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Sixteen of the world’s best chess players are competing in Jerusalem.

By United with Israel Staff

The Jerusalem Grand Prix, part of the World Championship for chess, began last Wednesday in Israel in Jerusalem near the Old City and will continue through December 23. Sixteen people are competing in the elite event. This is the first time Israel has hosted the competition.

The tournament was organized by World Chess, a London-based affiliate of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and the official broadcaster.

Explaining the decision to hold the prestigious tournament in the Holy Land, World Chess CEO Ilya Merenzon said, “We feel that chess is very popular in Israel, and this has proved to be the case — interest from media and chess fans is high. Israel, which is called the ‘start-up nation,’ is interesting for partners and we hope to develop collaboration with Israeli start-ups and technology companies and connect them to chess,” reported Times of Israel.

Holding the event in Israel is considered, by some, to be compensation for the Jewish state following the 2017 fiasco when seven Israeli players were barred from participating in the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship held in Saudi Arabia. At that time, the Arab kingdom denied the Israeli players the required visas to enter the country. This caused FIDE to move the 2018 tournament from Saudi Arabia to Russia.

At the opening ceremony, Zvika Barkai, chairman of the Israel Chess Federation, thanked FIDE for “correcting the mistake” of holding the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Saudi Arabia even though the organizers have denied  that the incident affected their decision to hold this event in Israel, according to the Times.

Only one contender from Israel is participating, Boris Gelfand. He is a top player who almost became world champion in 2012.

“I am very happy that such a high-level tournament is being held in our country,” Gelfand said, after his first match that ended in a tie, reported the Times.

The other players hail from 11 countries, including Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Anish Giri (Netherlands) and Wesley So (United States).

The Jerusalem tournament is the last in the series of four Grand Prix events. Two of its players will join six others in qualifying for the Candidates Tournament. The winner of that competition will play against the reigning world champion from Norway, Magnus Carlsen, next year.

The prize fund of each Grand Prix is 130,000 euros ($144,000), with an additional 280,000 euros ($310,000) for the overall standings.

Merenzon has big plans for developing chess in the Holy Land.

“I think that more than just organizing an event, it would make sense to develop some sort of a footprint for chess, and in Jerusalem it would mean so much,” he said.

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