Israel wins silver at Chess Olympiad

Blue-and-white squad wins first team medal in world competition.

chess 88 (photo credit: )
chess 88
(photo credit: )
BERLIN - "We have the silver medal and we are shouting here," said a thrilled Yigal Lotan, general manager of the Israel Chess Federation, after his team beat the Netherlands 2.5-1.5 in the 11th and final round of the Chess Olympiad in Dresden on Tuesday. The first-ever medal for an Israeli chess team at the Olympiad electrified some 100 chess enthusiasts and players who celebrated at the federation's headquarters in Tel Aviv. Israel's stellar performance caught the international chess world off guard. Klaus-Jörg Lais, a Chess Olympiad spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post the medal represented a "super performance." He also called it a "huge surprise" because Israel was not expected to reach the medal round at the world's most prestigious chess tournament. While three individual matches between Israel and the Netherlands resulted in draws, 25-year-old Michael Roiz managed to score the decisive victory over his opponent Jan Smeets. Lotan also cited the excellent performances of Grandmasters Boris Gelfand and Maxim Rodshtein. Both players remained undefeated during their tough matches, scoring either victories or draws against the cream of the world's chess players. Rodshtein is the current Israeli national champion. Gelfand told the Post that he himself had "played very well" and that "everybody made an extraordinary effort" to win the silver medal. It was a very tough competition, Gelfand said, citing the 2004 world champion Ukraine and 2006 champion Armenia as his team's most formidable opponents. When asked about the underdog status of the Israeli squad, he said, "We have a strong team" and the players are "strong enough to fight for a medal." The Israeli team came in fourth at the 2006 Olympiad held in Turin. More than 150 countries competed in this year's tournament, and Israel was ranked No. 8 at the outset. But the feisty Israelis scored a spectacular upset by defeating Armenia in the ninth round. In the final round, Armenia beat the Chinese team 2.5-1.5, winning the gold medal and retaining the world championship. The 10th-seeded US team prevailed over No. 2-ranked Ukraine 3.5-0.5, and came away with the bronze medal. The top-seeded Russian team, whose players have traditionally dominated chess competitions, left empty-handed, slipping to fifth place. Lotan praised the decision-making process of the Israel coach, Grandmaster Alon Greenfeld. Amid the silver medal euphoria, Greenfeld, reached on his mobile phone in Dresden, told the Post the victory "is a great achievement and my contribution was secondary." He said his selection of the team was good but the "players deserve most of the credit... Everyone contributed his fair share." Lotan and Greenfeld said money constraints were hurting Israel's chess teams. The women's team had to return to Israel on Tuesday evening to hold down hotel costs. After the stellar victory, Greenfeld is hopeful the government will pump funds into the Chess Federation. While the men's silver medal is the talk of the chess world, the Israeli women's team dramatically improved its world ranking. Reached at the Dresden airport shortly before boarding the flight home, Vitali Golod, the women's team coach, who is himself a grandmaster, said it was "the best result for us" and that he was "very happy" that the team soared from its No. 21 ranking to ninth in the international arena. Expressing his pleasure at the women's performance, Lotan cited the achievement of the youngest Israeli player, Marsel Efroimski, who is 12 and replaced a more veteran player at the last minute. She won the world junior championship last year.