MOSCOW - The opening ceremony last week of the World Chess Championships here in the Russian capital was filled with dignitaries.
The former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov (a former chairman of the Russian Chess Federation ), and Arkady Dvorkovich, the assistant to the Russian president, were all in attendance. The Indian ambassador to Russia, who came in honor of defending champion Viswanathan Anand, was seated in a prominent location, listening to the phenomenal performance of pianist Denis Matsuev.
Booking Matsuev for a concert is a bit like getting internationally-renowned soccer player Lionel Messi to come for a one-off gig at Tel Aviv's Bloomfield Stadium. Matsuev is a concert pianist of the first order whose calendar is booked through December 2013.
But someone was glaringly missing from the Tretyakov State Gallery - someone who should have been there, not as a nice gesture but as an official representative of Israel, from whence Boris Gelfand, the challenger, came. But Israel's ambassador to Russia was nowhere to be found. Apparently, chess just doesn't rank in terms of cultural importance in the Holy Land. But who knows? Maybe there's another reason for the ambassador's absence, and Gelfand will get a telephone call from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But despite their representatives, Israelis are indeed showing their pride and support for Gelfand. Many hard-core chess fans have come to Moscow to see the match in person, as opposed to following it online like tens of thousands of others are doing. Several of these Israelis arrived a few days before the match, even though lodging in one of the world's most expensive cities requires both daring and deep pockets.
And those aren't even the bulk of Gelfand's supporters, who are expected to arrive next week. That group includes several high-ranking chess players and a fair number of amateurs who decided to combine a tour of Moscow's countless historical sites with the final stage of the match.
Over the past few days, some of these amateur and professional chess players have gathered in Israel to watch the match. "Of course, the chess players are excited about this," says Yoav Nissenbaum, a member of the Israel Chess Federation. "This is the first time that an Israeli has made it to the world championship."
Ido Ben Artzi, a 17-year-old grandmaster, says that he hardly misses a single move in the match. "I try to get home in time. I go over the game and see what I think of every single move, without relying on the commentary for help. That's how I put myself in the players' places."
Nissenbaum is also eager to catch every moment of the world championship. "Even when I'm traveling, I take out my iPhone, head over to the website and watch," he says. "It's thrilling." At least someone has noticed.
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