Israeli champ set to beat Iranian's chess record

Alik Gershon, 30, plays against 525 opponents simultaneously in Tel Aviv, to honor the 20th anniversary of FSU aliyah.

October 21, 2010 13:00
2 minute read.
Chess champ Alik Gershon and Natan Sharansky

chess record sharansky 311. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

Israeli grandmaster Alik Gershon attempted to break the world record currently held by Iranian chess champ Morteza Mahjoob for playing the largest number of opponents simultaneously, taking on 525 chess enthusiasts at Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin.

Gershon’s gambit to bring chess glory to Israel began at 11:30 am and is expected to end in the early hours of Friday morning, as he plays each of his opponents consecutively.

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Most of Gershon's opponents are schoolchildren, some as young as seven years old. All had to pre-qualify through the Israel Chess Federation.

Mahjoob currently holds the record by taking on 500 challengers and scoring 397 wins, 90 draws and 13 losses. To clench the title of world-record holder, Gershon must defeat at least 80 percent of his opponents who are all veteran players ranked by the Israel Chess Federation, as per the Guinness requirements.

An observer from the Guinness World Records is expected to visit the site on Thursday afternoon.

Gershon, 30, was born in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, to a Jewish family who immigrated to Israel in 1990. He was a young chess prodigy and took first prize in the international youth chess tournament in 1994. In 2000, he won the Israeli chess championship.

Sponsored by the Jewish Agency and the Israel Chess Federation, the challenge is part of an event to celebrate the contributions of olim from the former Soviet Union to Israel on the 20th anniversary of their aliyah.

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who is himself a keen chess player and once famously defeated the great Gary Kasparov, said the event was highly symbolic.

“The aliya from the former Soviet Union greatly contributed to the robustness of the State of Israel and the empowerment of Israeli society in the fields of finance, education, science, culture, and of course, sports,” he said. “There’s no better expression of that contribution than Israel winning the third place in the world chess championship.”

Sharansky played a short game of chess with Gershon at the event's start.

The art of simultaneous chess is not merely a test of mental agility for the champion, but also one of basic endurance. Current record-holder Mahjoob underwent two weeks of rigorous physical training in order to compete effectively with 500 players. The Iranian’s match lasted 18 hours and covered a distance of 40 kilometers traversing between chessboards. This is not a game for the faint of heart.

According to Yigal Lotam, managing director of the Israeli Chess Federation, chess has been growing in popularity in Israel as of late. “Four times more children are playing chess, than the amount that was playing three, four years ago.”

He hopes to bring knowledge about chess to every home in Israel through the upcoming tournament. Chairman Aviv Bushinsky added, “This is a special opportunity to give chess more exposure among the public and to prove that chess is a national sport in Israel. It will also prove that Israel is a superpower, at least in chess.”

Ben Spier, Deborah Heching, Yoni Cohen and Gil Shefler contributed to this report.

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