Five hundred high-powered minds will convene this evening at Heichal Hatarbut in Rishon Letzion for the opening of the World Blitz Championship, a chess tournament with a purse totaling $100,000.
Participants will include the Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, ranked number two in the world; the world's best woman player, Hungarian grandmaster Judit Polgar, who competes in men's competitions; the child prodigy of world chess, 14-year-old Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen; and several other giants of the game, such as grandmasters Peter Svidler of Russia, Boris Gelfand of Israel and Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan.
Blitz chess is played by the usual chess rules, but instead of taking hours, each contestant is allotted just five minutes total for all of his moves. More than half of all games are decided because a player's time is up, not because of any move on the board (however, in most cases the player who stalled is also the one whose pieces were in an inferior position). Each player has a stop watch, which he hits immediately after moving one of his pieces. Because the competition takes place at an especially fast pace, it seems to the spectator that he is watching a sped up tape of a regular chess game.
Some term blitz chess championships "marathon runners competing in a hundred-meter dash," but while athletic competitions require completely different physical capabilities from short- and long-distance runners, in chess competitions, brain muscles display great flexibility. There is therefore considerable overlap between the list of great chess players and the list of great blitz players, many of whom will be competing this week.
The world championship in Rishon Letzion, under the auspices of the world chess federation (FIDE), is the main event of a larger "chess festival" that includes the Israeli blitz chess open championship, the Israel Defense Forces' championship, a mass simultaneous game, a world children's championship and a particularly exciting duel between man and machine: Israel's national chess team in a series of games against the legendary Junior, the top-flight Israeli computer program that previously won the Computer Chess World Championship.
Israel's human team also has reason to be proud. Israel is considered a chess superpower, largely thanks to the massive immigration from eastern Europe, which brought some of the best players and coaches in the world. And the vast chess knowledge now in Israel makes it possible to nurture new generations of excellent players. Just a couple of months ago, the Israeli team shared third/fourth place with another team in the Chess Olympiad - an achievement of which most Israeli sports teams can only dream.
The highest rank in chess play is grandmaster. The city with the largest number of grandmasters is not Moscow, St. Petersburg or New York, but Be'er Sheva. And not relatively speaking; in absolute terms. Yet despite being one of the chess capitals of the world, Israel's chess life is conducted in an almost underground fashion.
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