Chess Provides Therapeutic Escape Amidst War in Israel

Chess Provides Therapeutic Escape Amidst War in Israel

Israeli Open Championship brings together chess players of all ages amidst conflict

Amidst the ongoing war against Hamas, a chess tournament in Israel provided an unexpected escape for participants. The Israeli Open Championship, held in Acre from January 21 to January 29, attracted 132 chess players ranging in age from 9 to 78. Despite the conflict, players from all over Israel, including children from Druze villages, gathered to compete in the tournament. Chess, for many, offered a therapeutic outlet and a respite from the worries of war.

Chess as Therapy

Avi Cohen, whose son Israel was the tournament’s youngest competitor and winner of the eight-and-under Israeli chess tournament in 2022, described chess as an escape from the war. Rather than sitting around worrying, chess provided a therapeutic outlet for participants. For many, it was a way to find solace and focus amidst the chaos.

The organizer of the event, Olga Volkov, runs a chess club in Nahariya and coaches chess players in Shlomi, a town on the border with Lebanon. Despite the war and the evacuation of Shlomi’s residents due to sympathy attacks from Hezbollah, Volkov continued to support her chess players, even traveling to Haifa to coach them.

Chess in Israeli Schools

The popularity of chess in Israel has been growing in recent years, thanks in part to initiatives like the educational program “Chess in School.” The program, which began in 2016, has introduced chess to over 300 schools across Israel, including those in the Jewish, Arab, and Druze sectors. Thousands of Israeli children are now playing chess, finding in it a passion and a means of personal growth.

Chess as a Means of Rehabilitation

Chess has also been recognized for its potential in aiding rehabilitation. Andrei Gurbanov, a chess coach and vice-chairman of the International Physically Disabled Chess Association (IPCA), believes that chess can help soldiers wounded during the war. Gurbanov, who was born with one arm, has established chess clubs in various Druze settlements in northern Israel and helped establish a chess club in the Beit HaLochem soldiers’ rehabilitation center in Haifa.

Chess as a Mental Discipline

Chess is not only a game but a mental discipline that requires concentration and decision-making skills. Avi Cohen, a chess player and father of Israel, believes that chess enhances the mind and teaches players to make decisions on their own. However, he acknowledges that chess requires discipline and study, making it a challenging endeavor for children with boundless energy.

The Israeli Open Championship brought together chess players of all ages amidst the war, providing a therapeutic escape and a means of personal growth. Chess, with its ability to foster concentration, decision-making, and discipline, has gained popularity in Israel in recent years. Whether as a means of therapy, rehabilitation, or mental discipline, chess continues to captivate and inspire players across the country.