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Grischuk wins FIDE World Blitz Championship

9/12/2006 – The World Blitz Championship, a 16-player round robin, took place on September 7th 2006 in Rishon Le Zion, Israel. Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk tied for first, with 10.5 points each. The playoff was an "armageddon" game in which Grischuk had white and an extra minute on the clock, but had to win. Which he duly did. Full report
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Alexander Grischuk wins First World Blitz Championship

Report by Arik Liss

The first world chess blitz championship took place in Rishon Le Zion, Israel, between 5-7 september.

Alexander Grischuk is the new world champion after sharing first place with Peter Svidler, with 10.5 points of 15 games in the final, and beating Svidler in the sudden death game between them.

When FIDE announced several months ago that the tournament is going to take place in Israel, nobody could foresee that there is going to be a war in the north of the country. A few weeks ago, it looked impossible that a chess tournament with many guests from abroad could take place in our region (although the host city is several hundred kms far from the northern border of Israel).

Luckily for the many chess fans in Israel, the war in the north ended, and the registered grandmasters showed up as planned. So not only was the tournament saved, but the lineup was extremely impressive, with seven players from the top 20 of the rating list.

The host city, Rishon Le Zion (Rishon LeZiyyon) is the fourth largest city in Israel, located 15 kms south of Tel Aviv. The local club which organized the tournament is one of the biggest chess clubs in Israel, and it organizes tournaments, lectures and other chess activities for every level – from amateurs to grandmasters.

The "City Garden" in Rishon Le Zion

Until the 90s the Rishon Le Zion chess club looked like others chess club in the West, with many amateurs, a few masters, and no professionals. The best players usually played actively when they are young, but not more than that.

A good example for that pattern is GM Eran Liss (the brother of the author of this article), who played in the Rishon Le Zion club since he was a child. Eran won the world chess championship U-14 and was Israel chess champion, but never became a chess professional. Today he rarely plays.

The old winery, established more than 100 years ago and still working in the city center

Things changed in the 90s, with the migration wave from the Republics of the former USSR. Strong GMs and skilled trainers joined the Israeli chess community and contributed enormously to its development.

The Israeli team, composed of immigrants from the former USSR, is ranked amongst the top five in every team tournament, and a fair number of Israeli players have entered the top 100 players in the world. The experienced trainers and the devotion to chess of the new immigrants has also helped young players of Russian origin, who grew up in Israel to become strong grandmasters (for example Sutovsky and Avrukh).

Luckily for the Rishon Le Zion chess club, Boris Gelfand, the best chess player who ever lived in Israel, and who would be top board in almost every country he he would choose to live in, decided to settle in Rishon Le Zion and agreed to play for the local team for the past few years. Some time ago Gelfand and a friend visiting him, Alexander Grischuk, visited the local club while the kids league was taking place. They talked with the kids and gave autographs to the young players, who until then only read about these great players in chess magazines and web sites.

The tournament

The World Blitz Championship was the main event in a chess festival which took place in Rishon Le Zion. Amongst the other events was a competition between the chess program Junior 10, (creates by Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky) and a weakened Israeli team. The program won convincingly 3:1 (Avrukh and V. Mikhalevsky drew while Erenburg and Roiz lost).

The championship itself was a 16 players round robin tournament. Seven top players were invited: Anand, Svidler, Gelfand, Radjabov, Polgar, Grischuk and Bacrot. Magnus Carlsen, who will probably soon join the world chess elite (if he is not there already), got a wild card. Two spots went for the winners of a qualification tournament on the ICC: GM Zhao Jun from China, who could not participate in the final due to prior obligations (the match between China and France), so the invitations went to GMs D. Gurevich from the US, who came second in the tournament, and Gagunashvili from Georgia who was third.

The playing venue in the cultural center of Rishon Le Zion

For the other six spots a qualification tournament took place the day before the final. The results of that tournament should be considered as major surprise, even if you predict weaker correlation between rating and score than in standard time chess. The qualifiers were top Israeli players: Smirin, Roiz, Sutovsky and Erenburg, who were joined by M.D. Dan Zoler (Elo 2455) and the young Gabi Lifshitz (Elo 2407). Among those who were left outside the final were guest GMs Bareev, Milov and Dlugy, local GMs Avrukh, Psakhis, Greenfeld, Kogan and many others.

The final took place in the Meir Nitzan cultural center. The participant played on the stage, and above them eight screens showed the games. An additional screen showed the tournament scores. Several hundred chess fans followed the live games in the games hall and applaud the players.

The local hero, Gelfand, took an early lead, but he was taken over as the battle progressed, and before the last round 4 players headed the field with 9.5/14: Grischuk, Svidler, Radjabov and Anand. The later was accompanied by his wife and the Indian ambassador who came to support the national Indian hero.
In the final round Grischuk and Svidler won against Carlsen and Sutovsky, While Radjabov could not break Bacrot fortress and shared the point with him, as did Anand and Gelfand.

Michael Roiz vs Magnus Carlsen

So after 15 rounds Grischuk and Svidler shared first place and had to play a single “sudden Death” game, in which White has five minutes, while Black has four minutes and the privilege to become the winner in a case of a draw.

Alexander Grischuk vs Vishy Anand

Grischuk was white and naturally he was pressing right out of the beginning of the game. Black’s position looked suspicious, but he succeeded in reaching a balanced endgame which looked drawish. Inaccurate play by Svidler in time trouble made Grischuk’s task much easier, and he won the game to become the first world blitz champion, taking home the US $14,400 first prize.

The most prominent guest at the closing ceremony was Shimon Peres, Vice Prime Minister of Israel, who congratulated the participants, and the mayor of Rishon Le Zion, Meir Nitzan, who promised to try and making this wonderful event into tradition in the city.

Photos by Elitzur Reuveni

Playoff winner Alexander Grischuk

The following are the results of the main event. A full illustrated report will follow.

Final standings

Prizes after the playoffs

 TB (SB)
Prize ($)
 1  Grischuk
 2  Svidler
 3  Radjabov
 4  Anand
 5  Polgar
 6  Gelfand
 7  Bacrot
 8  Carlsen
 9  Erenburg
 10  Sutovsky
 11  Gaunashvili
 12  Roiz
 13  Smirin 
 14  Gurevich
 15  Zoler
 16  Lifshitz

Arik Liss is a lawyer in the office of the district attorney of Tel Aviv, and a chess fan. He was Israel champion for kids, and is now an Israeli senior candidate master, rated 2241. Arik was born in Rishon Le Zion and was a member of the local club (which organised the Blitz tournament) for many years. He also wrote a chess column in a local paper “Haair”, and was a member of the management of the Israeli Chess Association for two years.

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