12-year-old Kfar Sava Girl Defeats 20 Men (In Chess Tournament)

Thousands of chess aficionados from all over the world learned something new this week. The games of the Israel International Championship in chess were broadcast on the Internet directly from the community center in Ma'alot-Tarshiha.

But chess fans around the world could not really see the Galilee panoramas. The Net cameras were focused mainly on the chessboards where the black and white pieces moved, but the organizers noted with satisfaction that the prestigious competition exposed the city to the entire world.

Rami Tal, the tournament's organizer for the Israel Chess Federation, did not over the last few days conceal his excitement about the fact that the international competition was indeed taking place in an outlying area. Tal related that the last such tournament in this format held in Israel was 15 years ago.

"We're used to international tournaments taking place in the center of the country, but it was no coincidence that Ma'alot-Tarshiha was chosen: The quiet character of the city, unlike the major cities in the center of the country, is suited to the nature of the game," said Tal. "And, anybody who followed the tournament over the Internet also happened to read about the place where it was being held, a city in the western Galilee where Jews and Arabs coexist."

The Ma'alot-Tarshiha municipality and the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport also helped organize the tournament.

It turns out that Ma'alot-Tarshiha also hosts other international tournaments. "This year the city hosted for the third time an international fencing competition and I hope that the international chess championships will also become a tradition here," Mayor Shlomo Buhbut said yesterday. "True, it's an area that doesn't bring large crowds like soccer does, but it is something that puts us on the international map."

"Some of the participants in the chess tournament were very impressed by the scenery in the area and so everything combines together: a game of intelligence and thinking, awareness of coexistence between Jews and Arabs and bringing the periphery to many surfers on the Internet via chess," says Tal.

The Ma'alot-Tarshiha municipality is already thinking about turning the chess tournament into a tradition. On one hand, it does not eat up many resources and, on the other hand, it exposes the city to a large audience.

The most important official event of the tournament took place on Tuesday in a long row of chess games played by grandmasters from Israel, Ukraine, Poland and Germany. At the same time, dozens of Jews and Arabs participated in the Galilee competition, which offered $20,000 in total prize money.

But most of the spotlight was on a simultaneous exhibition match between a 12-year-old Israeli girl, Marsel Efroimski, and 20 chess players seated next to each other who waited anxiously for the young girl's fast-paced moves. Efroimski, the child of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, lives in Kfar Sava and is a seventh grade student. She says that since age eight, she has been playing chess. Her inspiration and her primary influences came from her father and grandfather.

"Chess is a game that requires a lot of thought," Efroimski said. "I know that it's not a game that draws crowds, but it's a very interesting game and in Ma'alot-Tarshiha, there were actually people who were interested and came to watch the games or participate."

The 20 courageous players did not stand much of a chance against the girl who in November was crowned the world youth chess champion in the under-12 girls category at the championships that were held in Turkey. The title earned her an invitation to receive the congratulations of President Shimon Peres.

Within an hour of beginning the chess matches at the community center in Ma'alot-Tarshiha, 20 victories were credited to Efroimski, who stood throughout the entire competition, as is customary, and merely sprinted from one chessboard to the next.