Iran, head-covering, chess.

In October I wrote about the World Women’s Championship being played in Iran, with female competitors being forced to wear head coverings. Some women boycotted the tournament. There is always an argument made at such times that women should agree to play, it doesn’t really mean anything, so why not? Obviously, however, it does mean a lot and to make that point, the Iranian player  Dorsa Derakhshani has been banned from the National Team for not wearing a hijab during the Gibraltar Open earlier this year. Details here.

Ironically, she was quoted in December saying

I’m definitely not conservative in this issue but I think we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. Those who really oppose these measures for political reasons are free to stay away. This really doesn’t help anybody and would truly be a pity for the event itself! Full interview here.

Many would disagree with her on this. And it’s all very well to say that women can stay away and some did, but at large professional/financial cost. It’s the world championship they were forced to boycott, not a tournament of no significance.

Overall, the point must be made: how has it helped anybody in Iran, chess players or others, for women from other countries to have aided in legitimising this method of subjugating women?




March 27, 2017 at 5:31 am 4 comments

Applications of Chess Theory Geller

Written in 2010.

This happens to be by my bed at the moment.

Geller’s career spans decades and he is one of those players more than capable of beating world champions – he has a plus score against most he has played – but I’m guessing could never become a world champion because he did not excel at match play. He had more than one terrible trouncing at this form of the game.

But I think we can say of chess more than of any sport, that there is no room at the top. To become world champion at chess is so hard! At the moment we are watching this fabulous tussle between Anand and Topalov. Geller’s description of his ongoing duel with Gligoric brings to mind the role of the Catalan in this match:

Quite often the chess world witnesses some curious creative duels which sometimes last for several years. They proceed according to the following typical scheme. Two players have played a game. On meeting each other again, they choose the same variation, without any prior agreement, of course, thus adding a psychological struggle to the purely chess struggle. Over each of them, like a sword of Damocles, hangs the anxious thought: why is the opponent repeating the previous game? On what move has he prepared a surprise, and has he in fact prepared one? Should I wait for the unpleasant surprise, or should I be the first to deviate from the familiar path? And if I deviate, then when and how?

One can add that the mere kibitzer shares in this anxious excitement. Is Anand going to play the Catalan yet again? Has Topalov a new response? Tomorrow there is another game. Anand has just lost with black so will he retreat to the Catalan? The comfort of something he has a plus score with so far – 2.5/3 – would have to be tempting him. He bounced back from such a situation in game two employing it. I’m guessing he’s going to try it again….

March 24, 2017 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

Bad chess in the movies

Atlas Obscura has an article with good detail on badly done chess in movies, you can see it here.

It includes a link to a video of 101 checkmate scenes in movies.

I would question, however, the comment that

Real players also don’t make a big thing out of winning: “Chess players almost never reveal any emotions,” says Zaragatski. “Being cool is key.”

Seriously? Does that mean Kasparov and Carlsen are not real players? They both carry on like pork chops when they are done over.

March 23, 2017 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

Play With an Expert Pairs SABA January 2017 Part I

While we were waiting for play to start in the Play with an Expert Pairs, in which all the experts sit either South or North, one of the South players at another table called over to us that we were sitting in the wrong seats, that my partner Judy Zollo should be sitting South, and even when she demurred, this player continued to insist that we were wrong.

So, although I don’t often blow my own trumpet…My name is Cathy Chua, you will see in the SABA clubs rooms my name on various boards including an Open Interstate Team. I have played on Open Interstate teams for Victoria and NSW as well, winning for both States. I’ve also won the GNOT. My best in the ANOT, the VCC and the NOT is second in all of them. For some years I played high stakes rubber bridge full time. I have taught bridge on a one to one basis, and have also done a lot of writing: bulletins at national and international level, books, articles for magazines around the world and, from time to time the blog you are reading.

To cut the story short, although Judy is no novice (no doubt giving us an advantage on the day), she will forgive my saying that of the two of us, she is closer to that category than am I!

A few things came up during the Pairs which are worth talking about. In this post I want to mention a play and the idea behind it. You are playing in 4H:


s —
h1 J10862
d1 KJ832
c A62

1st in hand RHO has opened 1NT. LHO begins with the C10. When you get to the diamond suit, which you want to play for no loser, you play the ace, and then on the next round, RHO plays the ten. What now?

Board 7
Dlr South
Vul All









I opened 1NT on account of having a balanced 12-14 – add a point for the potential of the spade suit. Angela Norris overcalled a practical 2H which her partner Jan raised to four. Judy began with a club, though it makes no difference what she starts with. When declarer turned her attention to diamonds, I was feeling really good about my choice of opening – diamond ace and then diamond towards hand. Surely she will finesse my queen of diamonds and partner will win it and we’ll get a top and really, isn’t bridge just too easy.

But in fact, a short consideration of the evidence by declarer led her to the right play. If my partner had began life with a singleton diamond, surely she would have led it. Therefore she had two. Therefore the king of diamonds dropping the queen was the right play.

A well-deserved 13/16 MPs for declarer or 81%.

There are three steps to deciding what to do on this hand, but I suspect a lot of people would stop after two.

First thought: all things being equal, you play the ace and then then king assuming they all follow.

Second thought: things are not equal. RHO has opened 1NT. That increases the likelihood of the DQ being onside, thus making the finesse the correct choice when RHO follows low to the second diamond.

Third thought: this fits for constructing a picture of one defender’s hand, but what about the other? Does it fit that too?

My BOLS tip? Don’t just construct one of the opponents’ hands, construct both of them.

It’s all too easy to build a picture of one hand and act on it, the narrative in this case is very convincing, RHO has opened 1N, the odds are that she holds the DQ. But taking the next step, constructing the hand opposite to see if the evidence still fits the theory, is hard, maybe because it’s more work, maybe because you already have a story that seems to work.

For more details of the board, such as how each pair went on it, go here.

As for the opening bid of 1NT, which some may find alarming, more on this in my next post on Play With an Expert Pairs.

January 7, 2017 at 8:54 pm 5 comments

To boycott or not to boycott….

At the moment controversy surrounds the holding of the 2017 World Women’s Chess  Championship. It is being held in Iran and the contestants are forced to wear the hijab. Some potential contestants have announced a boycott. Human rights champions like Nasrin Sotoudeh have weighed into the debate.

It brought to mind a tournament to which I was invited in the early nineties in Indonesia – Indonesia proper that is, not Bali, which is what most Australians mean when they say they are going to Indonesia. I was forced to consider the fact that if I went, I would have to dress differently from usual. Non-bridge playing friends thought I should be refusing to go because of Indonesia’s on-going human rights issues.

I went. I went and hated being in Indonesia, partly because of the being female problem, partly because it was the first place I’d been to since a trip to Argentina in the dark days of 1978 that simply felt bad. Corrupt at best. Although in theory I believe that boycotts of sporting events do have a meaningful impact on the politics which inspire them, bridge is never going to do that. It is an exceedingly unpopular game with no media appeal whatsoever. At the same time, the tiny bridge community of Indonesia is (or at least was) Christian dominated. Christians who were around this time extremely concerned about the violence being inflicted upon them in Indonesia. To boycott the event would have been to abandon them and they were my friends and colleagues. So I went.

Nobody should be playing women’s events, they should all be boycotted. But beyond the usual reason why they should be boycotted – because to accept the existence of women’s chess/bridge is to accept inferiority – and beyond any personal sense of worth which is clearly weighing on the minds of some of these women contestants, I read that another reason for boycotting this event is the danger that it will be used as propaganda  ‘[a] tool to tell Iranian women that even non-Iranians are comfortable with wearing the compulsory hijab’.

Places to read about the issues involved:

Iran, chess, and the psychological bullying of non-hijabi defiant women here

Why An Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Just Supported The World Chess Championship Boycott In Iran here

Women’s World Chess Championship 2017 wiki page here




October 23, 2016 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Test Your Positional Play by Robert Bellin

The year this came out I was in London, hanging about the super GM tournaments and buying chess books. It had been seven years since I played a tournament game, but I had time on my hands and a lot of good books were being published. This one was hot of the press and really suited me. It takes a position from GM games and suggests various positional plans. You consider these and come up with an answer.

I loved this book! Not only that, at the end it grades you and I was a grandmaster – too easy!! The benefits still show. I think I’m still better in this area than the rest of my game and I’m sure it’s this book’s doing. Of course it’s hard to be tactically sharp when one doesn’t play but I never had a great love for that sort of hard analysis, the I go here and he goes there and …. As for Kotov and his goddamn trees, honest to God I would have happily started a forest fire and burned the lot of them. No amount of trying made me comfortable with this way of thinking.

Whereas looking at a board and making plans, visualising the future to me is a bit like science fiction. You are looking at an arrangement on the board and seeing some new world connected, but not the same.

Losing oneself in visualisation is for me the greatest joy of chess. Is that okay, any chess superiors reading this?

February 27, 2016 at 7:24 am Leave a comment

The impact of chess in education in disadvantaged areas

It’s not a new story, there is a vast amount of anecdotal evidence that children do better at school and life by learning chess. It has particular impact in disadvantaged areas and on kids who for socio-economic reasons find school difficult. It’s a leveller. It is obvious that chess helps build up the brain and the psychology of being able to deal with school.

This is an inspirational video as to the impact in poor multi-lingual areas of Amsterdam of chess for kids. Apart from anything else it explains clearly the impact on the frontal lobe of the brain of thinking before acting – really interesting! The kids are learning good habits in a very practical way. They are taught to sit on their hands after they have made their move. Cute. And the profound consequence is that kids build up that vital part of the brain that teaches restraint and self-control.

The video also goes into the relationship between chess and the community and the ways in which other cultural pursuits have been drawn into the net.

And it’s a story of how much one person on a mission can achieve.

January 30, 2016 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

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