The last checkmate – simul record in doubt?

by ChessBase
11/12/2010 – "Israel destroys Iran – on the chess board" – the blaring headlines that accompanied GM Alik Gershon's simultaneous chess world record, set up recently in Tel Aviv, have been replaced by skeptical tones. "Chess victory over Iran rigged?" asked in the Israeli newspaper "Yediot Aharonot" and published a list of doubts. We asked the organisers and received a forceful reply.

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IzRus, an Israeli, Russian-language Internet site, has stirred up a bit of a commotion last weekend with a story entitled "Chess victory over Iran rigged?" (Сохнут сфальсифицировал шахматную победу над Ираном?) – originally published in the Israeli newspaper "Yediot Aharonot". In it the simultaneous record scored for the Guinness Book by GM Alik Gershon in Tel Aviv is called into question. The 30-year-old native of Dnepropetrovsk beat 86% of the contestants, most of whom were immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He won 454 games, drew 58 and lost only 11. Two players were disqualified by the judges during the game. The last game, against 13-year-old student of the Shevah Mofet school, Darya Chivolskoy, ended only in the morning on October 22. The event, organized by the Jewish Agency and the Chess Federation of Israel, was widely reported in the media as "a victory over Iran" – the previous record belonged to an Iranian grandmaster who played against 500 opponents and won 80% of the games.

However, according to Yediot Aharonot, Gershon's record was very dubious. "First of all not all players were members of the Chess Federation of Israel, as stated by the organizers of the tournament. And not all had a rating greater than 1200 Elo points, as required by the rules of such contests. In Israel there are thousands of players of this level, but the tournament organizers chose not to invite them. 300 out of 525 contestants were students of the Gershon School Shevah Mofet. Unlike Darya Chivolskoy, most of them can at best be considered chess enthusiasts. Journalist of Yediot Ahronot interviewed about 100 children who participated in the tournament. It turned out that many of them do not even know the names of chess pieces, and only six were members of the federation. One of the boys confessed that even learned to play the day before the tournament."

According to Yediot Aharonot, children with a rating over 1800 points were not allowed to play, apparently in order to facilitate the victory of Gershon. And indeed, he had finished 202 games in the first six hours, as the level of the players was very low. Some students were also taken home by their parents before the end of the games.

Israeli GM Alik Gershon taking on 523 players simultaneously...

... amongst them some youthful opponents

In turn, some really strong players who have decided to fight it out with the GM, complained to reporters that he was absent for long periods of time, and when the chess pieces flew off the board due to the wind, the game was immediately recorded as a loss for them.

The representative of the Guinness Book of Records, Jack Brookbank, who was appointed to monitor the progress of the tournament, arrived at the venue only at 17.00h on October 21 (the simul had commenced at 12.00 am on the same day). He soon retired to the hotel, and early the next morning a representative of event woke him and brought him to the venue of the tournament, in time to register the last victory of Gershon.

Jack Brookbank, the Guinness representative, who was in Tel Aviv...

... to document the record attempt and certify its success

Employees of the Israeli Chess Federation claim that the facts of Yediot Aharonot are not quite accurate, and that all the conditions agreed with the Guinness Book of Records had been met. Responding to accusations that many of Gershon's rivals did not know how to play chess, they replied that "all participants had received lessons in playing chess with qualified instructors." The representative of the Guinness Book of Records, Jack Brookbank, was not willing to answer questions of the newspaper, stating that he did not know what was the level of players was. GM Alik Gershon also declined to answer the reporters' questions.

"The Guinness record is authentic"

By IM Yochanan Afek

For a while there has been a cloud over the remarkable record for a simultanoues chess display set last month in Tel Aviv by the Israeli GM Alik Gershon, who played for 18 hours and 30 minutes in Rabin Square against 523 opponents. An article published last weekend in an Israeli daily called "Yediot Aharonot" threatened the record, raising a series of suspicions as to the validity of the remarkable achievement.

I asked both general directors of the events as well as senior officials of the Israel Chess Federation for their response to the accusations of irregularities during the simultaneous exhibition. Here is a summary of the various responses:

  1. The writer of the Yediot Aharonot article did not attend the event and presumably received the information from certain groups in the Israeli chess community, not yet definitely identified, whose aim was undoubtedly to harm the Israeli Chess Federation and its remarkable achievement, as well as the Shevach-Mofet school, of which some 250 pupils took part in the simultaneous display. All Shevach-Mofet students are active players, and none of them can be counted among those "who just yesterday learned to move the pieces".

  2. In the written agreement between the Israeli Chess Federation and the Guinness Board it was established that the opponents of GM Alik Gershon would be of suitable standard and their rating would range between 1200 and 1800. All the players were indeed rated accordingly, and although they were not required to be members of the chess federation, nor even to be registered, that was merely our own instruction to do so. It should be mentioned that some 20 players were even rated higher than 1800.

  3. The match demanded an extreme physical effort from GM Alik Gershon during more than 18 hours of play, as well as from the hundreds participants. According to the rules, a loss was automatically given to the player – whether a child or an adult – who had withdrawn due to fatigue or otherwise, or who failed to be present at his board when the grandmaster reached it. Apart of that neither was a game disqualified nor was it awarded with a result (draw, win or loss) if interrupted by an external cause (such as the wind). The position was then reconstructed and the game was resumed and played to its end.

  4. According to the agreement with the Guinness Board, some statements were provided in which persons who had attended the exhibition (among them two lawyers, an International Chess Arbiter, a bank manager and others) testified that the rules set by Guinness were indeed kept during the game. A police chief inspector, who was in charge of the security, stated that the playing area was properly fenced and entering it was strictly controlled. Moreover, along each section, an arbiter or an observer was officially in charge (in total 30 officials (far beyond Guinness requirement for 15 arbiters only!) strictly enforcing the rules.

  5. It is important to emphasize that according to the Guinness rules it is not mandatory to invite their representative to attend the event. The statements would have been sufficient, just they were in other countries in the past. Nevertheless we decided to act more strictly and to invite, at our own expense, an official representative of Guinness. We cannot be responsible to the number of hours he chose to be physically present there.

Following this recent mini-storm the record has been nonetheless reconfirmed and declared once again as absolutely authentic by the Guinness World Records International Marketing Manager Justine Bourdariat. "The company's guidelines were followed" she said.

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