The Beer Sheva Chess Club
By Susan Grumer and Yair Spiegel
The recent World
Chess Team Championship was, as you probably remember, held in Beer Sheva
City, Israel. It was highly appropriate that such a tournament in Israel would
take place in the ‘Capitol of the Negev’, the city that bloomed
in the middle of the desert, the home of Eliahu Levant’s Beer Sheva Chess
Eliahu Levant immigrated to Israel from St. Petersburg in
1972. After a short stay in Tel Aviv, then the center of chess activity in Israel,
he decided to settle in the Negev and make the desert bloom with the beauty
of chess. He established the Beer Sheva Chess Club, which is housed in the building
named in his honor. The club was initially run solely by Levant, who played
simultaneous matches in area schools to attract youngsters to his club. One
of those kids was GM Alon Greenfeld whose wonderful tournament reports and analysis
can be found on the official
During the large influx of immigrants from the former USSR during the 1990s,
many chess players asked to settle near Beer Sheva because the club reputation
had already become widespread. “As a matter of fact,” says Ilana
David, “when I came to Israel it was obvious that if I wished to keep
playing, I would have to be near the club – the Beer Sheva club”.
Chess coach and co-manager of the Chess Club, Ilana David has a special respect
for Levant. When she came to Israel as a teenager she asked to live near Beer
Sheva. They sent her to Dimona, about a half hour by bus from Beer Sheva. She
came to the club as often as she could, and Levant became her coach. When she
went to study in the University – several hours from Beer Sheva, Eliahu
Levant came once a week to treat her to a nice dinner (a break from that delicious
dormitory dining hall food) and then they studied chess. Ilana David went on
to become an Israeli Chess Champion.
Ilana David, former Israeli chess champion,
current coach and den mother
The club puts great emphasis on teaching and guiding the new generation. They
start coaching as young as 4 years old. The children involved in the Beer Sheva
Chess Club are so important to Levant, that there are only special periods during
the week when adults are also invited to frequent the establishment, even though
the place is open every day of the week.
The entrance to the club. The walls sport ladder lists,
tournaments posters and children’s drawings.
Upon entering the club one feels like time has stopped ticking for about 30
years. Russian is the most common language among the adults, but the children
are turning Hebrew into the dominant form of communication. The young run up
to Ilana and Eliahu, to garner praise for their wins and sympathy for their
losses. Eliahu Levant knows every player in his club and in also involved in
their personal lives. He helps them in every way and in every area, which means
he is invited to all their family events.
Every night the club is alive with chess players of all ages and skills.
Dues are $40 a year.
One of the club regulars is the well known character and International Grandmaster
Mark Tseitlin. One of the older members, he is also one of the most sought after
coaches. He has won titles as in World Senior tournaments. Now he is hoping
to help younger players to do the same in their age brackets.
GM Tseitlin is a regular fixture at the Beer Sheva Chess Club
Tseitlin adds a third dimension to these players’ post mortem analysis
Chess is not liberally funded by the Israeli government. Although it has to
struggle for every shekel, the club supports its members and helps them finance
their participation in both team and personal events abroad. Perhaps owing to
this philosophy, Beer Sheva boasts a higher percentage of GMs per capita –
one for every 22,875 residents – than any other city in the world. The
club is the current Israeli Chess League champion and winner of the Israeli
Chess Championship Cup.
Addendum: Karl Thoroddsen of Reykjavik, Iceland,
points out that the city, with its population of 110,000, has eight grandmasters:
Jon L. Arnason, Johann Hjartarson, Margeir Petursson, Fridrik Olafsson, Throstur
Thorhallsson, Helgi Ass Gretarsson, Hannes H. Stefansson and Robert J. Fischer
(two further Icelandic GMs, Helgi Olafsson and Gudmundur Sigurjonsson live
outside the capital). That puts the GM to population ratio at 1:13,750, which
is considerably better than Beer Sheva's 1:22,875.
GM Sergey Erenburg from during the World Team Chess Championship
Besides the professional players you can find “normal” club players
who come regularly to spend a few hours playing chess in the evening. Just looking
at these players will reveal how addictive chess can be. Ilana David says that
she believes that if she just went out and locked the club behind her, only
leaving those guys some hot coffee, they wouldn’t even notice the club
is closed and they can’t go home.
The coffee pots sits alone – the players too absorbed in their games
Every corner of the club is filled with players, this wall with pictures
of famous players
It was only natural that the recent World Team Chess Championship was held
in Beer Sheva. It may be a town in the desert, but it is the booming chess center
of Israel. Eliahu Levant was a member of the organizing committee. The city
itself was highly receptive to supporting the tournament in their city because
they hold Eliahu Levant in such high regard. He has lifted the spirit of the
community with his own wonderful spirit. During the tournament Levant was honored
by Ben Gurion University of the Negev for the honor that he brought to the city
of Beer Sheva.
Eliahu Levant poses with Almog Burstein, Deputy Chief Arbiter of WTCC
At the chess club the boards display Hebrew letters.
The White Queen stands on Daled One.
The trophy case above the pairing charts and tournament results contains
only some of the many awards won by the club
The walls of the analysis room contain photos of the young club champions
Outside the Eliahu Levant Chess Centre in the evening
Pictures by Susan Grumer, Tzachi Slav, Yair Spiegel