Friday, February 10, 2006

Battle of the Sexes: Chess

Don't kill the messenger!

I generally steer away from anything remotely controversial, but I found this interesting article regarding chess and gender.

For those unaware of the general issue -- Men dominate chess. Susan Polgar and others have made significant strides for women's chess in the last couple decades, but the fact of the matter is that there are much more male GMs and men tend to compete better at all levels of the game (from beginner to pro).

The million dollar (and very politically sensitive!) question is: why?

This is actually a popular topic in chess chat rooms (personally, I think because the 95% male population is frustrated there are so few women in the chess chat rooms!). The general debate focuses on the basic "nature vs. nurture" arguments that dominate any socio/gender relations question. Are men born with an inherent ability to better understand the game (i.e., "nature")? Or is just more socially acceptable for men to play and master the game (i.e., "nurture")?

As with most complicated issues the answer is probably both. However, the article above makes a strong claim that the truth is indeed "nature" (i.e., men are just genetically better able to the play the game). As even the author notes, this will "ruffle many female feathers," but the article seems well thought out and generally legitimate. Controversial? YES! Well reasoned? Also Yes. I don't think the author's article can be smirked away a "sexist."

I'll let the educated reader determine what he or she believes.

On that note, and because I already feel "male guilt," I am including a link to Susan Polgar's chess page for girls. If the difference between male and female chess abilities is an artificial socio-glass ceiling, people like Susan Polgar are fighting it.

** As a personal aside, I never dreamed the words sex and chess would appear in the same posting. This should lead to some interesting google searches!

Thursday, February 09, 2006


On a relatively slow chess day, I reviewed some of my old posts. I find it hard to believe that I have managed this chess blog for over 9 months now. It all started with a super boring day at work. My little blog has grown ever since. Some interesting facts:

-- 1,125 people have visited my site in the last 9 months. (This averages to about 15 people a day).

-- 73 posts have been made by me on this blog.

-- Numerous people have "linked me" to their chess related sites.

Still with all this success, I am left asking myself: What next?

I must say I am a little overwhelmed by my "peers."

I can never be as witty and fun as ; and

I can never offer the high-ranked analysis found in ; and

I can never match the level of dedication found in .

What is my niche? What can I offer?

As I mention in my bio, I am not particularly good at chess. Not bad mind you, but definitely not good. Currently has me ranked 1449 out of 10,035 users. So roughly I am in the top 14%. Though this is a good achievement, this is hardly extraordinary. Many GMs have their own blogs. Why should anyone read mine?

I like to think the perspective I add to the chess blog scene is commentary from an average player. That's why I purposely choose relatively simple chess problems to examine.... stuff that most GMs would laugh away as "basic" but stuff that normal/average players often miss. My last post (regarding a simple, one-move combination) is a good example. Reviewing the post, I realize it is "easy," but I also feel that it is a level of problems that you wouldn't find on one of the larger, grander chess blogs.

I am debating whether to take on more grandiose analysis exercises, but I do not believe that's why people come to my site. I think people come to see "average" chess analysis and commentary . . . . not "expert."

Here is to mediocrity!

Games of Note

Nothing too exciting going on. I actually have no excuse for not posting in a week.... I am currently unemployed (the good "unemployed" too.... the interim period between leaving one job and starting another). I have been squeezing lots of chess games in this "off period." Here's a couple of interesting games.

NN vs. BlueEyedRook
Feb. 2006

Black to move and win

I have always thought the secret to being a great chess player only requires one to see two or three moves in the future.... all the time! The key is being able to consistently see those two or three moves. It's nice if you can usually or sometimes see two or three moves in advance, but what separates the good players from the bad players is the ability to consistently do so.

Here is a game I played the other day. It kind of shows this principle in action. White (me) has a pretty basic winning move in front of him. Do you see it? 1... Bh2!+ wins the queen with 2. Kxh2 Qxc5. I am definitely not picking on NN (I never name players who I beat in games -- call it class), but this was a pretty drastic error. And again without revealing NN's identity, what adds to the story is that NN is a fairly high ranked player on (not GM level, but rated in the top half of all players). I bet if NN looked at this position in a puzzle book he or she would be able to nail it in seconds -- again, though the key is to be able to consistently see such moves. While NN could probably see this problem 95% of the time, this was part of the 5% that he missed, and it cost him or her the game. (I definitely could see myself missing something like this).

BlueEyedRook vs. NN2
Feb. 2006

Black to move

Another amazing ability that separates good chess players from bad ones is the ability to "think outside of the box." Here's another good example.

Unknowingly, black has fallen into a common trap of the Italian Game opening. His e5 knight is being pinned by the e1 rook (i.e., he can't move his knight). With white's turn the inevitable 2. f4 will come with (the again inevitable) 2. fxe5 to follow (again, black's knight can't move to save itself from being captured by the pawn). And black will be down a piece.

Most players who see this position shrug their shoulders, grit their teeth and prepare for the loss playing something like 1... Bd6 or 1... d6 to protect the doomed knight (the thinking being at least "I'll take one or two of white's pawns in exchange for the lost knight").

Geniuses can see beyond the boundaries of most people. 1... Qe7 saves the game for black. But won't the knight still be lost? No! Actually, after 2. f4 the correct move is 2... Nxc4. Okay, but now the queen is lost, right? Right. 3. Rxe7 indeed loses black's queen. But this is followed by 3... Be7 leaving this position (see right).

While black's queen is gone, it came at the price of a bishop and rook for white. While white clearly has an advantage (1.09 according to Chessmaster 9000), it is much more subtle than the early loss of the black knight.

In the actual game, black didn't see this excellent move. Again, I am not picking on anyone. I clearly would have missed it too.