Israeli chess prodigy allowed to play in 43rd Chess Olympiad

In chess news, an up and coming Israeli chess player has received some good news, and the Israeli national chess team is preparing for the all-important Chess Olympiad.

JUNIOR CHESS champion Liel Levitan wins the gold medal.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
JUNIOR CHESS champion Liel Levitan wins the gold medal.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 We begin with Israel’s chess future, as Tunisia has at last allowed seven-year-old chess prodigy Liel Levitan to compete in an international chess tournament next year.  Previously the Israeli school girl’s status was up in the air, with the Tunisian Chess Federation blocking the girl’s participation.
But, international chess body FIDE stepped in and threatened to move the tournament to another country if Tunisia did not allow the schoolgirl to compete.  Ultimately, Tunisia relented and announced players from all countries will be welcome at the tournament. So, Liel Levitan will be allowed represent Israel and play on the board.
Levitan made headlines for her outstanding play earlier in the year when she won the Girls U7 category of the European School Chess Championship 2018.  This win qualified her for the World School Championship in 2019 to be held in Tunisia.
Chess is becoming a growing sport worldwide, and big money is entering the stage.  Winning pots are becoming bigger, press coverage of events is increasing and sports betting even offers odds on chess matches now.
The chess world’s biggest event will take place begin on November 9th when American Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana challenges reigning World Champion Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen.  While top Israeli player Grandmaster Boris Gelfand is not competing at this top level, he has had a shot at the championship before.
Gelfand challenged reigning World Champion Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand in the 2012 World Championship match.  Gelfand was up with one game left to play, but he lost the final match and proceeded to lose in the rapid control tie breaker.
But, before Carlsen and Caruana face off in the 2018 World Championship, the chess world’s focus will fall on the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia.  The event is a biennial chess tournament in which the top chess players compete for their country.
Israel has never won the Open section of the event, but the Israeli team won silver in 2008 and bronze in 2010. Countries often rely on their top players to contribute results, but whether top player Boris Gelfand will participate is unknown.  Gelfand did not play for Israel in the 2016 Chess Olympiad, but he remains active and is ranked 41st in the world.
In a 2016 interview, Gelfand stated he was upset with the Israeli chess federation and the state of chess in the country.  He explained his absence from the tournament by saying “the Israeli chess management have absolutely forgotten about such things as the prestige of the country.”  Gelfand has not indicated whether he will return for the 2018 Olympiad.
In Gelfand’s absence, Israel placed 27th at the 2016 Chess Olympiad.  However, Grandmaster Tamir Nabaty was a bright spot on the third board as he scored an impressive 8.5/10.  Nabaty is now the second highest rated Israeli player, and he would likely take over the role as first board if Gelfand does not compete.
On the women’s side, chess prodigy Liel Levitan won’t quite yet compete for Israel, but the Israeli team still has some promising young talent.  The women’s team won the 22nd Chess Olympiad in 1976 on home soil in Haifa, Israel.
The current highest rated Israeli women players are International Master Yuliya Shvayger and Woman Grandmaster Marsel Efroimski.  The pair are both 23 years old, and they will likely lead the women’s team at the 2018 Chess Olympiad.
Israel’s women’s team placed 9th at the last Olympiad, and with young talent they will be eager to improve on that result.  Ilana David Glaz captained the team last time out, but the current team is in the early phases with an official team not released.
The 43rd Chess Olympiad will begin on September 23rd, so both the open and women’s team have a little over a month to finalize their team and begin preparations for one of the year’s premier chess event.