24.06.2005 Women's chess: Jennifer Shahade's opinion

Judit Polgar is the only woman who plays at the level of best world players, she is preeminent among the other women. What is the secret of her achievements?

I don't think there is anymore of a secret about Judit Polgar than Topalov. Of course it takes not only hard work but special talent and character to reach such a level. There are so few women playing that to have one woman in the top ten is about statistically right. If there were half and half men and women playing professional chess, i think there would be other women in the top ten.

Why in your opinion Alexandra Kosteniuk successfully manages to combine her career of a chessplayer with shootings for advertising and fashion magazines? What helps her not to repeat the destiny of Kournikova?

I think Kosteniuk is a very positive person who loves modelling, loves being famous, loves jumping up and down on the beach in Miami and also really loves chess. She brings energy to all of these things so that they feed off each other rather than conflict.

Is there a difference between women's and men's chess?

Women's chess is different because there are so few women playing that women can feel scrutinized more. Sometimes women like the attention, others find it annoying. In terms of making generalizations about a typical chess style, I know it is often said that women are very aggressive. However, this idea annoys me because even though it sounds like a compliment, it often seems to mask the idea that women are not patient enough, hysterically aggressive. For instance, I once showed a coach my games and he said "This is so typical of women's chess! Just shoving down the h-pawn! Calm down Jennifer" Seriously, I think women may be more aggressive players than men right now but not because of some essential difference but for the following reasons:

a. Women's games are watched more often, women are more aware of how they appear, and are therefore more conscious of spectators and the desire not to disappoint them. For the same reason, women seem to take fewer draws.
b. The influence of Judit Polgar! Many women who play professionally now grew up with Judit Polgar as a role model, and subconsciously or consciously imitate her play. This is certainly true in my case.
c. Many women pros are 200-300 points lower rated than male pros, and I think over-aggression is more typical for 2300-2500 players than for 2600-2800 players. This could easily be tested by comparing the games of female 2300-2500 players with 2300-2500 males.

Is it possible that women's chess becomes a professional sport?

Yes! There are so many women chess players who are young, photogenic and interesting. I think they can attract sponsors and money to both themselves and the game. I hope so, because such women can be great role models for young girls, who would be impressed that doing something intellectual can be both enjoyable and high profile.

Your ideas about a chess show on TV... and is it doable in the US, where the TV market is the largest in the world?

Yes! I'm a big believer that chess on TV is doable. Lots of money is necessary though: Money for fancy editing, top of the line commentary, multiple cameras to shoot from all different angles, etc. The time control is not that important, because the whole thing will be thoroughly edited anyway. The main thing is to pick entertaining players. Watch the many poker shows and you'll see certain players who are obviously hamming it up for the cameras in the hopes of endorsement deals. One problem is that poker can be taught in two minutes, while chess takes about two hours. I've thought a lot about how to get around this problem and I think they key is in checkmate. I'm spoiled by so many checkmates, but for an amateur or nonplayer, checkmate is a mysterious and thrilling concept. In my opinion, for chess to be watchable for nonplayers or total beginners, the games must be played to checkmate. However, it's not necessary for viewers to know all the rules. After all, many people watch poker happily, for the drama and the personalities, without knowing anything about more advanced concepts.

Should the training of girls and boys differ?

I like the idea of separate girls training, especially for younger ones. Kids mostly play chess for fun, and it's less fun for a girl if she is the only female in a class. I teach a girls' Academy for the non profit I work for in NYC, Chess-In-The-Schools and it works very well.

Does a very good relationship – not only professional, but also personal – between a coach and a female player helps to improve the results?

It seems obvious that it would be helpful for your lover to be a great genius in the field in which you are striving for improvement. However, there are some psychological problems also in that if you are attracted to someone because they are very good at something you subconsciously might not want to disturb the dynamic by becoming too good. Also, I think that a long term relationship is more about emotions and romance than career, so it will by nature not be a professional set up. I speak abstractly because i have never had a serious relationship with a professional chess player.

And a personal question: whom of the male players do you like, judging by their play and personal qualities?

I like people who smile a lot, carry on good conversations and are very strong in the Sicilian Defense, especially the Dragon. This applies to male or females. However, if you're asking if I have any Grandmaster crushes, I don't have any and wouldn't admit to them if I did! I have a boyfriend (who is not a chessplayer).

Photo from ChessBase collection

Questions were asked by Misha Savinov.

This article is published with permission of Association of Chess Professionals

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