'Gelfand, you are awesome!' – the Challenger returns to Israel

by ChessBase
6/2/2012 – More than a month away from home, family, children. At long last World Championship Challenger Boris Gelfand was back on Israeli soil. At Tel Aviv Airport he was given a hero's welcome, by young fans and the press. At the airport there was a scare with missing luggage, but that resolved itself quickly, and the family reunion was unspoiled. Shay and Shulamit Bushinsky report.

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The World Chess Championship 2012 was staged in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, between the current World Champion Viswanathan Anand of India and the winner of the Candidates tournament Boris Gelfand of Israel. The match was over twelve games plus tiebreak, and lasted from May 11 to 30. It was won by Anand in the tiebreak. The prize fund was US $2.55 million, the winner getting $1.53 million (60%), the loser $1.02 million (40%).

Boris Gelfand returns from Moscow

By Shay Bushinsky – photos Shulamit Bushinsky

An unprecedented homecoming celebration surprised Boris Gelfand when entered Ben-Gurion airport's reception hall. Dozens of chess enthusiasts, shouted in unison “Bo-ris! Bo-ris!” as he was wending his way out. Soon, the chanting was replaced by more polite and rhythmic hand-clapping.

Video report of Boris Gelfand's triumphal return to Israel

An anxious crowd awaiting the superstar to appear

Children from Gelfand’s hometown raising a sign saying “Gelfand, ATA TOTACH”
which is Hebrew slang for “Gelfand, you are awesome!”

And he emerges pushing the famous cart soon to disappear… (see below)

A battery of cameramen waiting for the hero – his arrival opened Friday’s TV news

Holding little Avner whom he didn’t see for a long time

Explaining to the press why he lost: “It was simply a matter of luck.” Team mate
Boris Alterman smiling in the crowd. [Yes, they have the Galaxy Note in Israel]

Grandmaster Boris Alterman with his younger son Ben, who is
wearing a costume of a chess king for the occasion

Generations: Boris' mother Nella and his daughter Avital

Hey he’s MY dad! Protecting Boris from the young fans reach

Briefly comparing notes on game 12’s with the author, Shay Bushinsky, one of the
fathers of the computer program Deep Junior (which Boris Gelfand uses intensely)

A warm hug from GM Alon Greenfeld, Israeli National team captain and Deep Junior coach

All the while, the fans blended with casual people who were expecting their loved ones to return from abroad. A few of them were curious to know the identity of the mega-celeb who was about to arrive. In previous instances, it was difficult to answer such a question – Boris Gelfand was not yet a household name in Israel. But not this time: Gelfand had gained celebrity status game by game if not to say draw by draw as the likelihood of a first Israeli world chess champion began to capture the imagination of the Israeli media.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu following the progress of a game

Here's a video clip from a couple years ago from when Netanyahu met Gelfand and started with a double challenge chess match – Gelfand was going to play against Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician, human rights activist and author – and a strong chess playere. Netanyahu bowed out and decided to be a backseat driver for Sharansky's match against Gelfand.

The climax, as could be expected, occurred on Playoffs day. Unprecedented match coverage engulfed Israel. Anchor-men struggled to explain concepts such as “Ten second increments”, “Pawn sacrifice” and “Armageddon” over the radio. TV newsreels, usually opened with breaking Middle East stories, were led instead by the current score from Moscow. Mediocre politicians flooded talk shows, attempting to show off childhood memories playing chess. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took time out to be photographed on the background of a huge board position projected from Moscow and to be quoted approving of Boris’ latest moves. Psychologists attempted to explain what was going on in Boris’ mind while he was experiencing time trouble in Moscow. Top political analysts adapted their jargon so that they could use terms taken from chess to explain recent developments in the talks on nuclear Iran held in Baghdad.

Videos of chess classrooms appeared in Israel’s leading news websites, usually including interviews with children saying, “When I grow up I want to be Boris Gelfand.“ And for the first time in the history of local commercial TV, the games were broadcast live with Peter Svidler’s commentary being translated simultaneously into Hebrew.

The whole country had become chess-crazed, a phenomenon perhaps observed only in Iceland 40 years ago….

Surrounded by representatives of the press, Boris reiterated his Moscow press conference rhetoric, saying that it is time for the governmental authorities to take chess seriously, acknowledge chess professionalism and stop neglecting the local talent. “For too long, chess has been regarded as a pastime for elderly people in the park” he exclaimed. “My success should be translated for young successors, who will emerge from the generations to come” he explained.

The tired-looking challenger said he had been sleepless for several nights in a row and that he was eager to sleep for a couple of days…. Exhausted but by no means down-hearted, Boris promised to continue competing in the chess circuit, saying he can’t imagine his life without the game. He said he will probably play for Israel in the coming Istanbul Olympiad and surely will take part in the European club championships which are scheduled to be held in Eilat, Israel. He confirmed that he has his eyes on the coming candidate cycle in an attempt to have another shot at the title.

Boris Gelfand with Maya, his wife, Moshe Slav (head of the Israeli Chess federation)
and Nella Gelfand, Boris’ mother in the background. Boris is pushing his luggage...

... which subsequently disappeared for some tense minutes

A nerve-racking incident occurred during the commotion around Boris’ arrival when a cart holding his personal luggage and laptop disappeared. After long and extremely tense moments, the luggage was discovered intact near the bomb disposal area outside the terminal. “I couldn’t care less about this entire luggage” he said excitedly. “As long as my laptop and disk on key, including lifetime analysis and the world championship preparation, wouldn’t have been blown to pieces by security,” he said.

Boris will be greeted by top Israeli officials and after taking a good rest he promises to reflect on his year’s formidable effort to become the world’s chess champion, a title he only missed by a whisker.


The games were broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 11 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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