The world team chess championships opened in Israel Tuesday with a women's team competing for the first time against men for the title, but they lost.
The championships are being held in Beersheba, which has the highest number of chess grand masters per capita in the world, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Israel owes them much of its success in the sport - finishing fifth in the world in the last Olympics.
The women's team from China was the first to compete against men in a world championship, starting with a game against the men's team from China. The men won 4-0. The two teams played each other first to avoid the possibility that they would face off in the final round for the world championships, organizers said.
The architect of Beersheba's chess capital status is Eliyahu Levant, who immigrated from the Soviet Union in 1973. He had taken up the dream of Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, to make the desert bloom. The city of 183,000 has one grand master per 22,875 residents.
The eight countries competing are Israel, Russia, Ukraine, China, Cuba, Armenia, Georgia and the United States.
In the other first-round games Tuesday, Israel and Armenia drew 2-2, Russia beat Cuba 3-1 and the United States beat Georgia 2.5-1.5.
Levant said he is trying to get more Israelis to play chess, which was not of interest to them before immigrants from the former Soviet Union began arriving. Chess fans say the game helps develop intellectual abilities in children.
"The kids I work with don't want to do their homework, but they are happy to train for a chess game," Levant said.
The players on the nine competing teams at the championships included a 10-year-old Chinese girl and a 15-year-old Ukrainian, Sergey Karjakin, whose team was touted by organizers as having the best chance at winning.
Karjakin, who has been playing since he was five, is believed by many followers of the sport to be among the top 15 best chess players in the world, the Haaretz newspaper reported. Last year Karjakin won an international competition in Moscow for players under 15.
The most prominent world figure at the championships was Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, leading his country's team. (AP)
"This is going to be a real show," Levant told Israel Radio Tuesday.