Though a sudden-death match led to his defeat, a new Israeli hero has gained international recognition– and local celebrity – as a chess champion.
Belarus-born chess grandmaster Boris Gelfand, 43, lost Wednesday’s world chess championship in Moscow to title holder Viswanathan Anand of India. Gelfand came one point shy of victory in a rapid tiebreaker, after playing 12 games with Anand.
Yet the title match earned Gelfand thousands of fans in Israel and around the world, with so many Israelis logging on to the website of the Israel Chess Federation to view the match that the site crashed.
Thousands of new friends have signed up for Gelfand’s fan page on Facebook, including many Russians, who came out in droves to support Russian-speaking Gelfand at the Moscow match.
Despite his loss, Gelfand’s efforts made the front pages of Israeli newspapers and topped the evening news. Gelfand received congratulatory phone calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. According to the Associated Press, chess enthusiast, former Prisoner of Zion and current head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky – who helped Gelfand immigrate to Israel in 1998 – received several phone calls from the prime minister during the match, to discuss Gelfand’s moves and strategy.
Israel is a top five chess nation, boasting 50 chess grandmasters and medals from the Chess Olympiads. Almog Burstein, executive director of the Israel Chess Federation told the Associated Press that some 3,000 Israelis play in chess leagues throughout the country, with dozens of people having won international tournaments.