Jennifer Shahade on shaking up the chess world

12/29/2006 – "I have very mixed feelings about the various Anna Kournikovas of chess who promote chess and themselves in sexy modeling shoots," she says. "A big dream is to help get chess on TV or featured in a film so I’m also working on that with a few different producers, hoping that if I shoot enough darts we’ll hit a bull’s-eye one day." Read this indepth interview with the author of 'Chess Bitch'.

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25-year-old Jennifer Shahade knows how to shake up the world of chess. Not content to simply play the game she's loved since she was a child, the writer, poker player, and 2004 U.S. Women's Chess Champion authored Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport (Siles Press), which scored a blurb from Yoko Ono and set off debate within the chess world about the need for gender segregation. In the book, which features Shahade clad in a pink wig, scarf, and gloves on the cover, she examines high-profile female chess players from countries as farflung as Zambia, Russia, and China, examining the ways various governments support and nurture budding champions and how chess is or isn't valued, both financially and otherwise. She shares her own experiences studying with the likes of Garry Kasparov, and ultimately argues in favor of more women playing more chess, whether it's in all-female tournaments or mixed ones.

Of late, she's been keeping busy with a full-time job as Editor in Chief of Uschess.org, the official website of the United States Chess Federation, where she also blogs about the game, But the New Yorker has also made it her mission to promote chess, offering some suggestions in a New York Times Op-Ed piece last year, and showing a level of enthusiasm for chess on both a personal and professional level that should help revitalize it and reform its image as nerd central.

Excerpts

  • [In Chess Bitch] I focused on Eastern European women’s chess and tied it in with the stories of various Anna Kournikovas of chess who promote chess and themselves in sexy modeling shoots. I have very mixed feelings about this, so I tried my best to weigh both sides in this difficult chapter.

  • If there were a 1:1 ratio of women and men in the chess world I would agree that all tournaments should be integrated. But a lot of women feel alienated at these mixed events, so it’s positive to have occasional “all women’s events.” Separate women’s prize funds also support professional women’s chess.

  • A big dream of mine is to help get chess on TV or featured in a film so I’m also working on that with a few different producers, hoping that if I shoot enough darts we’ll hit a bull’s-eye one day.

  • Chess can learn a lot from poker. First, chess media and sponsors should emphasize its glamorous aspects: worldwide traveling, parties and escape from real world responsibilities.

  • A world class Grandmaster can only make a living on chess in America by teaching kids, cause that’s where all the money is right now.

  • The biggest challenge in a simul is finding the right shoes! I want to look good in front of fifty people, but really sneakers are the best bet.

  • Playing chess is more athletic than artistic. Champions are more concerned with victory than beauty: it’s war with occasionally graceful kicks.

Jenny in the news



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