Checkmate – Jewish chess players

I’m a fan of the game and I’ve been wanting to write about this one for a while. Today, Israeli Boris Gelfand (originally from the Soviet Union) will start a 12-game match against Viswanathan Anand of India for the world chess title and a prize of $1.5 million. Gelfand, currently ranked 22nd in the world, is the underdog, but you never know what will happen. The match will go on for three weeks. You can read more about it at JPost.

There have been many great Jewish chess players. There have been fifteen World Chess champions to date. Six (40%) of them have been Jewish. (And a seventh, Gary Kasparov, rated the best Chess player of all time, had a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother).

28 of the best 64 (44%) chess players of all time have been Jewish (according to a somewhat dated study from 1989). Not a bad record for a people that constitutes 0.2% of the world’s population. The best Jewish chess player of all time was the American Bobby Fischer (who was sadly also a vehement anti-semite and anti-America and anti-Israel).


The 30-year old Israeli chess grandmaster, Alik Gershon, holds the world record for simultaneous chess games. He broke the world record in 2010, which previously belonged to Iran. He played 523 games in a 19-hour marathon. He won 86 percent of his games (he needed to win at least 80-percent to seal the record.) Training for the event was purely physical and included a lot of jogging and swimming, with many kilometres of walking and high levels of concentration needed to play all 523 players. You can read more about this record at The Telegraph.

Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician, former Soviet refusenik and prisoner and human rights activist was also a chess prodigy as a child. At the age of 15, he won the championship in his native Donetsk. When incarcerated in solitary confinement, he maintained his sanity by playing chess against himself in his mind. Sharansky beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition in Israel in 1996.

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