Georg Meier wins 20th Maccabiah

by Yochanan Afek
7/21/2017 – Georg Meier wins 20th Maccabiah top group ahead of Alexander Moiseenko, while Tal Baron took the B group. Yochanan Afek sends stories, photos and highlights | Photos: Ritvo Photography

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A chess festival to remember


At the magnificent Dan Hotel (photo at right) on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, the chess competitions of the 20th Maccabiah Games ended last week. Always one of the world’s largest sports events, with a history dating back as far as 1932, this year's games were nevertheless the largest in the history of the event. Over 10,000 athletes from more than 80 countries competed in a staggaring 3,000 competitions in 46 sports.

Chess was introduced to the Maccabiah in the second 1935 edition but then, due the Second World War it was not before 1950 that the games were resumed. Chess then remained absent from the program until 1977, but ever since it has been an integral part of the quadrennial event.

Quite a few of the world’s top Jewish players have competed, such as Hermann Pilnik, Julio Bolbochan, Yuri Averbach, Jon Speelman, Jonathan Mestel, Judit Polgar, Boris Gelfand, Pavel Eljanov, Alexander Khalifman, Alexander Beliavsky, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Daniel Friedman just to name a few. 

Jerusalem hosted the games for the second time in a row, with dynamic manager of the local chess scene IA Alon Cohen acting as the chief arbiter of the entire festival. This year’s program included seven categories: four invitational groups — two grandmaster and two master tournaments — alongside an open, youth and blitz competitions. 

Meier and Moiseenko

Blitz winners: Georg Meier (far left), Alexander Moiseenko, Svetlana Bezgodova, and organizer for three-decades, Moshe Slav (in blue) | Photo: Ritvo Photography

The grandmaster group witnessed clear superiority of the German GM Georg Meier, who dominated the field on 7.5 points out of nine games, taking the gold medal a whole point ahead of the runner up, the Ukrainian GM Alexander Moiseenko on 6.5 and the tireless Lithuanian GM Eduard Rozentalis with 5.5.

The French-Israeli IM Gabriel Bataglini-Flom, who stunningly beat GMs Moisieenko, Smirin and Dvorys, was tantalizingly close to a desired GM norm, but scored just a single point in the last three rounds and had to settle for a respectable fourth place (together with the disappointed Ilya Smirin), yet with neither a medal nor a norm.

The rest of the top finishers were GM Alex Huzman (4.5), GM Semen Dvoirys and IM Eyal Deutsch (3), GM David Klein and FM Yair Farkhov (2.5 each).

Baron of the second GM group

Solid and confident play gave the gold medal in the second GM group to the Israeli GM Tal Baron on 7 / 9 undefeated. The silver went to former Women's World Champion, Ukrainian GM Anna Ushenina on 6 points, while young IM Alon Mindlin, who was a serious candidate for his own desired GM norm, lost his final round game to 15-year-old IM Ariel Ehrenberg. Still, Mindlin's fine 5.5 points score still earned him the bronze medal as well as a nice collection of five GM scalps! He was  followed by the French IM Anthony Bellaiche and former Israeli Champion GM Victor Mikhalevski (on 5 each), GMs Yaacov Zilberman and Gennady Ginsburg (4), IM Erenberg and FM Saar Drori (3), and GM Maxim Novik (2.5).

Tal Baron

Tal Baron topped the second GM group | Photo: Ritvo Photography

Highlights from the 20th Maccabiah


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Norm seekers go home empty

The current Maccabiah format, which also included two IM tournaments, provided an opportunity for talented young players to meet older masters, gain experience and, if lucky enough, to score a title norm. Unfortunately, none of the candidates in all four invitational groups managed to do so, although some of them were very pretty close to fulfilling the dream.

Pasman and Bar

IMs Michael Pasman and Roman Bar | Photo: Ritvo Photography

The IM group A saw a convincing "comeback" by veteran IM Michael Pasman, who had been away from the competitive scene for quite a while. A hard-fought 3 / 3 start followed by a single loss in the fourth round and a dizzying finish of 4 from 5 led him right to a well deserved gold medal. With 7 points he was a point ahead of the surprising youngster FM Shaked Tifferet who, with 6 points, was on the verge of achieving his first IM norm, finally settling for a silver medal and a large bag of Elo points. Third was the Israeli-Russian section, FM Gleb Kagansky on 5.5 and the bronze.

In IM group B IM Roman Bar was unstoppable on 7 points before the last round. His first and only defeat in the final round could not deprive him from a well deserved gold medal. At the same time it let his opponent IM Alexander Kaspi — a veteran of 7 Maccabiah editions — right to the silver medal with 6.5 points after an otherwise mediocre competition for him. A similar score gave the Israeli-Russian David Kudischewitsch the bronze.  

Justice served

The open section with 98 participants was dominated by the retired justice (and former general manager of the Israeli courts) Moshe Gal on 8/9 ahead of 13-year-old Yoav Milikov who scored 7 points — both undefeated). Third was 21-year-old young woman Ady Federovsky also with 7. In the Open Youth Competition the American Joseph Zlatsan lead a field of 20 players on 6.5 /7.

Moshe Gal and Youth

Above: Judge Moshe Gal (left), the youth tournament in Haifa (right)
Below: Natan Sharansky at the simul Photo: Ritvo Photography


The honorary guest of the chess games in Maccabiah was Natan Sharansky, a human rights activist and famous Soviet-born counter-revolutionary in the 1970s and 1980s who spent nine years in Soviet prisons and, after his release, made a rich political and public career in Israel. Sharansky, now chairman of the board of the Jewish Agency, was an outstanding chess player in his youth in the Soviet Union and participated in various local and national competitions, and as he used to say, chess he helped him in solitary confinement to maintain his sanity.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

Sharansky was moved to meet two special guests: IM David Kudishevich, with whom he had played at the Youth Championships in Belarus, and Mr. Yitzhak Lat of Berlin, head of the German chess delegation who, on February 11, 1986, had attended Sharansky's release as part of an exchange of spies that took place on the Glienicke Bridge between West Berlin and Potsdam. Sharansky volunteered to play simultaneously against 20 participants of the open competition, ending undefeated. He won 17 of his 20 games and drew three: Jacob Berman (South Africa), Michael Volodarsky and Dan Zrihan (both Israel). 

Another guest at the Maccabiah was FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (pictured at right during a visit to the Western Wall), who met with players, guests and officials of the Israeli Chess Federation. He presented his vision of erecting a chess palace in Jerusalem — a city vital to the three monotheistic religions and a cradle of human civilization — that might serve as a bridge between people of all faiths.


Yochanan was born (1952) and grew up in Tel-Aviv, and now lives in Amsterdam. He has been involved in nearly every aspect of chess, both as a professional and a volunteer, for the last 50 years, and remains an active player, composer, writer, organizer, trainer and commentator. He is an International Master and International Arbiter for chess as well as International Grandmaster for chess composition, and the author of Extreme Chess Tactics (Gambit 2017) and Practical Chess Beauty (Quality Chess 2018).


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