Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

I just finished reading the new article on Chessbase,
“Explaining male predominance in chess” by Robert Howard
(http://en.chessbase.com/post/explaining-male-predominance-in-chess). Judging from the few comments posted Mr. Howard has started a firestorm. He writes, “If the male predominance in chess was due just to social factors it should have greatly lessened or disappeared by now.” He concludes with, “This conclusion is unpalatable to many but it is best to acknowledge how the world actually is.”
Ruth Haring is the President of the USCF. She sent me this email Sat, May 24, 2014:
Michael,
Hi again. I do have strong opinions, but the reason I do not blog is that I am too busy to keep up.

What do you suggest ? I could write something.

I view it as a statistical problem. When we get 50% women tournament players we can expect parity. I am working to encourage more women to play so as to increase the numbers, and thereby representation at the highest levels. If you take a random 4% of a population, you might find women tournament players outperform that random group.
Regards,
Ruth
Robert Howard simply refutes Ruth Haring. Actually, what he does is blow her thinking out of the water!
I lived with two sisters and a mother and from that experience I learned there is a difference between the sexes. All I have written is that there is a difference between males and females. I have always thought it a wonderful thing. I cannot imagine what kind of place this would be if we were all the same.
The world of chess has changed because of the influx of girls. Because of the vast number of children there are more women involved with chess because of what is now called the “Chess Mom.” When I write something like this there are those who mistakenly think I am negative when it comes to female participation in chess, when all I am doing is pointing out a fact. Women bring something different to the table. I am not making any value judgement, just stating a fact. I have no idea whether or not it is a good, or bad, thing. I urge you to read the article on Georgia Chess News, “From the New GCA Director of Communications” by Laura Doman, the new board member (http://georgiachessnews.com/2014/06/01/from-the-new-gca-director-of-communications/). This more than anything I can write illustrates what a woman brings to the chess world. Make no mistake, I mean this in a positive way. Women bring a social aspect to chess that men lack. I saw this when I played backgammon, where the percentage of women was exponentially larger than in chess. Yet the fact is that the women were not as strong as men. For example, the two strongest female players in Atlanta were Kathy and Debbie. They both won a fair number of Monday night tournaments. The matches were only seven points and the duration of the tournament was only three or four hours. But when it came to the two or three day weekend events, and longer matches, neither of them ever did well. I played in the World Amateur Backgammon Championship in Las Vegas twice, and female players never fared well. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but it is all I have to give.
When men are in a room with other men and a woman enters the dynamic is changed. When I first began playing chess the Atlanta chess club met at the downtown YMCA on Lucky street. One night two women entered. They were the first women I had ever seen at the club. They were treated rudely and left. I left my game and went outside to apologize even though I had not been involved. One was terribly upset, but the other smiled and thanked me. We played later, but not chess! That was the last time I saw a woman at the ACC. Years later a girl, Alison Bert, began playing chess. I gave her a few lessons, not for money, as is the case today, but because I liked her and wanted to help her. I must have done a good job because Alison beat me in a USCF rated game.
When it comes to women being involved in anything, I always think of something I read about the advantage Western civilization has over those of the Muslim faith because the latter suppress women. They do not allow women to bring anything to the table, and are therefore missing half of their being. Even if it is true that women are not, and may never be, as good at playing a game, it does not mean that what they bring to the board is not just as valuable as what a man brings. Not to mention the fact that they look so much better bringing it to the table!

The Chess Ostrich

In an essay by Dave Cameron, “White Bred: Major League Baseball’s Intern Issue,” in the excellent book, “The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2014,” a Fangraphs production, I read, something that made me think of my writing about chess. Dave wrote, “Even within a single organization, it is valuable to have people pushing back against the accepted ideas so that traditions don’t become entrenched simply because it is the cultural norm for the majority of the employees.”
Bill James is considered to be the “father of sabermetrics,” because he questioned the accepted ideas that had become entrenched traditions in Major League Baseball. The game has changed in many ways because one man dared to question the Status-quo.
Progress is not made by conservative people who do not question. If our forefathers had accepted the Status quo we would still be subjects of the Queen of England. If Albert Einstein, and his wife Mileva (http://www.pbs.org/opb/einsteinswife/) had not questioned accepted wisdom and given us special relativity and general relativity, we would not now have GPS.
Former President of the GCA and former Senior Champion of the Great State of Georgia Scott Parker once said about my writing, “I do not often agree with you, but I will admit what you write is always interesting.” Michael Mulford, another chess “pooh-bah,” wrote in an email that he only agreed with me “about 25% of the time.” My thought was, “That much?” The Georgia Tech radio station, WREK, one of only two college stations in the world that possess 100,000 watts (WRAS, the Georgia State station being the other one, but that could change if Georgia Governor Nathan “Raw” Deal has his way: http://clatl.com/atlanta/up-in-the-air/Content?oid=11215404) used to play something that began with one bird singing, then another joining in, and culminating with many birds singing. Then a voice could be heard saying, “Here at WREK we give all the birds a chance to sing.” Everyone should be heard, no matter how outlandish one may think their opinion. Otherwise we are all “singing to the choir.”
I write this because chess is facing difficult times. There is the draw death issue, the cheating by gizmo issue, and the Kirsan the ET issue. The signs are everywhere, if one is receptive to them. For example, a decade ago chess books were crowded off the shelves at bookstores by books on poker, the latest craze. Now that the air has been let out of the poker balloon, one finds very few books on poker on the shelves (“Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire” by Ben Mezrich). The space has not been replaced with books on chess. Backgammon was the “in thing” back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, and then it faded quickly. The game is still played, and there are tournaments, but at least a zero has been taken off the number of participants.
I, and many others, believe the proliferation of short draws has diminished the stature of chess. There are enough hard fought, “serious” games ending in a draw without players agreeing to split the point before a “serious” game can be contested. What some ignorant people fail to understand is that if only one fan of chess decides he has seen enough short draws by the best players to last a lifetime and turns to something else more interesting than another boring draw, it has diminished chess and hurt the Royal game. When the news from the chess world is of yet another cheating scandal like the one now known as “Toiletgate,” it diminishes the game in the mind of the public. When the game has no credibility in the mind of the public, there is no game.
Because the issue of so many short non-game draws is so important I decided to put my post of June 6, “What Constitutes a “Serious Game?” on the USCF forum. It has, as of this writing, been read by only a couple of hundred people (http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=20054&sid=b5bf1c80970edc2dd56544fdd20b3c44). A few readers have left comments, including one by tmagchesspgh, or Thomas P. Magar. His comment culminates with this paragraph: “If you want the players to be gladiators at all times, selfish spectators, pony up the cash to sponsor the event. Buy tickets. Then you can demand that the players play for blood. Otherwise, just shut up and watch. There are enough deluded professionals out there who will sacrifice health, sanity, and their economic well being to provide you with free games to watch.”
The Discman sent me this comment concerning the post by Thomas Magar:
“Well that post is over the top. Spectators just want to see hard-faught games between great players.
Free lessons & DVD’s? What the heck??”
It is difficult, if not impossible, to hear the birds sing when one has, like the ostrich, buried his head in the sand.

Speed Kills

Like most chess fans I have been following the World Cup. Unlike most fans of the Royal game I have only watched the games played with a longer time control. I am uncertain what to call those games because the “longer time control” is not a classical one. During a discussion of the WC I mentioned to the Legendary Georgia Ironman I had not even gone to the official tournament website on the days of the tiebreak games in order to make a statement, certain the organizers checked the number of fans clicking on each day. I cannot help but wonder what those numbers show. Are there others doing the same?
I made an exception today, clicking on today just in time to hear GM Nigel Short, a much better commentator than those previously doing the commentary, say, “It looks like neither player has a clue as to what to do. At this speed it does not matter; they just better move.” The comment sums up what happens to chess when played without enough time to think. The games are played at such a rapid rate that the moves come in bunches, making it impossible to follow the action, a comment I have heard from others.
I won the only tournament played at the now antiquated time control of 40 moves in 2 ½ hours. It was the 1976 Atlanta Chess Championship, played at the downtown YMCA each Wednesday night for five weeks. There were no adjournments and the games finished at a reasonable hour. In those days a player reaching time control with a lost position would resign. Today the players play on, hoping for a “miracle,” which means a blunder, or “howler,” as GM Yasser Seirawan would say.
Former Georgia champion, and Georgia Senior champion, LM David Vest mentioned people watch NASCAR to see the wrecks. I wonder if chess fans who watch the quick play games are doing the same thing? Do they spectate only to see top GM’s humbled by making horrible howlers like the ones they make in their own games? I have heard players say something like, “After seeing GM X make that blunder I do not feel so bad about the ones I have made!”
The hyperbole reached epic proportions on the Chessbase website on 8/22/2013 in an article “World Cup 4.3: unparalleled drama in Tromso.” (http://www.chessbase.com/Home/TabId/211/PostId/4010880/world-cup-43-unparalleled-drama-in-troms-230813.aspx) I do not know about that; what about the last game of the 1987 Kasparov-Karpov match in Seville when Garry was in a must win situation? Chessbase comments on the last game of the match between Quang Liem Le and Peter Svidler, a quick-play game lasting 135 moves, won by Svidler, writing, “This game is well worth replaying.” I think not.
One of the things I have most liked about playing chess is having time to cogitate. Thinking is not for everyone. The winner of the ECF book of the year 2012 award was, “Move First, Think Later,” by Willy Hendricks. The title says all one needs to know about the state of modern chess. The other books shortlisted that year were, Advanced Chess Tactics by Lev Psakhis (Quality Chess); Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen by Adrian Mikhalchisin & Oleg Stetsko (Edition Olms); & Gary Kasparov on Garry Kasparov Part 1: 1973-1985 (Everyman). What does it say about the state of chess when books by the current number one player by rating, and the player called by some “the greatest player of all-time,” lose out to a book advocating one move first, then think? Chess Café announced the winner of its award with this: “After several weeks of voting, the early front runners for Book of the Year were Aron Nimzowitsch, 1886-1924 by Per Skjoldager and Jørn Erik Nielsen and Move First, Think Later by Willy Hendriks. Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation by Jacob Aagaard had its supporters, but just not to the same extent as the other finalists.” (http://www.chesscafe.com/Reviews/boty.htm) Days after acquiring the Nimzowitsch book I recall reading on the internet a question posed concerning how the Nimzo book could have possibly won the award. “Who would buy such a book?” the writer asked. “Me!” I shouted in my mind.
Earlier in my life I would often hear old-timers say, “The world is speeding up.” I was left wondering if it was them slowing down…Now that I have become an “old-timer,” the question has been answered.
There can be no doubt about the fact that the world of chess is “speeding up.” I cannot help but find it sad. Backgammon is played at a much faster pace than chess. The faster one plays the more games can be played in a limited amount of time, which means more money in the pocket when the “Last call” is given. Chess is an exponentially more complex game than is backgammon. The game does not need to be sped up to create blunders. The Chess Bomb (http://chessbomb.com/) has a color coded system with weaker moves given in purple and howlers in red. I seem to recall a back to back series of red moves by GM’s Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian in what is now called a “classical” game. Chess is too difficult a game to play well even at longer time limits. It does not need to be sped up for the best players in the world to make mistakes.