Defeated Israeli Chess Master Discovers a New, Powerful Fan

Boris Gelfand claims he was unaware of 'extend of interest in the match in Israel;' hopes coverage will generate momentum for Israeli chess.

Eli Shvidler
Eli Shvidler
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Eli Shvidler
Eli Shvidler

MOSCOW - Boris Gelfand said on Thursday that he hadn't really been aware of the stir he was causing in Israel during the World Chess Championship, but now that he knows, he considers it a "huge thing" - both for him and for chess in this country.

In an interview with Haaretz, Gelfand was asked how he felt suddenly being a household name in Israel. "I wasn't completely aware of the extent of the interest in the match in Israel," he said. "I focused on the match, but my aides briefed me occasionally, and obviously the great support in Israel is a huge thing for me. Chess in Israel was in a pretty miserable situation for a long time - not from the professional perspective, but in terms of budgets. I hope we ended this injustice, and we will try to keep the momentum going."

Did you hear that children on the street say that want to be like Gelfand?

"Chess is a game that leads to intellectual improvement, it makes people sharper, and maybe it's better to be a Gelfand than to be a bottom-league soccer player or a mediocre rock star - no offense to the best of these."

Surprisingly, he genuinely does not seem to be particularly upset by his loss to India's Viswanathan Anand, the reigning world champion.

"It happens, like in Barcelona against Chelsea, when it led 2-0 against 10 players and also got the penalty kick. I can also score a goal sometimes and miss a penalty kick. All in all it was a great duel. I can only regret one truly mystical moment in the third game of the tie-breaker series, when I had an advantage and then I moved my rook away that 999 times out of a 1,000 I wouldn't dream of doing. I came here feeling sure of myself, but I played against a great master who was absolutely capable of causing me problems and also of handling some of the new things thrown at him by my team. Up until the 10th game I was pretty much in control, and then Anand recovered, thanks to his hard work and that of his team of advisers."

At one point it looked as though the world champion had lost some of his self-confidence - did you sense that as well?

"He did indeed lose a little confidence. The openings were unpleasant for him, and his team had to work hard to find their footing, even if the result in the duel was a tie."

Do you intend to compete in the world championship again?

When I lost in the quarterfinals of the Candidates Championship in 1991, Viktor Korchnoi promised me that I would go far. They already tried to 'erase' me from the list of candidates, but somehow I came back. I hope that with my excellent team I will succeed at the next Candidates Championship as well, in 2013."

What would you like to see happen with chess in Israel as a result of your match with Anand?

"There are three different directions. One: for a million kids to play chess. Two: that big tournaments, like for example the one in memory of Michael Tal that is held in Moscow, could sometimes take place in cities like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Three: the image of chess, even when young chess players in Israel win titles - society, the media and even the parents say it's not serious, look for another profession. I hope that now they'll understand that it is serious. Also, half of the world champions were Jews."

He seemed a little weary during Thursday's closing ceremony of the World Chess Championship, but it was not due to his loss the previous day to Anand. Rather, it was because he and his rival had spent part of the morning drinking tea with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside the city.

"The meeting lasted around a quarter of an hour," Gelfand said. "Interestingly, Putin knew all about the 'duel' between us and also the history of the competition."

To a question from Gelfand about his upcoming visit to Israel, Putin told him, "It's hot there in the summer, maybe we'll push it back to September or October."

Boris Gelfand Credit: Tomer Appelbaum