phenomenon occurred. Both players had been moving swiftly and punching the clock virtually instantaneously when Black played the illegal move 36.... PxQ. This momentarily confused deFirmian, who justified his nickname of ``Mr. Cool'' by replying 37.RxK.
Almost simultaneously the tournament director noticed that deFirmian's flag had fallen and declared a time forfeit.
After a consultation with the rule book the director adjudged that the illegal move should be penalized, and he awarded a few more seconds to White. When Black replaced 36.... PxQ and endeavored to pound the clock on his way to 36.... K-N3, he actually knocked his own king over, so that it sprawled across the B6 and N7 squares.
DeFirmian's flag once again fell, but the referee felt compelled to give Nick some more time, at which point Rohde resigned under protest (the protest was later withdrawn). Championships are occasionally won and lost in such time scrambles.
Arthur Bisguier, an international grandmaster for more than 30 years, is a former United States champion and has won or shared the US Open title five times. He played in the Chess Olympiads of 1953, '58, '60, and '64. He is technical adviser to Chess Life magazine.