"Chess Bitch." It's the kind of provocative book title that quickly captures your attention. Author Jennifer Shahade practically dares you to open up the book so as to "checkmate" any stereotypes you may have had about the ability of females to play the game of chess.
A two-time U.S. Women's Chess Champion, Shahade has been on a mission to get more girls and women to become "passionate" about chess. Her two books, the aforementioned "Chess Bitch," and the other metaphorically-rich title, "Play Like A Girl: Tactics by 9Queens" were written to provide inspiration as well as hard-core winning strategies.
In this interview, Jennifer Shahade shares her love for the game, as well as advice on how parents can encourage their children, particularly their girls.
A. I came up with the title "Chess Bitch" in the middle of my work on the book. I had been reading a lot of feminist literature that reclaimed the word "bitch" as a positive term. The title had a nice ring to it, and I knew it was the last thing people would expect from the chess world.
Many people incorrectly assume the chess subculture as a stodgy, conservative place. In reality, chess players love to have fun and pursue a sort of an artist's lifestyle with constant travel, inspiration and struggle.
Q2. Discuss your background in chess. How did you learn the game and what do you get out of it?
A. My dad and older brother are both chess masters and my dad taught me the game before I could read! I think the best thing about chess is how it develops passion in young people. When you play a game of chess, you totally lose yourself in the "experience of thinking," which is a key skill, especially in an era of so many distractions.
Q3. Your book profiles many known and not so well-known female chess players. What's the main point that readers should take away from their stories?
A. I wanted to profile women from all over the world to show chess's power to bring people together from disparate cultures. I also think "Chess Bitch" helped me keep in perspective the role of feminism in the Unites States compared to globally, when there are so many more basic struggles.
Q4. In your book, you share the cautionary tale of Baraka Shabazz, the first African-American chess player to represent the U.S. internationally back in the 80's. Please share her story.
A. Baraka Shabazz was the first woman of African descent to reach the expert title, and
seemed poised for great chess achievements. Unfortunately, she gave up the game too soon and we'll never know what she may have achieved.
Daaim Shabazz (no relation), who has a great site called the Chess Drum (http://www.thechessdrum.net/), goes into more detail about her story, as well as many other stories and profiles of talented chess players of African descent. (FYI: For more on Shabazz, visit: www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2010/02/19/baraka-shabazz-queen-of-chess/)
A. I think chess is particularly crucial for girls because it helps develop self-confidence, self-reliance and independent thinking. It also shows girls that they can compete directly with men.
Q6. Does it matter whether it's the mother or the father who introduces the game of chess? Why/Why not?
A. I think the most important thing is for fathers and mothers to teach their daughters chess as enthusiastically as their sons. Because so many fewer women play, it's often the father but as more girls who learned chess as kids have children of their own, that will begin to change.
Q7. There is some controversy on how girls play against boys as it relates to aggressive versus laid-back style as opening game vs. middle game strategies. Please explain?
A. Some teachers observe that young girls are less aggressive when they start out, due to social pressure to "be friendly." Once girls realize that it's part of the game, I think they often develop to become even more aggressive players than the boys. You can see this in my second book, "Play Like A Girl," which is filled with tactics from top female players.
A. "Play Like A Girl" is sort of a "prequel" to "Chess Bitch," in that it is a perfect
gift for young girls, though I also have given the book to many grown women who
are becoming inspired to learn chess at a later age.
Many tactics books recycle the same training examples and combination, most of which were played by male players decades ago. With so many top female players
rising on the scene, I set out to create a "tactics" manual with combinations and checkmate all delivered by women and girls.
A portion of the proceeds of each book goes to 9Queens, a non-profit I co-founded
to promote chess to girls and young people.
Q9. I'm assuming that the Queen is your favorite piece on the board. Do you have
another piece that you like? Why?
A. I love the knight because it moves in a different way than any other piece and is
the movement most specific to chess. When you execute a fine combination with the knight, it feels quite enchanting!
Q10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
A. This week, I'm headed to New York for a preview of the "Queen Within,"
www.worldofchesshof.org/exhibitions/exhibit/a-queen-within/, a show coming to the World Chess Hall of Fame, http://www.worldchesshof.org/ (of which I am a board member).
"The Queen Within" is an exploration of chess and fashion, in particular the
archetype of a queen. Alexander McQueen is among the featured designers --
I'm really excited about it and hope that the fusion of "fashion and chess" will inspire more girls and women to learn this beautiful game!
Here's an article on the show in Women's Wear Daily:
You can find my writing at www.uschess.org/content/category/15/28/343/ on the US Chess Federation website (www.uschess.org), which I edit. To find out more about me, visit my personal website on http://www.jennifershahade.com/.
Readers can purchase Shahade's books by clicking HERE to visit the online chess retailer "House of Staunton," amazon.com, bn.com or any other book retailer so as to inspire the ladies in your life to pursue chess!
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