Friday, May 14, 2010

Chess Players not fighting fair:

I’ve been enjoying a fascinating book, Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade. (The book comes fairly by its provocative title. Shahade could reasonably have called the book “Chess Queen”; but she wants to memorialize a male Grandmaster analyzing one of his games and saying, “and then I moved my bitch to G5.”) Shahade’s subject in this book is how women compete in male-dominated endeavors. To that end, she’s a remarkably able reporter, giving us her interviewees' actions and responses, even when they conflict with her own ideals.

Her book is a history of Women in Chess, seen through the lens of women trying to find their place in parts of the world that have allocated bizarre places for them. (A weird example that she points out: up to chess ratings of about 2400, a person who plays cautiously is derided as playing like a girl. But above 2400, a player who attacks uncautiously is the one derided as playing like a girl.) It’s no surprise that she mentions a tournament where a male grandmaster lost to a woman and complained that the woman had gained an unfair advantage by wearing a low-cut blouse.

That anecdote reminded me of one of mine, from the wild-west days of the Nassau County High School Chess League, in 1958. One of the best players in this league was a young woman, Sheila Magarik. Everyone else was male. When her school, Malverne, played Lynbrook, her Lynbrook opponent was instructed to stare at her breasts in hopes of disconcerting her. After a while she made a crushing move, and as she let go of her piece, she said, “Your fly’s open.” She won.

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