America's Newest Grandmaster
Most chess players would be thrilled to be an International Master for 20 years, but I am certain that Ben Finegold was overjoyed to finally drop the IM title after winning his 3rd GM norm at Susan Polgar’s SPICE Cup Invitational in September.
Born in Detroit in 1969, Ben Finegold becomes not only America’s newest GM but also Michigan’s first. A member of a strong chess family, Ben first learned the game at age 5, became a chess master at age 14 and an IM when he was 20.
Among his many accomplishments, Finegold tied for 1st place in the U.S. Open Championships in 1994 and 2007, the 2002 World Open, and the 2005 and 2008 National Open Championships.
I have seen Ben often at the chess club and at tournaments hosted by All the King’s Men Chess Supplies (ATKM) in Warren, Michigan. While I cannot say I have actually met him, I can say that I once played his father in a tournament that Ben ended up winning. (I’ll let you guess how I did against his father.)
A few years ago I watched Ben give a 6-game blindfold simul demonstration at ATKM where he won five games and drew the last. I have described this event in a previous blog as one of the two humanly impossible, yet real mental displays, that I have personally witnessed, the other being simultaneous translation of language.
It was during that simul when I discovered Ben’s sense of humor and easy-going nature. He is immediately likable, and this impression has been confirmed by the various descriptions of him that I have found on the web, including his biography on the US Chess Federation’s website. His sense of humor is also on display here on chess.com in a recent guest article that he wrote on the US Women’s Championship.
While Ben is well-known for his chess prowess, a lesser-known skill is on display in this YouTube video of Ben engaged in armed combat at ATKM with Forrest Reddick, a local celebrity.
Dylan McClain in the New York Times characterizes Ben as a patient, steady player who methodically builds on small advantages until his opponent succumbs to the pressure, and I can confirm the truth of this observation. I once watched him forsake winning an exchange in order to build horrific pressure against a master-level opponent, who was forced to sacrifice a rook in order to relieve that pressure only to lose in the end.
McClain cited the following game from his recent SPICE Cup performance as an example of this style of play. The annotations are McClain’s.
You can also observe his methodical style of play in this game when Finegold defeated Boris Gelfand in 1989, the same year Gelfand became a GM. The annotations are from the current issue of online chess magazine Chess Check.
In a recent blog entry, Finegold announces that he will be moving from Ann Arbor to accept a new position as Grandmaster-in-residence at St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center in January. While his loss will be a heavy blow for his numerous friends and followers in Michigan, we congratulate Ben on his new job in St. Louis and for achieving his status as America’s Newest Grandmaster .