Boris Gelfand
Boris Gelfand, in center, at a press conference. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Israel may soon lose the chance to host one of the most important sports events of 2012 - the duel for the world championship in chess between incumbent world champion Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand of India and Grandmaster Boris Gelfand of Israel.

The Israeli Chess Federation announced yesterday at a press conference in Eilat that Moscow appears to be the likeliest candidate for hosting the prestigious competition. The Russian federation, which recently received a $3 million dollar donation from a chess-loving philanthropist, has already made its bid to the World Chess Federation (FIDE ). The Russian bid is higher than the requested minimum, and guarantees not only the tax-free million-euros award fund and the 20 percent commission fee to FIDE, but also full coverage of all taxes and expenses. The Russians propose holding the duel in one of Moscow's renowned museums, either at the Tretyakov Gallery or at the Pushkin Museum.

The Israeli Chess Federation asked FIDE for a month-long extension, until July 30, in the hope of raising the funds that would allow it to contest the Russian proposal. The federation's chair, Moshe Shalev, voiced hope that the contest may still take place in Jerusalem, but the chances would now appear to hinge on the assistance of Jewish Agency chairman Nathan Sharansky, a chess player at candidate to master level in his own right.

Israel Gelfer, vice president of the world federation, said yesterday that the Israeli bid would have to be significantly higher than the Russian one since the federation would prefer a neutral host state. The Russians, for their part, see hosting the Anand-Gelfand battle as a great privilege. No championship games have been held in Russia for over 20 years since the meeting between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, two the greatest chess players of all times.

Gelfand said he began training for the challenge in August, 10 months before the scheduled game. "I'll prepare day to day, hour to hour," promised Israel's leading chess player. "If the challenge does happen in Moscow, I'll be ready - it's still the world capital of chess." Gelfand said he felt his chances of winning the champion title were "good," but added he recognized the strength of his Indian rival.

Next week the Israeli national chess team, minus Gelfand, will leave for the world chess championship games in China. The Israeli team won medals in the last two Olympics. The team's captain, Grandmaster Alon Greenfield, said the prestigious contest is attended by 10 of the world's best chess teams.

"Obviously, without Gelfand our chances for a medal are lower, but I had no hesitation about allowing him to skip the contest," he said. "Gelfand is facing the challenge of his life and in a team as close as our own, the good of the individual is as important as the common good."

The Israeli Chess Federation will host Europe's clubs championship in Eilat next year. The contest will bring nearly 1,000 senior chess players, including some of the top grandmasters in the world. Israel currently has 37 grandmasters and 47 world masters, putting it ahead of the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and England, among others.