Israeli Championships: Early upsets

by Yochanan Afek
3/12/2021 – After having been twice postponed due to the Corona restrictions, the 40th edition of the Israeli Championships are now taking place (March 7-15) at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Haifa. Four players are sharing the lead in the open section after six rounds. Among the women, top seed Yuliya Shvayger is currently the sole leader. | Photo: Dorit Ritvo Wolfoviz

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Back in action

After having been twice postponed due to the Corona restrictions, the 40th edition of the Israeli Championships are now taking place (March 7-15) at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Haifa under the auspices of Mifal HaPais (Israel’s national lottery) and the Haifa Municipality. The total prize fund amounts to 100,000 NS (~30,000 US dollars), with a first prize of 20,000 NS.

Among the distinguished guests that attended the opening ceremony were Dr. Zvika Barkai, Chairman of the Israeli Chess Federation; Gil Boruchovsky, General Director of the Federation; and GM Emil Sutovsky, General Manager of FIDE. Hili Tropper, Minister of Culture and Sports, sent a videoed greeting. 

The open section

Tamir NabatyA total of 32 players, including 10 GMs and 6 IMs, are competing in the open section, with 6 past champions in the mix. The eldest player is 70-year-old IM Nathan Birnboim, 3-time Israeli champion (1976, 1980 and 1986). The other five former champions are GM Yehuda Gruenfeld (1982, 1990); Gad Rechlis (1988); Ilya Smirin (1992, 2002); Tamir Nabaty (2013, 2016); and Victor Mikhalevski (2014). Notable absentees are reigning champion Alon Greenfeld (1984 and 2018) and Maxim Rodshtein (2006). 

Gifted young talents that qualified from the preliminaries are gaining valuable competitive experience and a chance to score norms for international titles. The tournament director is the much experienced IA Almog Burstein. All players and officials are vaccinated, as is the majority of the Israeli population. 

The opening rounds found most players still out of their normal form, seemingly due to their lasting absence from over-the-board tournaments and possibly an overdose of online accelerated and superficial alternatives. Quite a few blunders and consequent upsets were witnessed in the first 4 rounds, resulting in surprising defeats of experienced grandmasters against ambitious juniors.

Top seed Tamir Nabaty [pictured, right] had a good start, beating former champions Birnboim and Gruenfeld and young FM Yeshaayahu Tzidkiya, after the latter scored surprising wins against GMs Smirin and Rechlis from inferior positions. 

In the fourth round it was Nabaty’s turn to spoil a better position and lose to young FM Ido Gorshtein.

After losing against Tzidkiya, Smirin also lost his second game against another youth, Ohad Kraus. GM Nitzan Steinberg lost two games against junior players — in the first round to FM Erez Kupervaser and in the fourth round to IM Eytan Rozen. 

After six rounds, three players are sharing the lead on 4½/6 — Nabaty, Gorshtein, Mikhalevski and Avitar Boluchovsky.

Highlights with expert analysis by Yochanan Afek


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Standings after Round 6 (top 12)


All games


The women’s section

Yuliya ShvaygerIn the 33rd edition of the women’s section, 14 ladies and girls are taking part. The natural favourite is the reigning champion IM Yuliya Shvayger [pictured, right], the early leader considering the absence of all other members of the national team — WGM Marsel Efroimski and WIM Michal Lahav (champion in 2016) chose to compete in the open section. Former champions Masha Klinova and Olga Gutmakher are also missing.

Alongside the youngest field in the history of the competition is another past champion, Shlomit Vardi (1986), who faced her daughter, Adi Federovski, in the second round — the family match ended peacefully pretty quickly.

The director of the women’s section is WIM Ilana David, the Israeli champion in 1980. After two fairly normal opening rounds, a first surprise was recorded in round 3. Expectations for Yuliya Shvaiger’s light spring trip to another title were dashed, at least temporarily, with her defeat as white to the second-rated 17-year-old WFM Michelle Katkov, who stands 250 Elo points behind the reigning champion in the FIDE ranking.

Shvayger, nevertheless, won all her remaining games and is currently the sole leader on 5/6. Katkov is in sole second place, a half point behind.

Michelle Katkov

WFM Michelle Katkov | Photo: Dorit Ritvo Wolfoviz

Standings after Round 6 (top 10)


All games



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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