The missing players

by ChessBase
12/1/2023 – On October 7th, in their brutal attack, Hamas took 240 hostages from Israel. After tough negotiations some of them are being currently released. In world-wide actions people showed their support – including in chess circles. In Savion, Hungarian-Israeli IM Sofia Polgar held a simultaneous exhibition in order to show concern and solidarity. Sofia has sent us a report with some very moving pictures.

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A month ago, you might have read about a chess player boy, named Ohad Munder who "celebrated" his 9th birthday as a hostage, after he was kidnapped to Gaza by Hamas. For me as a Hungarian-Israeli chess player, it was especially heartbreaking to learn about his story. A bright kid who is very good at playing chess, tennis and solving the Rubik Cube. A week ago I wrote:

"I was and still am wondering if his glasses broke when he was kidnapped? Where is he and all the other 239 hostages under those dark tunnels, how are they treated? Perhaps, Ohad's chess playing abilities help him to live through these miserable days? Possibly, he replays some of his games in his head? Maybe there are other children or grown-ups who also like to play chess and they can play blindfold games, like I used to play with my sisters when we were his age? Possibly I was reading too much Stefan Zweig and other novellas, that is why I have a wishful thinking that the hostages and the terrorists might even play games together, pretending they are human in an inhuman situation?!"

Then, last Friday, after negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the first batch of 13 hostages was set free by Hamas. Ohad, his mother Keren Munder and his grandmother Ruth Munder were among the hostages handed over to the Israeli authorities, after 48 days in their underground prison. ChessBase reported on the release.

* * *

I have taken part and seen hundreds of simultaneous chess exhibitions since my childhood. It is really one of the best ways to connect with people of all ages who have a passion for the game. When I was a little girl, I was already playing against ten or twenty people, and it was always a great joy to win most of those games. Some of these games were played with my winter jacket on in the middle of main squares of different towns, others in the heat of a beach. There were also special simuls together with my sisters Susan and Judit, where we would challenge a hundred opponents in one giant circle. During these chess exhibitions I met many interesting people, including champions of other sports, celebrities and high rank officials, and there were many moments that were touching. But never would I have thought that I will play on a simul like the one a few days ago. "The Missing Player" was emotionally the toughest simultaneous chess exhibition ever.

The empty chessboards with the photos of the children in captivity [click to enlarge]

There are no words to describe the atrocities that happened on that horrible October 7th massacre by the Hamas. Since then, most Israelis, including myself, do a lot of voluntary work, to help the survivors and the roughly 130 thousand people who were forced to leave their homes because their houses were either destroyed or too dangerous to stay in.

When my friend Lior told me about his idea to organize an event of solidarity with families who have family members in captivity, of course I told him to count on me: I will be there! When he told me about the idea of the "Missing Player", a simultaneous exhibition where each player would represent hostages, with their photos and names next to each board, I admit I had goosebumps. Honestly, I still do when I think of it.

Handshake with ambassador Szentgyörgyi before the game, with organizer Lior Aizenberg

On November 21, we set up the boards for the simultaneous exhibition in solidarity for the families of the kidnapped hostages. A big thank you for Lior Aizenberg and for Moti Landau, Municipality of Savion for organizing this meaningful event and also for the Hungarian Ambassador, Zoltán Szentgyörgyi for participating and giving me a good fight on the board.

On one hand, our hearts are broken, and half of my heart is in Gaza until all hostages come home. On the other hand, life must go on, and we do not let terror take over our lives. So, it was a very sad-happy event. The participating children had a great time playing, as all children should. They were also pretty good: the final result of the simul was me winning 16 games, but also losing five. Congratulations for the five winners: Amnon Magen, Noam Sasson, Klimchuk Georgiy, Yoav Berger, Inbal Gavriel!

After the simul there was another global event by Chess4Solidarity, a big online tournament in the same spirit: playing chess to Bring Them Home. About 40 children have been kidnapped from ages 10 months to 18 years old. Time is running out! We all stand with the families of the kids who were abducted on the 7th of October, sending a message to the world that the children should be released. Nearly 300 participants from Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Bhutan, many from Israel, of course, and from all over the world are strengthening this message for the return of the abducted children. For humanity!

The online event was opened by Israel's best player and former challenger for the World Chess Championship, Boris Gelfand. "Good evening, everyone, it's a very important event. All of us are very worried about 240 hostages who are suffering, and I hope this tournament will help at least a little bit to accelerate their release and bring attention to this huge tragedy. That's all we can do. The thoughts of all of us are with all the people, our citizens and the citizens of different countries, who have been abducted and praying for their release as soon as possible. Good luck."

Lior Aizenberg the organizer of the event continued: "Over ten thousand rockets were fired at us so far, thus no over-the-board chess activities are being held in South of Israel. We really hope to get back to the routine, to play chess online but also over the board." He then greeted the next special guest with the words "Someone who was beyond everyone else, Israel's second astronaut," Eytan Stibbe, and thanked him for his support for the families of the kidnapped children.

Organizer Lior Aizenberg and astronaut Eytan Stibbe

Eytan Stibbe's welcoming words: "It's a great honor to be here, and thank you to Lior for arranging this event in such a short notice. Competition is a natural phenomenal between people, and chess is a beautiful part of it, because it's all overground, transparent, nothing in tunnels or unseen. I hope, I wish we can have a competition, a tournament with participation of children all over the world, including Gaza and other Arab countries surrounding us, and have a fair fight on the chess board. Good luck to everyone!"

In this Chess4Solidarity initiative online event three groups were competing for $2000 prize fund. Alon Cohen was the tournament director and GM Miron Lucian-Costin gave online commentaries on Lichess. In the main section, nine grandmasters participated, and the winner was the Ukrainian grandmaster Li Min Peng, with 8 points out of 9. The Israeli player Roy Ehrlich got the second prize under the username Bishvil Hayladim, which means: For the Children.

Many nice tactics were played in these blitz games, my favorite is the following:

I would like to finish this article with the words I spoke at the opening ceremony of the Missing Player simultaneous exhibition. I have only one wish: that soon all the hostages will be back and be able to play again at home.

Photos: Laszlo Eli Berger and Lior Aizenberg

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