29. 10. 2005 On Tuesday night, the legendary Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan drew a record crowd – and it wasn’t for a tournament but to celebrate the publication of Jennifer Shahade’s long-anticipated book on women in chess.
Jennifer Shahade talking to the crowd at the Marshall Chess Club
Two hundred people turned out to hear Jennifer Shahade—two-time US Women’s Champion and the strongest female player ever to be born and raised in America—share stories from Chess Bitch. “I can’t remember the last time the Marshall was this crowded or this well-dressed,” said Doug Bellizzi, the Marshall’s president.
Shahade, who is crisscrossing the country giving simuls, readings, and talks to promote her book, chose the Marshall for the New York launch because the club was important to her own career and to women players in general. The Marshall was the site of the first official US Women’s Chess Championship in 1937, and it was the place where Jennifer became a master in 1996 at the infamous all-night Insanity Tournament with rounds that began at 9:00 at night and ended at 9:00 in the morning.
Jennifer and a fan
The book includes a general discussion of different views on why there aren’t more women in chess, but it quickly moves on to detailed profiles of a diverse group of women who play chess well. The writing is strong and provocative.
On Kasparov’s famous claim that women don’t succeed at chess because they are too easily distracted by “extraneous events, such as a baby crying upstairs”: “To test Garry’s theory, I propose that a tournament with one hundred female and one hundred male participants be held underneath a baby nursery. It would then be possible to see how men and women react and adapt their play to the distracting cries of babies.”
With the special book presentation cakes
Shahade is at her best when getting players to reveal themselves.
On the male claim that thinking about sex hurts their chess. “A twenty-two-year-old male amateur told me jokingly, ‘I would be a grandmaster if only I could stop thinking about sex during the game for more than fifteen minutes. I think it would be easier if I were a woman.’ According to the 2003 American champion Alexander Shabalov, professionals have not overcome that obstacle: he said that most men, regardless of their strength, are thinking about sex for most of the game. With characteristic candor, the Latvian-born grandmaster tells me: ‘In most games, I am thinking about girls for about fifty to seventy-five percent of the time, another fifteen percent goes to time management, and with what’s left over, I am calculating.’ When I mention that twenty-five percentage points is a big range, Alexander agrees: ‘You can tell if it’s closer to fifty or seventy-five percent by the quality of the game. Fifty percent is great chess. Seventy-five percent I can play okay, but where it is really dangerous is when it slips up to ninety percent.’”
GM Joel and Debbie Benjamin with Jenny Shahade
On women who date strong chessplayers: “Elizabeth Vicary, a chess expert and coach from Brooklyn, has always been attracted to strong chessplayers and is unapologetic about it: ‘There must be some reason to be initially attracted to someone, and I admire people who are good at what they do. Liking someone for their chess strength is not as superficial as liking them for their appearance or money.’”
On the goals of Irina Krush, who still holds the record as the youngest US Women’s champion (when she was 14): “When I ask Irina about her dreams in chess, I get a passionate response: ‘My ultimate fantasy,’ she says, eyes flashing, Russian accent on full, ‘is to play e4 and d4 equally well…to be a two-headed monster. That’s a dream with some soul in it.’”
In the game of chess, the strongest piece – the Queen – is often referred to as "bitch," and being female has been long considered a major disadvantage.
Chess Bitch, written by the 2004 U.S. Woman’s Chess Champion, is an eye-opening account of how today’s young female chess players are successfully knocking down the doors to this traditionally male game, infiltrating the male-owned sporting subculture of international chess, and giving the phrase "play like a girl" a whole new meaning.
Through interviews with and observation of the young globetrotting women chess players who challenge male domination, Chess Bitch shines a harsh light on the game’s gender bias. Shahade begins by profiling the lives of great women players from history, starting with Vera Menchik, who defeated male professionals with incredible frequency and became the first woman’s World Champion in 1927. She then investigates the women’s chess dynasties in Georgia and China. She interviews the famous Polgar sisters, who refused to play in separate women's tournaments. She details her own chess adventures – traveling to tournaments from Reykjavik to Istanbul. And Shahade introduces us to such lesser-known chess personalities as the flamboyant Zambian player Linda Nangwale and the transgendered Texan Angela Alston and the European female chess players who hop from one country to another, playing chess by day and partying long into the night. For those who think of chess as two people sitting quietly across a table, Shahade paints a colorful world that most chess fans never knew existed.
From the Publisher
"One woman’s fascinating true story of the life of a champion chess player. All women should take up the challenge and pick up a board! Chess anyone?" – Yoko Ono
"With crisp prose and a hypnotic rhythm, Shahade runs us through a vast range of colorful, affirming characters. Chess Bitch is a worldwide trot in search of a common humanity, a precise critique and a wild ride that transcends its own subject." – J.C. Hallman, author of The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World’s Oldest Game.
"She speaks playfully and provocatively on chess as meditation, as art and as philosophy …how passion can be more interesting than genius, and the importance of sexy." – The Philadelphia Independent