48 Countries in Chess Competition
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48 Countries in Chess Competition

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Teams from 48 countries are competing in the 22nd International Chess Olympiad which has entered its second week here in a relaxed atmosphere of friendship and goodwill. The participants from abroad are pleased by Haifa’s hospitality and those from colder climates especially are delighted by the mild weather that permits them to swim in the Mediterranean between sessions at the boards.

But this being the Middle East, the specter of politics haunts every activity no matter how apolitical. The International Chess Federation (FIDA), selected Israel to be the host country for the first time in 12 years. That brought a predictable reaction from the Arabs. Libya set up its own counter-tournament which was promptly, disqualified by FIDA. The Arab countries sent teams to Libya and some countries that lean toward the Arabs did the same in order to appease their friends. But they were careful not to give their teams official status in order to avoid sanctions by FIDA.

The Soviet Union and the rest of the Communist bloc are boycotting the Haifa games. But they did not go to Libya. The Russians, however, are participating indirectly in the FIDA Congress which is being held here simultaneously with the Olympiad. They have sent chess problems for solution by experts. Yugoslavia sent delegates to the Congress representing that country and Hungary as well.


The Olympiad was opened officially by Premier Yitzhak Rabin who greeted the 38 men and 22 women players with the injunction of the Prophet Zechariah that problems should be solved not by force but by the spirit. Dr. Max Euew of Holland, president of FIDA and a participant in the tournament, recalled that his status as a chess master helped him save Jews from deportation during World War II. He said the Nazis did not search his home where a number of Jews were in hiding.

Some of the best players on the Israeli team are recent immigrants from the Soviet Union–Grand Master Vladimir Lieberson, Roman Djih-djichashvilli and Leon Lederman on the men’s team and Olga Podgrzeneskaya and Luba Kristal among the women. The kibbitzers–whose numbers are legion–are mainly Israelis. But they include not a few Arab chess fans from Jordan and other neighboring countries who crossed the Jordan River bridges.

The FIDA Congress, meanwhile, has many political problems on its agenda. These include a membership application from the PLO and the question of ousting South Africa. The PLO bid was postponed until the next Congress.

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