‘Chess in Jewish DNA’
Nov 15, 2013
Chennai: From Steintz to Kasparov, the Jewish community has ruled the mind game
Israel Gelfer, FIDE vice-president, highlighted Israel’s 10th position on FIDE’s list of highest rated nations with an average elo of 2632 and the country’s consistent good performance at Olympiads.
There is something in the Jewish blood that makes the ethnic group preeminent in chess. There are so many Jewish players on the list of world champions that it would be easier to count the others. Wilhelm Steintz, the first official world champion in 1886, was Jewish. Boris Gelfand, who lost to Viswanathan Anand in the final of the big match last year, also belongs to the community .
Born in Belarus, Gelfand is now a naturalised Israeli.
Manuel Aaron, India’s first international master, is a keen student of history.
He said Jewish excellence in chess isn’t a coincidence.
“There is something in Jewish people that makes them stand out in the game.
I’m fascinated by their dominance over the years. One of the oldest sayings in chess is: the best players are Russian Jews, non-Russian Jews and the others, in that order,” he added.
Quite a few iconic names in chess belong to the community. In the first part of the 20th century, Emmanuel Lasker, Mikhail Botvinnik and Mikhail Tal dominated the mind game. Bobby Fischer, whose epic duel with Boris Spassky (whose Jewish ancestry is still debated) in 1972 transformed the sport, was half Jewish. Garry Kasparov, another all-time great, was born to a Jewish father and an Armenian mother.
FIDE vice-president Israel Gelfer, himself Jewish, is proud of his community’s excellence in an intellectual game like chess. “Chess is in Jewish DNA. Jewish people are clever,” he said. “If you do a research on the Nobel Prize winners, you will know what I mean.” Gelfer highlighted Israel’s 10th position on FIDE’s list of highest rated nations with an average elo of 2632 and the country’s consistent performances at Olympiads. Israel has 39 grandmasters compared with India’s 34. “For a country of seven million people, Israel’s record isn’t bad,” the FIDE official added.
The Jewish influence in chess hasn’t waned yet. The Polgar sisters — Susan, Judit and Zsofia — belong to the community. World no.2 Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler and Teymour Radjabov are some notableJewish names among active players today .
Susan, who is on a commentating assignment at the world championship here, said chess is part of Jewish culture. “Only limited activity is allowed during Shabbat (the weekly Jewish day of rest). You can’t drive a car. People even avoid work that requires switching on the light. Chess is one of the traditional pastimes for Jewish families during Shabbat. The game also has inherent advantages. Chess is inexpensive.
Chessboards are easy to carry unlike a piano. Chess is an ideal game to play indoors.
Jewish people excelled at the game because they also worked hard,“ she added.