USCF Home arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2006 arrow September arrow Irina Blogs from Israel: Part I.
Irina Blogs from Israel: Part I. Print E-mail
By Irina Krush   
September 25, 2006
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Irina in Israel

I decided to visit Israel at the Turin Olympiad in May, when I heard from my friend Emil Sutovsky that the Ashdod Open would take place for the third time this September (previous editions were held in October 2003 and December 2004). I remembered that the tournament had been strong in the past, and, in addition, I was further tempted by the possibility of spending some time in Israel. I gave myself almost a week to be a tourist before the tournament, and a few days after. Of course, at some point after I’d booked my ticket, the war with Lebanon started, and I wasn’t even sure that I’d go, but in the end things settled down and I didn’t see a reason to cancel the trip. However, apparently not everyone took that position, because most of the foreign players that were registered to take part in Ashdod didn’t show up, and the organizers made a point of thanking the few foreign participants for not being afraid to come to Israel.

I was in Israel once before, for about a week at the end of 1999, and about the only touristy thing that I did there was go on a one-day excursion to Jerusalem; the rest of the time I spent with my relatives in Beer-Sheva, preparing for my next tournament. The Jerusalem trip was alright, one could call it ‘interesting’, but it really wasn’t my kind of city. Its air of religiosity just weighed down on me. So this time around I decided to base myself in Tel-Aviv, which I figured was Israel’s New York, since my Fodor’s guidebook says of it, “Proud residents call it the city that never stops, and if you don’t believe them, just come around 4 AM, when you may find yourself waiting in line for a table at a café or stuck in a traffic jam at Hayarkon street.”


By the end of my trip in Israel, I insisted on being at the beach around 6 pm in order to catch the sunset.

Well, I am happy to report that Fodor’s description of Tel-Aviv life was right on target; indeed, cafes are full late into the night, and a couple of times I found myself having dinner at 1 AM. Of course, there’s one big difference between staying out late in NY and in Tel-Aviv: in Tel-Aviv people are out not just in cafes, or bars, or discos; they’re also simply outside, on the beach, strolling about, because there is absolutely no sense that it’s dangerous. Perhaps the feeling of security comes partly from the old saying ‘there is safety in numbers’, but even in less crowded areas people don’t go around fearing that they’ll be robbed or worse. Speaking of security, the first time I got on a bus I was a little nervous, and carefully inspected the faces of my fellow passengers, but the threat of suicide bombings doesn’t prevent people here from taking buses, going to shopping malls, or frequenting cafes and restaurants. And fortunately in 2006 there has been a subsidence in such attacks, the last one having been in April.

What I really loved about Israel: the beaches. Morning, evening, or night (not in the scorching afternoons), it was always a pleasure to swim in the clean, warm, beautiful waters of the Mediterranean.

My week of fun and sun in Israel coincided with the World Blitz Championship (Sept 5-8), held in the nearby city of Rishon-le-Zion, so I took a timeout from my sightseeing to step back into the world of chess on the evening of September 7th. I have to say, this event was an entertaining show! All eight games were transmitted on large screens above the playing stage, with only a fairly short delay in move transmission. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to follow 8 blitz games at once, so I’d choose two of the most interesting match-ups and go back and forth between them.

Early charge
The early leader, with a start of 4/4, was Judit Polgar, whose father Laszlo and husband Guszstav sat watching the games together; after each round, her husband would climb onto the stage and enter what was probably some kind of player’s room, to talk to her. Judit seems very at ease with blitz; she played quickly and confidently, and was among the leaders for most of the way. She defeated American GM Dmitry Gurevich with a nice finish:




GM Judit Polgar, with GM Dmitry Gurevich in the background.

In fact, only 1 point separated her from the winners in the end, and it was a point that could easily have been hers: somewhere in the second half of the event, she achieved a winning position (at least for blitz it should be!) against Sergey Erenburg, and she had about 2 minutes to his 2 seconds (there was a few seconds of increment though). With 3 minor pieces, Judit had 4 pawns to Erenburg’s 3 on the kingside, but suddenly I looked at the board and Judit had only 2 minor pieces left! A knight had disappeared from a6; now Erenburg’s bishop stood there. Judit had inexplicably blundered her knight, and thanks to the increment Erenburg was able to win the game.


A major blunder from the early tournament leader, Judit Polgar.

Scrambles for 14,000$+ first prize

There were many exciting games; another memorable one, especially since it was very close to the end and important to the standings, was Grischuk-Anand.



Grischuk sacrificed a knight on g5 for Anand’s two kingside pawns (Anand was already castled) and maintained an offensive throughout the entire game. Whether he was always winning or not, I couldn’t tell, but I think that at some point Anand blundered since he started shaking his head.

Going into the final round there were 4 people tied for first place (!!): Svidler, Grischuk, Radjabov and Anand, and what’s more, none of them were playing the weakest players in the field, so it promised to be a great finale. The pairings were: Anand-Gelfand, Bacrot-Radjabov, Sutovsky-Grischuk, and Svidler-Carlsen. The suspense was maintained right up to the very last round. Try as they did, Raja and Anand weren’t able to break through, while Grischuk and Svidler both won in crunch time. They faced each other in the Armageddon game for the title. Grischuk had White and 4 minutes; Svidler had 5 minutes and draw odds.



It looked like Grischuk was winning from the opening, but then the game went into an endgame where he had 2 rooks + 3 pawns versus rook+knight+4 pawns (all pawns on the kingside). It seemed like Svidler had reasonable chances for the draw, and he might very well have been drawing until the very end, but he made some blitz-type blunder and the game, the title of World Blitz Champion and 14,400$ went to Alexander Grischuk.

Our Man in Israel

We had one man representing the American flag in this tournament: GM Dmitry Gurevich. Dmitry qualified by posting a superb second place performance in an August 20 Internet Chess Club qualifier for two open spots, with 153 players including over 20 Grandmasters.

GM Dmitry Gurevich.

It wasn’t easy for Dmitry in Israel, and he confided to me after it was all over that his goal had been to score at least half a point, which he happily surpassed; he scored 4 points, including a wins over 2700+ players Peter Svidler and Etienne Bacrot. He left the bottom rankings to two Israeli IM’s who scored 3.5. His win against Bacrot was smooth:



The highlight of the closing ceremony was the speech of Shimon Peres, who has been a big figure in Israeli politics for decades, serving in all kinds of government posts, from Minister of Foreign Affairs to Minister of Defense to Minister of Finance and even Prime Minister from 1984-1986. He made a nice speech which he started off by saying that he came to the tournament to see wise men, because that’s what the Israeli government needs: men that think ahead.

One speech-giver mentioned that wrestling and football events had been cancelled in Israel because of the recent situation (ie: World Wrestling Entertainment had scheduled its Smackdown shows in Tel-Aviv for September 14-15 but cancelled, saying that ‘no insurance company would agree to insure the wrestlers’), and he thanked the chess players for coming and showing that Israel is capable of hosting sporting events. Another man rather funnily thanked the players for coming to our “normal, peaceful country.” It would never occur to me to try to portray a country in a positive light by calling it ‘normal’, but that just shows the mentality gap between Israelis and most of the world; I guess in a country that’s as abnormal as Israel, the appearance of ‘normalcy’ is a good thing. Overall, there was the impression that the Israelis really appreciated having been able to successfully organize an international event in the aftermath of the Lebanon war, when clearly many groups and individuals are hesitating to come to the country.

Part II of Irina's Israeli blog will appear next week.

Final standings of the World Blitz Championship

  Name
Points
TB (SB)
Wins
Prize ($)
1 Grischuk
10.5
72
10
$14.400
2 Svidler
10.5
72.75
9
$10.800
3 Radjabov
10
67.25
8
$6750
4 Anand
10
64.7
8
$6750
5 Polgar
9.5
67
7
$5625
6 Gelfand
9.5
63
8
$5625
7 Bacrot
8
62.5
6
$4950
8 Carlsen
7.5
51.5
5
$4500
9 Erenburg
7
46.5
6
$3450
10 Sutovsky
7
45.5
4
$3450
11 Gagunashvili
7
45
4
$3450
12 Roiz
6.5
41.25
5
$2700
13 Smirin
6
40.5
2
$2700
14 Gurevich
4
29
3
$2700
15 Zoler
3.5
24.75
2
$2700
16 Lifshitz
3.5
18.75
2
$2700
 
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