Remembering Leonid (Zvulon) Gofshtein

by Assi Philosoph
7/13/2023 – Leonid (Zvulon) Gofshtein was a Grandmaster and a strong player, who played an important role for chess in Israel. He was born 21 April 1953 in Kiev, Ukraine, but later moved to Israel, where he died from cancer on 25 December 2015. To remember and to honour Gofshtein, the Bat-Yam Chess Club organised a strong tournament, which was won by Evgeny Postny.

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On Saturday, 17 June 2023, the recently opened Bat-Yam Chess Club, under the direction of Michael Elkin, organised a tournament in memory of Leonid (Zvulon) Gofshtein. 106 players came to honour Gofshtein's memory. I would like to take this opportunity to remember this special and beloved man.

Leonid was born on 21 April 1953 in Kiev, Ukraine. His mother, Atalia, was a maths teacher. His father, David, was an official in the Ministry of Transport in Kiev. Jacob, Leonid's elder brother, graduated in mathematics from Moscow University and taught mathematics at Bar Ilan University.

Leonid learned to play chess at the age of 4 and as a child he often and successfully played against his father and older brother. When he joined the Kiev chess club, Leonid was already beating the older children in the club and loved to study the games of Lasker, Capablanca and Botvinnik.

Leonid lived in the Ukraine until the late 80s and became a very strong player. But due to the lack of international tournaments, he was not even an IM when he immigrated to Israel in the 90s. His good friend and coach IM Ilya Botvinnik said:

"Lonya was already playing at a very high level in the Soviet Union, but there were not enough tournaments to make norms. As a result, he only achieved the IM and GM title after moving to Israel. He was a good friend, a dear and beloved man with a positive attitude to life. He tried to help everyone."

In 1992, Gofshtein represented Israel at the Chess Olympiad in Manila Olympics, where he scored 5.5 out of 9 on board 4, a result that helped Israel to finish on 11th place. A few months later, at the age of 40, Gofshtein officially became a grandmaster.

The following game illustrates his tactical skills:

Ilya Smirin - Leonid Gofshtein Ischia, 1996

White has just played 17. Qe1?!, but he had to play 17.b3 to prevent the game continuation 17...b3 18.axb3 Rxb3! Perhaps White missed this move. 19.e5 After 19.cxb3 cxb3+ Black has a winning attack. 19...Rxb2 20.f6 c3! Threatening Rxb1. 21. Rd3 Qb7 22.Rxc3 Rb1+ 23.Kd2 Nxc3 24.fxg7 Rg8 and White resigned.

At the top tournament in Hoogeveen 1999 Gofshtein tied for first with Mikhail Gurevich, Sergey Tiviakov and Rustam Kasimdzhanov. In January 2000 Gofshtein reached his peak rating of 2585, and in the same year he also decided to change his first name to Zvulon.

During the ceremony of the Gofshtein Memorial GM Evgeny Postny told an interesting anecdote about Gofshtein's decision to change his first name:

"In 2000 Leonid changed his first name to Zvulon. There was a rapid tournament at the Elitzur Chess Club in Petach Tikva. Leonid and I used to play many rapid tournaments. The club had a small library with magazines from the 90s. While browsing through a magazine, one of the amateur players came across a picture of 'Leonid Gofshtein'. The amateur player told me that the man in the picture looked very much like Zvulon and asked: 'Is Zvulon Leonid's brother?'

Evgeny added: "I played a total of 39 games against him (Gofshtein) and he was always a difficult opponent. I learnt a lot from these games, because he had a special style that combined a strong intuition, dynamics and universality. Gofshtein played all kinds of positions at a very high level but did not study openings, which sometimes led to mixed results in his play. But when Zvulon survived the opening, his practical strength would come out and he could beat almost any player".

In 2002 Gofshtein shared first place in the Israeli Championship with Ilya Smirin and Boris Avrukh, and in 2003 Gofshtein won the Israeli Rapid Chess Championship.

In 2004 Zvulon was first in the open section of the Ashdod International Chess Festival, ahead of players such as Najer, Roiz, Erenburg, Postny, Mikhalevski, Psakhis and Huzman.

In 2013 he played first board for Israel at the European Senior Championships in Dresden, Germany, and finished with 7.5 out of 9 to win the gold medal for Israel. In 2014, a year before his death, Gofshtein won the Israeli Senior Individual Championship in Haifa in classical and rapid chess.

Gofsthein playing for Elitzur Petach Tikva in 2013. Next to him sits Roman Bar, a former student of Gofsthein. Next to Bar plays Alexander Mikhalevski.

Even in his last season in the National Chess League, Gofshtein demonstrated his strength. In round 7 Gofshtein played on board 1 against Tamir Nabaty, a member of the national team of Israel.

Leonid (Zvulon) Gofshtein (Elitzur "Dov" Petah Tikva) - Tamir Nabaty (Hapoel Kfar Saba) National League 2015 - Round 7

After a dangerous opening Black is in a difficult position. From here to the end, Gofshtein continued the game precisely and gave his opponent no chance.

16. e5! Clears the e4 square and opens the file for the rook 16..dxe5 17.Nge4 Qf7 18.Nxc5 White eliminates Black's active bishop and makes room for the second knight. bxc5 19.Ne4 Nd7 20.Ng5 Qe7 21.Nxe6 Ndf6

22. Rae1! White brings more forces into the attack. The reason why Gofsthein played the rook on a1 to e1 will be revealed later.

22...e4 23.Bf4 Kf7 24. Ng5 Kg7 25. Nxe4 Bxe4 26. Bxe4 Nxe4 Exchanging some pieces does not help Black.

27.f3 Nf6 28. Bh6+ Kf7 and Black resigned before White played 29.fxe4, winning on the f-file. (See move 22).

Speaking at the tournament's opening ceremony, local club director Michael Elkin said: "Since our club is located in Bat-Yam, it seemed most natural to organise an event in Gofshtein's memory. Leonid was a resident of Bat-Yam and he also organised several tournaments in his city, trying to promote chess in Bat-Yam."

Due to a trip abroad, Gofshtein's widow Svetlana couldn't attend the opening ceremony, but her words were read out at the event:

"Even when the doctors diagnosed Leonid with cancer, he did not stop teaching and playing. His love for life and chess gave him energy and the desire to share his talent with his students, whom he loved with all his heart and believed in their future."

Leonid with his wife Svetlana

Four GMs and 8 IMs took part in the tournament. Among the participants were several of Gofshtein's students, including FM Moshe Friedland and NM Yaakov Sokolinski. Another of Leonid's students is FM Or Cohen, who added to the article:

"Gofshtein was unique in the Israeli landscape. He understood the psychological aspect of the game more than any other GM I have ever known".

Elijah Liflyand, said that he had known Leonid since his youth and spent many hours discussing high level chess with Gofshtein.

Elijah Liflyand tells experiences about his friend.

In the tournament GM Evgeny Postny finished first with 9.5 out of 11. He did not lose a single game and had a better tiebreak than Emil Sutovsky, who also finished on 9.5 out of 11 and did not lose a single game.

3rd place: FM Or Globus with 8.5 points

4th place: IM Alik Vydeslaver with 8.5 points

5th place: FM Roy Vagman with 8 points

Final results here.

On Saturday 24 June IM and psychologist Igor Bitensky, who was Leonid's teammate for many years, first at ASA Tel Aviv in the early 2000s (the team led by Gofshtein was at the top of the league in those years, including second place in 2001) and then in his last years at Elitzur Petach Tikva, hold a lecture.

He remembered his friend and joined the audience in analysing Gofshtein's best games against players such as Psakhis, Tseitlin and Sutovsky.

Bitensky (third from the right) and the participants of the lecture

Gofshtein was known as a player who thought outside the box. He looked for creative ways to deal with problems both on and off the board, giving intuition an important place in his decision-making.

Leonid passed away on 25 December 2015 after a serious illness, while "leaving his mark on the world of chess and in the hearts of his friends, students and relatives", as his wife said in her speech at the ceremony.

This is the third tournament held in his memory (in 2016 and 2022 the Haifa-Nesher Chess Club held rapid tournaments in his memory).

Thanks to Svetlana, Leonid's widow, and Michael Elkin, the tournament director, for the information given and for organising the festival in memory of Leonid Gofshtein. Thanks also to all those who contributed to this article.

We would like to point out that on 5 August 2023 the Bat-Yam Club will be holding a celebratory tournament in honour of GM Jacob Murey, who will be celebrating his 82nd birthday. You are all invited to come and pay your respects to the chess legend at the Bat-Yam Chess Club, Rabbi Nissenbaum 11, 2nd floor.

Finally, a position from a prestigious competition in France in 1994, where Leonid faced GM Mikhail Gurevich. What is the best way to attack the white king?

Mikhail Gurevich - Leonid Gofshtein Cap Dajada, France 1994

Answer: 1...Be1+! leads to a quick mate 2. Rxe1 Ra3+

But 1...Ra3+ loses to 2.Rac3! and it is White who mates

Assi Philosoph has a Bachelor in Philosophy and a Master in Cinema from Tel Aviv University. He likes to explore chess from many different angles, such as writing, filming and of course playing. He is also a former deputy director of the Israeli Chess Federation. His favorite player is Tigran Petrosian.