Israelis of All Ages Battle to Be Named Champion of Taki, the Nation's Favorite Card Game

Children, parents, grandmothers and grandfathers competed at the Lunada Children’s Museum in Be’er Sheva, before the final round in December. The game's inventor says that "Taki is the country’s darling."

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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Families play Taki in Be'er Sheva, October 18, 2016.
Families play Taki in Be'er Sheva, October 18, 2016. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

The Feigel family was overjoyed at the news that Israel would be holding its first national championship tournament for one of the country’s favorite card games, Taki, over the Sukkot holiday. Imagine how thrilled they were to qualify at the games held at the Lunada Children’s Museum in Be’er Sheva, for the finals being held over Hanukkah.

“We’re a Taki family,” Aviv Feigel, 48, of the town of Gedera said after their victory at a game he and his son Yuval, 11, have been enjoying for years on Shabbat afternoons.

When asked about which one of them really wanted to enter the contest, Yuval points at his dad, who quickly jokes back that, yeah he signed them up, but it didn’t take much persuasion to get the boy to come along, too.

Hundreds of contestants have been competing since Tuesday in the preliminary round that wraps up on Monday. The Feigels are among 84 finalists who get to put their game skills to the test yet again at the competition’s finals being held over Hanukkah.

Many adults, grandparents, too, have entered the contest. According to competition rules, the oldest person at the table shuffles the deck, while the youngest plays first. Aside from that it’s all out war.

This week’s contest has been played in several heats, from 10 A.M. through 4 P.M., from last Tuesday through next Monday, with a new round beginning every two hours. The players are divided into tables, with the winner at each table in the preliminaries moving on to the intermediate stage, and the winner from each table in the intermediate stage moving up to the finals. The winners of the preliminary finals held during Sukkot, move on to the finals held over Hanukkah.

The second heat began at noon, when Be’er Sheva native Yoram Ben Hamu competed against his children, Uri, 13, an easygoing introvert, and Daniel, 9, a child “who takes losing hard” as his father puts it, as Daniel tosses his bag in anger and storms out of the hall after losing.

“I’ve been taking the children to festivals for 10 years. At some point you learn to enjoy that, too. But this event, it’s nice that there’s an activity where parents take an active part,” Ben Hamu said. In effect, what begins as a clear separation between children and adults before the game begins, becomes a somewhat blurred line a few minutes later. It took 30 seconds into the game for an older woman contestant to summon the judge to ask whether a rival child’s move was legal. If the children thought the adults would let them win, this may be the stage where they get that they’ve mistaken.

There’s an unmistakable guest in the audience. Like a celebrity, Haim Shafir, the game’s inventor, visits all the tables. He takes pictures with excited parents and children, gives his autograph who whoever asks for it, consoles a child disappointed at being too young to participate. He takes the opportunity to let players know about another game that he’s invented. The Taki kingdom is his so it’s only natural for him to feel at home.

“Taki is the country’s darling, it’s very important to me that the event be dignified,” said Shafir, when asked why such a championship round has never before been held. He said that until now only shopping malls had expressed an interest in holding such an event, and he thought a museum setting was “very respectable, so I agreed.”

Shafir doesn’t deny that the success of Taki in the Israeli market, has been a high point for his career much the same as a one-time hit is for a singer.

“It’s totally clear to me that this is a bonanza. In other games sold in Israel, if you reach 10-15 percent of Taki’s sales it’s a hit,” he said, but added that another game of his called Piccolo has higher sales on the world market than Taki. He declined to reveal Taki’s annual sales.

Unsurprisingly, three children reached the final, and the winner was Adi, 10, a sharp girl from Kfar Harif. The runners up, also eligible to compete in the finals, were Eyal, 9, from Dimona, and Peleg, 11, of Gan Yavne.