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The Beer Sheva Chess Club

12/10/2005 – The city of Beer Sheva in Israel boasts a higher percentage of GMs per capita – one for every 22,875 residents – than any other city in the world. Recently it paid host to the World Team Championship, which was highly appropriate, since it is home to Eliahu Levant’s famous Beer Sheva Chess Club. Here's the story.
 

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 Club.

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 web site.

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 to notice


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

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