SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Aleksandr Wohl and I used to play on the same 4NCL team with Tony Miles in 2000 and 2001, before Tony Miles passed away prematurely at age 46. The team was soon disbanded and I lost contact with Wohl after that, but thanks to Michael Yip’s post on one of the message boards I have learned that Wohl has a popular blog (doubleroo). One of the features of the blog is a type of daily-rant , a wonderfully natural idea for chess players (why hasn’t Canadian chess thought this up?)
Saturday’s daily rant was submitted by Australian beauty Arianne Caoili.
Arianne was born December 22, 1986 in Manila but is an Australian citizen. She holds the FIDE Woman International Master title and played 1st board for Australia in Dresden in 2008.
Caoili was one of the celebrity dancers in the fifth season of Dancing with the Stars, and was runner up.
ARIANNE CAOILI’S RANT
First of all I’d like to thank Alex, one of my longest-standing friends, for inviting me to guest rant. The subject of my rant is women’s chess in the Oceania zone, and how the media and other individuals acting as groups support, sustain and cement the already disadvantaged situation of women’s chess in Oceania.
If we can consider tournaments available to women in Oceania as a market then it might be helpful to express my sentiment in terms of the inefficiencies created and supported by the ACF and other stakeholders.
Please note that this is a RANT. If you’re offended, too bad. And a rant is in and of itself audience-independent, so this also means that I don’t in general care if you are interested in my topic or agree with me, or whether you think my argument is coherent or not. At least Alex does – and it’s his blog.
I started playing chess when I was 6 and loved the game with all my heart from the very beginning. Since chess is inherently competitive, I always chose the strongest possible opponent to increase the rush. Being a ‘cute’ little girl and then a photogenic teenager was of superficial benefit but a less obvious curse. It helped with so-called attention but the interest was never in my chess so-much as it was in my publicity value.
Photo ops were more important than my preparation and pressure was put on me to win girls events ‘looking pretty’ rather than garnering real chess achievements.
Although women’s chess in general (especially if you’re under 2400) has been relegated as boring, shallow and ‘inferior’ (who indeed would be interested in that?), subjective enjoyment of the game cannot be questioned – so when I sit there at the start of my game, however inferior and unimportant it may be, I do not appreciate a photographer coyly hiding behind my opponent, gesturing to his camera and mouthing the command ‘smile’ while refusing to get out of my frame of reference until I do so. [This is just to state a recurring example which I experience in nearly every game, an experience that I’m sure many women in chess have frustratingly had to endure – actually, maybe some chicks like it – but I can tell you it’s thoroughly annoying].
Looking back on it now, the obsession with my so-called ‘looks’ bordered on public pedophilia, and fused with certain publicly-constructed scandals culminated into a pathetic orgasm between certain attention-starved (bored?) chess media outlets and individuals with nothing better to talk about.
So back to the subject: the dilemma posed above is not new, many girls experience it. This dilemma is a premise to argue for the reasons why the women’s chess tournament market, so to speak, is like it is and why it keeps on being so. It should also be noted that this dilemma is sustained by the chess media (Chessbase gets 5 stars for this and kudos to Chess Vibes for so far, from my observations, refraining to do so).
If the media and chess sponsors focus on these trivial physical things rather than their chess, it is logical to assume that this is the case because there is nothing more interesting in women’s chess to focus on. Fair enough. But I argue that this is because the women’s tournament market conditions, so to speak, are found wanting and so the product (women’s chess itself) is inferior, and therefore lacking in appeal.
For example: if we get rid of women’s prizes and having separate women’s events alongside men’s events, then we remove inefficiencies altogether! It will force the women to compete, and if they can’t, then over time, the weak get eliminated. This will produce, OVER TIME, a superior women’s chess-playing populace.
The weak-minded chess players will lose interest, but I would argue that they never really were interested in chess if they can’t stand the competition or at least try to overcome the competition (isn’t this what chess is about?). I agree that we should have ‘beginner’s protection’, since chess is not elitist but for everyone. That is fine: just don’t divide the beginners section by gender. Simple high school economics, no?
The elimination of gender ‘barriers’ altogether, by simply ignoring the distinction and eliminating tournament rules and conditions that support these barriers, will over time create stronger women chess players – and thus obliterate the very notion of women’s chess, because they will be just as interesting and maybe even just as strong as men (their attraction will no longer be based on physical looks but their actual chess).
I think that Judit Polgar is an excellent champion of this theory. For a more recent, less legendary example, look at the performances of the ladies in the last Wijk aan Zee section C. Tania and Katherina faced the competition and put in formidable performances (to say the least).
So back to me again (it’s my rant, remember). Since you never forget your first love, after many years of absence I started playing chess again sporadically and am enjoying the challenge as much as ever. However people still try to spoil my fun. Just a few months ago I wanted to play in the Oceanic Zonal. After easily winning the last Women’s Zonal I did not feel like playing against the same opponents that one might possibly, without much exaggeration, get a high plus score against in a simul.
What’s the point of playing in an event that offers little competition, negligible rating points and 9 games in openings such as 1.e4 c6 2. d4 g6 or some other off beat line? – although I think one must play all chess positions (a natural right and enjoyment of chess players in general) it’s also nice to encounter a main line in the Gruenfeld or Slav (it has been to my experience that most women chess players in Australia and New Zealand simply don’t know or haven’t had to know main lines, or they deviate via some devilishly annoying gambit, so the result is some off-beat position). [Just a note on that point – Levon has always told me that we, players like our dear Alex (!) and myself, on ‘our’ level, shouldn’t obsess about the openings, but I think that even on ‘our’ level with all of our miscalculations and Rybka-ignorant ideas, that main lines can be fun too].
Anyway, I asked the organizers if I could play in the open (men’s section). Although the New Zealanders had no objections the ACF were downright hostile to my request. Not only would I lose my accommodation spot but would have to pay a $250 entry fee. I wrote an email addressed to both the organizers and the ACF to try to discuss my concerns but got not even so much as an acknowledgement of receipt.
Given, my accommodation spot was for a woman’s slot in the women’s open – but firstly, do you know how many of these ‘spots’ in both the men’s and women’s were forgone (many of them didn’t show up or chose alternative accommodation); and secondly, if they can’t give accommodation, why charge $250 for Australia’s number 1 female to play in the men’s section? This zonal open represented a rare opportunity for women players like me to actually engage in competitive battles and garner experience – but yet again, there is evidence of barriers to entry into ‘the men’s market’. In the end, I decided to play in a Wijk aan Zee open section round robin and got a bit of an a$$-kicking. So it gave me some experience and (I hope) I am better off for it.
Arianne and Levon
Let me sum up my argument by giving an example of a piece of oration Levon once gave me over some gambas a la plancha: ‘Arianne, you’re playing men here. You can’t rely on tricks, yoyo emotions and crappy openings. These guys know their theory, and they fight. You can’t possibly compare a 2400 female and a 2400 guy – just have a look at the source of their rating points’.
If we get rid of gender related divisions/prizes/conditions altogether, then the ‘market’ for women to garner their rating points and experience will be larger and more competitive, and thus over time Oceania women chess players in general will not only be stronger but also more interesting to talk about in chess terms.
Chess isn’t for wannabe beauty queens or weak minded people. The whole fun and allure of chess lies in competition, and it is this that has been systematically eliminated from women’s chess. It is women’s physical qualities, not mental faculties, which are being appreciated (or abused) due to the lack of their ability, in purely chess terms, to offer a critical mass of interesting games.
This dilemma of ill-ability is caused by the fact that women’s chess tournaments, as a market, is inferior, in terms of competitive value and playing quality (because the market is protected). By virtue of this inferiority, the sad conditions of the market are sustained by the stakeholders (the chess media, organizers etc).
Therefore, if women’s chess is ever to be competitive and women chess players are to be respected for their chess, then it is time to remove the protective barriers. I think it’s time that women manned up or at least be given the chance to man up – because if women want profits from their tits they can call Hugh Hefner (if they’re hot enough).