Grandmaster Chef: Boris Gelfand

by Alexey Root
7/11/2020 – Boris Gelfand is currently the top-ranked chess player in Israel. In the early 1990s, Gelfand was ranked third in the world. To show appreciation for Gelfand, this article has two recipes for dishes that he likes to eat and two of his wins. WIM Alexey Root tells why Gelfand is a Grandmaster Chef honoree. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.



In honor of Grandmaster Boris Gelfand’s 52nd birthday (June 24, 2020), David Llada, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for FIDE, wrote in the FIDE Newsletter, “Boris Gelfand is also devoting quite some time to sharing his vast knowledge, through his wonderful books and also as a lecturer at training camps. But he doesn’t seem to have the slightest intention to quit playing competitive chess. His first participation in a Candidates Tournament was in 1991, and the last, in 2013. In total, he has been competing at the highest level for more than three decades!”

In 2012, World Chess Championship Challenger Gelfand tied World Champion Viswanathan Anand 6-6 in the 12-game classical portion of their match. Anand retained his title in the tiebreak (rapid) games. Gelfand played in one of the last offline tournaments before the coronavirus pandemic, the Nutcracker Generation Tournament in the Central Chess Club in Moscow, which finished on March 9, 2020.

Boris Gelfand

Gelfand at the Nutcracker Tournament | Photo: B. Dolmatovsky / V. Barsky

Feeding a Champion

The “Borenka will Remember!” appendix of Gelfand’s Dynamic Decision Making in Chess has three recipes by his wife, Maya: strawberry jam, gefilte fish, and beetroot soup. Since my co-author, National Master Mike Walder, cooks for his apartment mates, their tastes had to be considered. FIDE Master Frank Thornally likes beetroot soup but was hesitant about gefilte fish. International Master Elliott Winslow has eaten gefilte fish many times, but was skeptical about trying beetroot soup again. Walder decided to make both recipes, with gefilte fish served on June 28.

Just before Walder served beetroot soup on June 29, Winslow told me via Facebook messenger, “When I was a child, my family would go to my grandmother’s home on Lefferts Avenue in Brooklyn. Borscht was cooking. The aroma was overwhelmingly sickly sweet. I hated it.” Borscht is another name for beetroot soup. For more on how each dish fared with his apartment mates, read Walder’s recipes, which he adapted from Maya Gelfand’s recipes.

Maya GelfandMore recipes by Maya are available in her book How to Feed a Champion. However, that book is only available in Hebrew and Russian. Maya’s book was published in 2015.

According to another article by Shah, published January 10, 2020 in ChessBase India, Gelfand prefers non-spicy food. A video from the Microsense Kramnik Gelfand Training Program 2020, also linked within Shah’s article, shows former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik and Gelfand at lunch. Near the video’s end, Gelfand, smiling, explains that he is about to get second helpings.

The recipes

Beetroot Soup

Mike Walder wrote:

The first time I ate beetroot soup as a child, it was savory and served at room temperature with potatoes and sour cream. I really liked it. The second time it was sweet, which I did not care for, though other family members felt differently. I was very happy when I read Maya Gelfand’s beetroot soup recipe as it does not fix the beet sugars by frying them and leaves the use of sugar up to the chef. I made a savory soup and, to my delight, both my apartment mates liked it.

Though you can enjoy this meal hot, cold, or anywhere in between, most everyone I know likes it cold out of the refrigerator. Maya recommends cold soup with hot potatoes, cold hard-boiled eggs, and herbs. If you want it cold, I suggest making the soup several hours in advance.

This recipe takes 1 hour to make, not counting the time for the soup to cool, and feeds 3 people for two meals (or six people for one meal).

Beetroot soupIngredients

  • 2 beetroots medium sized
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) water for the soup
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 cucumber, medium to large (2 if small)
  • 6 eggs, hardboiled, peeled, and refrigerated
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 1 bunch of green onion greens
  • 2 potatoes medium sized or 4 smalls
  • sour cream
  • salt, black pepper, and sweeten to taste (I used tablespoon of pomegranate molasses)

[Pictured: Beetroot soup and Gelfand-Bruzón after 19.Rfd1 (click to enlarge) | Photo: Elliott Winslow]


  1. Making the Soup
    1. Cut the greens and tap root from the beets. Grate the beets.
    2. Zest a lemon
    3. Bring the water to a boil and add the grated beets and lemon zest, immediately cover pot, reduce heat, and let simmer for 30 minutes
    4. Remove from heat, add bay leaves, salt, pepper and sweeten to taste
    5. Refrigerate to cool. However, you may want to cool to room temperature then put it in the fridge.
  2. Preparing the toppings
    1. Fill a pot high enough to cover the eggs with cold water
    2. Put egg pot on high heat until it starts to boil then remove from heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 12 minutes
    3. Immediately plunge the eggs in cold water
    4. Clean and quarter the potatoes (unless they are small)
    5. Put in a pot and cover with cold water.
    6. Bring the pot of potatoes to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Fork test for tenderness, continuing simmering until the fork enters and exits each potato easily
    7. Peel the skin from the cucumber. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Scrape the seeds from the cucumber. Dice the remaining flesh.
    8. Chop the parsley and green onion greens
    9. Peel the cold hard-boiled eggs
  3. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. In each bowl, add chopped herbs, veggies, a hard-boiled egg, a couple pieces of hot potatoes and a dollop (or more) of sour cream. Add additional toppings as you like. Serves 3, enough for 3 bowls for one meal and 3 cups for a next, leftovers meal.

Gefilte Fish

Mike Walder wrote.

Maya Gelfand’s Gefilte Fish recipe differs from others I know because she asks cooks to make their own fish stock and to use flour rather than matzoh. Since I do not like to use much salt, I added celery, which is naturally salty, to both the stock and the fish balls. Because Boris Gelfand avoids spices, this recipe uses only the savory spices indicated in Maya’s recipe. Being someone who craves a little pizzazz, I ate mine with some creamy horseradish on the side. While Gefilte Fish can be served hot out of the Dutch oven, cold from the fridge, or any temperature in between, most everyone I know eats them at room temperature. My apartment mates and I cleaned our plates.

This recipe takes 2 hours to make and feeds 3.


  • 2 onions
  • 1 beetroot (not canned beets)
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 fish head (salmon, carp, pike, or cod); if not available, double up on the vegetables
  • 1 pound of fish filet (carp, pike, or cod)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons water for fish and enough water to fill 3/4 of your large pot
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ground nutmeg and pepper to taste

[Pictured: Gefilte Fish and Ju-Gelfand after 15.Qd2? (click to enlarge)]


  1. Making the consommé
    1. Rough chop up one of the onions and two of the celery stalks
    2. Cut the up the beetroot and the carrot into 6 pieces
    3. Bring to a light boil a large pot or Dutch Oven that is ¾ full of water
    4. Add the fish head, the vegetables prepared in steps a and b above, the bay leaves, and the peppercorns to the boiling water and let cook for 60 minutes, removing the scum every 10 minutes. If no fish head, cook for 45 minutes then simmer.
    5. After 60 minutes, remove the fish head. Continue at a simmer. 
  2. Making the fish balls
    1. Dice the onion, frying half with the olive oil in a skillet until translucent
    2. Mince the remaining celery stalk
    3. Chop up the fish filet
    4. Put the chopped fish, celery, the raw and fried onions in a food processor or blender. Pulse until becomes homogenous mass. I had to move the mass around a bit with a spatula in my blender to break down all the chunks.
    5. Remove from blender and put in a bowl
    6. Add an egg, nutmeg, and ground pepper, stirring well
    7. Slowly add the flour while continually stirring
    8. Add up to the 2 tablespoons of water as needed to incorporate the flour
    9. Make fish balls (I used an ice cream scoop for a consistent size), placing them in the consommé, set at a light boil, for 30 minutes
  3. Plate the fish balls, beetroot, and carrots. Serves three people.

The games

As a comment on Grandmaster Chef: Anish Giri, Jeffrey Ashton (aka the Puzzle Guru) recommended Gelfand vs. Lázaro Bruzón Batista, Bled Olympiad 2002. Ashton called the win “short, sweet, simple.” Since beetroot soup, also known as borscht, can be short, sweet, and simple, the chess-food pairing is easy to make.


For a gefilte fish game, my co-author Mike Walder selected Ju Wenjun vs. Gelfand, Gibralter 2018. In a video interview (at 48 seconds in), Gelfand mentioned he had one moment of temptation to give up everything. He thought about playing like Tal, like Ding Liren in 2017, or like Morphy and Anderssen. But then he decided it was not so clear so he “simply won the game.” Thus, while Gelfand provides the pepper (mating attack) of 15...Rxf3, the rest of his win has a smooth texture, like gefilte fish.


More books to come by Boris Gelfand

Something to look forward to: according to Gelfand's publisher, Quality Chess, two more books by Gelfand will appear later this year, on September 16, 2020: Decision Making in Major Piece Endings and Technical Decison Making in Chess.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register