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During the pause before the tiebreaker, Benen re-created from memory every move in both games and explained superior moves with which either player could have won. It was all black-did-this and white-did-that and black-should-have-done-this. The players and the spectators huddled around the board, awed by how quickly and precisely Benen worked. Minutes later, when he explained the International Chess Federation rules for a tiebreaker, nobody fussed at all.
Rutherford drew black, which gave him two handicaps: He would play second, and he would have only five minutes on his clock, while white would have six. But he had one major advantage: Under the tiebreaker rules, a draw for black would be considered a win.
From the first move, the room was tense. The tournament had taken on an outsized importance because there's little chance of being recognized for anything when serving a life sentence. Gooding went up a pawn early and won in 27 moves. He shook Rutherford's hand with a slap, high-fived his friends, poured himself a cup of coffee and prepared for Benen.
Gooding drew white for the first game against the Princeton kid. For much of the game he sat with his head in his hands, hunched over his pieces. Benen's eyes wandered all over the room. Hendricks thought it was an act, to give the impression that the match didn't require his full attention, but at a certain point it did. Benen kept waiting for Gooding to make a mistake, but Gooding made one sound move after another. The final two minutes of the game were played at a furious pace: Make a move, hit the clock; make a move, hit the clock. It was like the final seconds of a prizefight that's tied on points, when the boxers, sucking wind, get in a flurry of last-chance punches. It was a monster of a game. Benen won after his 56th move, when Gooding ran out of time. The inmate was spent. In the second game Benen played white and won easily.
When it was over, Benen told Gooding, "At Move 44 [of the first game] you could have had me." He quickly re-created their positions on the board. "Had you done this, this and this"—he went through a long series of moves and countermoves—"you could have drawn me."
I asked Roy Hendricks if he would consider allowing a rematch. "Yes," he said. "This was good."
"How about a home game for Sam?" I asked, meaning Gooding would go to Princeton, three decades after his uncle had left.
"No," the warden said slowly. "No. No. No. No way."
The inmates had surrounded Benen, looking to get his autograph. Phillip Dixon, the poet of "scribbled signatures," was among them.
Before Gooding went back to his cell, he said to me, "I played him better than you ever thought I could, didn't I." He wasn't asking a question. He doesn't do that much. He was stating a fact.