The southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva holds a world record of number of chess grandmasters per capita, with one in 20,000.
A former Soviet chess official and Leningrad Spartak chess club coach, Eliyahu Levant was one of about 140,000 Soviet Jews allowed to immigrate to Israel in the early 1970s during a brief thaw in Kremlin policy, which otherwise barred Jews from leaving. He chose to live in Be’er Sheva.
The southern Israeli city achieved the game’s highest ranking, thanks to Levant, who founded the Be’er Sheva Chess Club immediately after settling there.
Arriving in Israel in 1973, he surprised Israel’s chess community by turning down a position at the Tel Aviv chess club and announcing that he was going to Be’er Sheva. Back in the Soviet Union, Levant was captivated by the vision of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, to turn sleepy Be’er Sheva into the capital of the Negev desert.
Under Levant’s tutelage, Be’er Sheva has grown into the dominant force in Israeli chess.
Levant says his club’s success comes from nurturing young talent. He teaches children as young as four. Inside the club, the silence of deep concentration is frequently punctuated by the cries of the youngsters shouting “Is this it?” as they solve puzzles posed by their teacher, who exhorts them to think three moves ahead while asking them to take their feet off the tables.
For Levant, his greatest achievement is not the trophies or internationally ranked players, but his contribution to the youth of the city. “All my students, every single one, went on to university,” he said proudly.
(With files from chessdom.com)