Forty minutes before each game of the World chess championship, two gentlemen enter the sound-proof glass arena with an air of formality. First, they check the temperature of the room, then the position of the chairs, tables and chessboard before settling down on their respective chairs.
Being the chief arbiter and deputy arbiter for an event of this magnitude, is serious business. While chief arbiter Ashot Vardapetyan is a veteran, Almog Burstein has assumed the role of deputy for the first time.
Though Burstein is at ease with his work, and enjoying it, visiting India and learning about the country has had a profound impact on him.
“There is nothing like this (India) in any part of the world,” he says. “I am currently reading an Israeli book named Masala written by an Israeli writer. I have learnt so many things about India. From the first 50 pages, I learnt about Indian people. There are a few rich people, and many poor ones. But whenever I go to the streets, there is no violence. The people don’t show anger. There is peace in poverty in India,” says the 63-year-old, who has been an International arbiter since 1977.
The treasurer of European Chess Union and Executive Director of Israel Chess Federation, he has been part of a record 10 Olympiads either as an arbiter or organiser. “I have been on duty since the 1976 Olympiad in Haifa.
“Not many have done 10 Olympiads,” he says.
Haifa was the first Olympiad to use a computer and to be run on the Swiss System, he says. Having been a politician — he held several positions from 1976-2006 for the Liberal Party of Israel — Burstein is used to people saying “bad things about me” and his privacy being invaded.
The best part of the World championship, according to him, was the great rapport he shares with Vardapetyan. “He is a very good friend of mine. I first met him during the Olympiad in ’76. In October last year, he was my deputy (arbiter) in the European Club championship in Eilat,” he says. “Ashot is one of the best arbiters in the world.”
Burstein says promoting chess in Israel has not been easy as sponsors are hard to come by. “We are striving for support,” he says.
Though he doesn’t have too many professional goals, his personal dream is to “visit Taj Mahal”.