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Jewish Journal

L.A. chess club under investigation for anti-Semitic e-mail

by Ryan Torok

February 8, 2011 | 6:07 pm

Mick Bighamian, founder and director of the Los Angeles Chess Club, denies writing an e-mail to 22-year-old Israeli grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky in mid-January that read, “We don’t allow players from terrorist countries to participate in our tournaments.”

Bykhovsky, a freshman at Texas Tech University, received the e-mail the day after sending a request to Bighamian to play in an upcoming tournament.

In a phone interview, Bighamian said that he usually leaves his e-mail app open on the club’s computer, and anybody there could have sent the e-mail, which included his name at the bottom. He denies being anti-Semitic or being prejudiced against Israelis, but he refused to discuss his feelings about Israel.

“I don’t think my views of any countries is anyone else’s business,” he said.

Bighamian said he has not found out who sent the e-mail, but added that he has placed new restrictions on the computer to limit who can send e-mails.

After The New York Times published an article about the e-mail on Jan. 24, people in the chess community dug up anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages on Web bulletin boards from the late 1990s written by someone using the name Mansour Bighamian (Mansour is Bighamian’s real first name).

Bill Hall, executive director of United States Chess Federation (USCF), is currently investing a complaint about the e-mail and said Bighamian or his club could face sanctions, probation or expulsion.

Shortly after receiving the e-mail, Bykhovsky forwarded it to officials at the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) at Texas Tech.

“Basically he didn’t know how to deal with the situation,” said Paul Truong, director of marketing and public relations at SPICE.

“He was stunned…. [He] thought somebody was playing a prank or something,” Truong said.

Bykhovsky, who moved to the United States from Israel last year to study at Texas Tech and ranks in the top half percent of 80,000 USCF members, declined to discuss the incident with The Journal. In an e-mail, he said he wants the appropriate authorities to resolve the matter.

He also didn’t respond to the Los Angeles Chess Club e-mail. “He found this was something beneath him to respond to such remarks,” Truong said.

On Jan. 19, SPICE filed a complaint with the World Chess Federation. The World Chess Federation has 170 member federations, including the USCF; the Los Angeles Chess Club is an affiliate member. The USCF started the investigation after the complaint was filed.

A misunderstanding led to the initial e-mail exchange. While reading a chess newsletter, Bykhovsky came across an advertisement for the First Metropolitan International, a tournament in August that is being organized by Metropolitan Chess Club, another Los Angeles group. But Bykhovsky accidentally wrote to Bighamian, whose club was also advertising an event in the same issue.

Ankit Gupta, chief organizer for the Metropolitan Chess Club, denounced the e-mail, whether it was sent by Bighamian or not, and welcomed Bykhovsky to play in his club’s tournament.

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

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