Israel's national chess team won a bronze medal on Sunday at the 39th Chess Olympiad, coming in third among 148 teams in the event, held in the northern Russian town of Khanty-Mansiysk.
The Israeli team won silver at the Olympiad two years ago. Ranked 11th before the event, the team outplayed chess powers from the United States, Armenia (champion at two previous Olympiads ) and third-ranked China.
Ukraine won the gold medal for the second time, scoring 19 points, one point ahead of the favorite, Russia, which came in second.
Israel accumulated 17 points in 11 rounds with seven team victories, two draws and a loss. Hungary, which also won 17 points, had to make do with the fourth place after Israel won the match between them.
Israel's opening matches did not bode well. After a technical victory over Yemen in the first round (the latter was absent for political reasons ), Israel ended with two draws with Indonesia and France, barely defeated Moldova and lost to Russia's third-string team. The last defeat put Israel somewhere around 50th place.
The team then enjoyed five consecutive victories, including defeats of the Netherlands, Hungary and the United States. In the final round against Ukraine's first team, all four matches ended in draws. The 2-2 result was enough for the Ukrainians to win the gold medal and for Israel to take the bronze, an outcome that would have seemed impossible a week ago.
Both Israeli medals were won under the leadership of the team captain, Grandmaster Alon Greenfeld.
The bronze medal is essentially no less an accomplishment than the silver Israel earned two years ago at the Leipzig Olympiad, as the world's top teams put together their best players for this year's competition.
Grandmaster Emil Sutovsky won a phenomenal 6.5 points in eight games (plus the technical triumph over Yemen ) and was awarded a special 5,000 euro prize.
Israel's highest-ranked chess player, Boris Gelfand, scored a solid result on the first board (4.5 points out of 9 ), and Ilya Smirin scored 5 points out of 7, including a victory over Grandmaster Judit Polgar. Widely regarded as the best female chess player in history, she plays on the Hungarian men's team.
The youngest Israeli player, 20-year-old Maxim Rodstein, earned 6.5 points in 10 games and Victor Mikhalevski scored 5.5 points out of 9.
Israel Chess Union chairman Aviv Bushinsky called on the government yesterday to declare chess a national sport and earmark the required resources for it.
Although chess is a leading sport in Israel and Israeli chess players have won a number of youth world championships, it receives meager allocations from the sports authorities.
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