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Volume 1 Number 10 CHESS IN THE PRESS September 7, 1993
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Maybe It's Not So Useless
Some ammunition for the argument that chess is a socially useful activity
can be found in this issue, the last of volume 1: National Pride (Xie Jun,
Pride of China); International Cooperation (Silicon Valley Festival);
Means of Earning a Living (Greco); Intellectual Pleasure (Chess as an Art);
and Mental Stimulation for the Homeless.
"Xie Jun: Queen of Chess and Pride of Asia." Lu Hui. China Today (March
1992), p. 55-57.
A native of Beijing, Xie learned to play Chinese chess at an early age
and earned a reputation as a "little genius" since she could beat everyone
at the game. When she was 10, she began to study western chess. In 1989
Xie won China's chess championship, and in 1991 defeated Maya Chiburdanidze
for the Women's World Championship at age 21. "My mind has been filled with
nothing but chess, and it will be so in the future," she said, admitting
that she is obsessed with the game. This dedication to chess has caused her
to lose most of her childhood friends, and she is sometimes lonely. During
breaks in her match with Chiburdanidze in Manila, Xie often relaxed by
practicing calligraphy. Xie's success has increased the popularity of the
game in China. A chess school is expected to be established in Chaoyang
District of Beijing. [Photo of Xie receiving flowers at her triumphant
homecoming after winning the world title.]
"Lisa Lane: Chess Champion." Mothner, Ira. Look (Nov 22, 1960), p. 67-70.
A profile of the US Women's Champion. Lisa plays a tough, forceful game.
She likes the Ruy Lopez as white, and gambles when playing black. She
refuses draws when there is any chance of winning. "I hate anyone who beats
me," she said, and is deeply depressed when she loses to someone not
considered a difficult opponent. At the US Open in St. Louis, Lisa won her
final game to take the women's trophy. After she won the national women's
title, Lisa married Walter Rich, whom she met at a chess cafe. "Walter beat
the boy who brought me." [Photos of Lisa and husband; Lisa and US Open
winner Robert Byrne; Lisa reclining with a drink; Lisa giving a simul with
many spectators; Lisa wearing a bikini.]
"Soviets Can't Attend Palo Alto Chess Event." Puente, Maria. San Jose
Mercury News (Oct 13, 1989), p. B1.
After months of planning, telexes, and many hours of volunteer labor,
7 top chess players from Minsk won't be coming after all to the 1st Annual
Palo Alto Silicon Valley International Chess Festival. Representative
Tom Campbell (R-Sunnyvale) picked up rumors that the chess players had been
denied exit visas by mid-level bureaucrats in the Byelorussian Republic
because they had not been invited as well. Palo Alto Mayor Larry Klein was
dejected. Festival organizer Steve Farmer said this was going to be a
showcase of "international cooperation and brotherhood through chess" as
well as an opportunity to increase links with Minsk, said to be the Silicon
Valley of the Soviet Union. The Palo Alto Chess Club has 150 members, and
they had been invited to Minsk, Palo Alto's "sister city" earlier in the
year, where they were treated like celebrities. At the Festival, Deep
Thought was expected to attend, and Farmer had planned a match between a
top Soviet and US player: they would both go up in hot-air balloons and
play a game on a giant sculpture of a chessboard with 10-foot-tall pieces.
"An Italian Chess-Player in England." Pattie, T.S. British Museum Quarterly
(Spring 1969), p. 105-108.
When the modern moves of the queen and bishop were introduced toward the
end of the 15th century, no one knows where the new moves originated, but
they have the same attacking spirit favored by Italian players such as
Giovanni Leonardo, Paolo Boi, and the last of this line, Gioacchino Greco.
The new game was called "chess of the mad queen" until all vestiges of the
old game were forgotten. Greco was born about 1600 and went to Rome to make
his fortune. In 1622 he traveled to England and was robbed of 5,000 crowns
he had won at chess. Nevertheless, he hit upon the novel idea of presenting
his patrons with complete game continuations of the standard collections
of opening moves. Greco returned to Paris and revised his collection of
games, which was published in 1669, and was an enormous success. Greco had
an easy time with his English opponents: the chess level there was not very
advanced at the time.
"The Romance of Chess." Krauthammer, Charles. New Republic (Jul 18-25,
1983), p. 28-31.
Comments on chess from Benjamin Franklin and George Bernard Shaw.
Franklin: "Several very valuable qualities of mind, useful in the course of
human life are to be acquired and strengthened" through chess, including
foresight, circumspection, and caution. Shaw: "A foolish expedient for
making idle people believe they are doing something very clever, when they
are only wasting their time." In his novella "The Royal Game," Stefan
Zweig describes chess as: "thought that leads nowhere, mathematics that add
up to nothing, art without an end product, architecture without substance."
Krauthammer, however, reasons that "to indict chess for not producing
monuments is to indict all play and many of the arts. It is in the nature
of beauty to have no use and few products." Madness is called the great
theme of chess literature and vertigo the great metaphor. "A reader who
relied solely on Nabokov and Zweig might conclude that chess sets should
carry a warning label from the surgeon general." Comments on George Steiner's
"Fields of Force," and Walter Tevis' "Queen's Gambit."
"Chess as a Model of Language." Cohen, L. Jonathan. Philosophia (Feb 1982),
Three primary issues are explored:
1) How is chess to be characterized in its role as a model for natural
2) What is the structure of knowledge about chess?
3) What are the implications of this for the structure of linguistic
Can language be matched up to chess so that it appears as an alternative
interpretation of the same underlying formal system? "This degree of
structural isomorphism is unlikely to be attainable, because of the highly
idiosyncratic nature of one kind of board-game as compared with another.
But the extent to which such a matching is unobtainable is the extent to
which chess fails to constitute a structural model for natural language."
Comments on studies by De Groot and Saussure, among others.
"Chess as an Art Form." Humble, P.N. British Journal of Aesthetics
(Jan 1993), p. 59-66.
An analysis of some thoughts on aesthetics in "Chess in the Eighties" by
David Bronstein and G. Smolyan. They expound upon 4 factors important in
chess creativity: 1) the joy a player takes in creating `artistic
riches' which are imperishable (works of art which are recorded); 2) the
pleasure the audience receives from watching an entertaining game--"the
artistic chess player uses his skill to extract from the material at his
disposal the beauty of a chess idea. Without an audience, there is no
creative intensity"; 3) the `powerful attractive factor' of the game's
`mysterious beauty'--Bronstein suggests attaching importance to qualities
of daring, imagination, and fantasy; 4) the medium. Chess is said to afford
"the deep intellectual pleasure of working in a fantastically varied and
flexible medium." Humble presents his own thoughts on these ideas: "Chess
is first and foremost an art form whose games are to be enjoyed as works of
art....I doubt whether we would wish to describe them as *great* works of
art....chess cannot comment upon the deep human themes characteristic of
Soul Mates: Pickup Chess Gives Homeless a Lift." Cassidy, Mike. San Jose
Mercury News (Apr 13, 1992), p. B1.
A story on a number of homeless men who regularly play chess in San Jose's
Martin Luther King Jr Library. Robert Michel, 48, has been homeless for 25
years. He quit his last steady job as a taxi driver on the east coast back
then and has been drifting ever since. There's also Eddie Pugh, who expects
to find a home when he starts a new sales job; "Dread to Play" Fred, who
provides a running commentary on all his games; and Norman Glover, who lost
his last job when he fell from a ladder. "It gives me something that's not
drugs, not alcohol. It's a healthy escape," said Mark Lowe, a 34-year-old
computer programmer who is homeless after being out of work for 18 months.
The library considered banning the chess because the players were competing
with patrons using library books and the hushed chatter wasn't always so
hushed. But it was agreed to reserve two tables on the second floor for
chess. The library said the number of players has increased. "It started
to grow as the homeless population grew," said spokeswoman Judy Miller.
"Handedness and the Self: Poe's Chess Player." Irwin, John. Arizona
Quarterly (Spring 1989), p. 1-27.
An examination of Poe's 1836 essay, "Maelzel's Chess Player." In this
story, Poe uses the analytic method of the later Dupin stories to solve
the mystery of the automaton by reasoning that it is a hoax, and the chess
playing is the work of a human, not a machine. Irwin focuses on Poe's
mentioning that the Turk moves pieces with his left hand to expound upon
what handedness meant to Poe in his various stories, and Poe's analysis
of the differences between mind and machine.
"A Nice and Abstruse Game." Schonberg, Harold. Horizon (Jan 1962),
Anyone can push chess pieces around. But it takes a Capablanca or an
Alekhine to look at a position and see possibilities that "are so
unexpected, so beautiful, so complete in themselves, that they bring a
gasp from the connoisseur." As an example, Marshall's brilliant queen
sacrifice against Levitzky at Breslau in 1912 is said to have spurred the
audience to shower the board with gold pieces. The essence of creation is
taking materials available to all and by sheer imagination and technique
making it something unique, something that nobody else could duplicate.
Many comparisons between chess players and musicians. "Youth seems to have
an advantage in intuition, which is so important to chess." No answers have
been forthcoming on what makes great chess players tick. They come from
all classes, some have high IQs, some aren't especially bright. Some have
many interests, others care only about chess.
Editor: Stephen Leary [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Chess in the Press, a bi-weekly electronic chess magazine, is cross-posted
to RGC on Usenet & Chess-L on Bitnet. Back issues are available via anonymous
ftp at chess.uoknor.edu in the path: /pub/chess/texts/ChessInThePress.
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Number Two CHINESE CHESS IN THE PRESS February 1994
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This is the second installment of Chinese Chess in the Press. Will there
be a third? I don't have any more at the moment, but that never stopped
me before. Hope there is something interesting here for all.
"Dam Would Improve Safety for Yangtze Boatman." Magagnini, Stephen.
Sacramento Bee (Oct 5, 1992), p. A10.
My name is Zhou Kerong. I am captain of the JiangYu III, a diesel-powered
ship that navigates the dangerous waters of the Yangtze from Chongqing to
Shanghai, a 1,500-mile journey. When I was a child, I first rode the Yangtze
in a small wooden boat and was inspired by the river's vastness. Later
I swam the river, and seeing the other boats in the distance, I dreamed of
being a sailor and spending my life on the river. Many people say the Yangtze
is more than a river, it is a symbol of our nation. These waters are
unpredictable, and I am responsible for the lives on this ship. Soon, work
will begin on the Three Gorges superdam. When it is completed, the river will
be deeper and easier to navigate. After 20 years as a sailor and 6 more as
captain, I know these waters well. I am able to spend much of my time
defending my title as the ship's champion Chinese chess player. I defeat my
opponents because I'm aggressive. The victory belongs to the aggressor. I
use that same strategy on the River. You see, I don't sing any river
songs, or poems or fables. I don't care about the scenery. The meaning of
life is in struggling and constantly fighting with nature. In 20 years, the
superdam will be completed and ships like mine will sail over the tranquil
waters of the symbol of our nation.
"Two Generations of Chess Players." Su Shao-Chuan. China Reconstructs
(Sept 1961), p. 28-29.
Two contrasting generations of Chinese chess players are symbolized by the
veteran Chen Sung-Shun and 12-year-old Lin Ching-Hua. When Lin was only 6,
he drew a match with the veteran Pan Pao in the Cultural Park of Canton
[now Guangzhou]. The emergence of a potential genius sparked a shower of
attention on Lin. The Canton Chess Society invited him to attend classes
by the top masters; he received discount tickets to enter the Cultural
Park so he could listen to commentary on master games played there; masters
invited him to play with them and they pointed out weaknesses he needed to
correct; the staff of Hsiang Chi magazine loaned him all the books he needed.
After proving his talent at a primary-students' tournament, he was given
special guidance by Chen during his summer vacation. In contrast, the path
to knowledge for Chen and others of his generation was covered with
roadblocks. When Chen was learning chess, it was difficult to see experts at
play. Many were kept in the homes of the rich for amusement and were
dependent on their wealthy benefactors. Masters were fearful that their
skills would be discovered and surpassed, making them superfluous. For these
reasons, masters rarely played each other. If someone wanted a game with a
top master, the cost would be 5 to 10 silver yuan--a month's food money for
an ordinary man. The authoritative "Complete Book of Hsiang Chi" was very
expensive and when commenting on a crucial part of a game, these words
would appear: "When masters meet, their strategy can be communicated only by
the mind, not by words"--so the secret of the winner was never revealed.
But today, expert matches are frequently arranged in public amusement places
with a giant demonstration chessboard and commentary. At the National Chess
Championships held in 1960 in Shanghai, many promising young players emerged.
15-year-old Hu Rong Hua defeated 3-time champion Yang Guan-Lin to become the
new Chinese chess king.
"Chess Pieces Change Costume." Tsai Chen-yu. Sinorama (Apr 1988),
Chinese chess pieces have always been flat disks identified by a
Chinese character on top. But Shangchin Cultural Enterprises, directed
by Kao Hsin-chiang, brought together noted artists from around Taiwan
with the call to "let Chinese chess stand up" and turn the sets into
works of art. Kao had been looking for something in traditional
Chinese culture that could serve as a vehicle for fresh artistic
creativity. He got the idea to redesign Chinese chess pieces from
attractive western chess sets he saw during a stay overseas. Among
those who responded to Kao's call were some artistic heavyweights:
the writer Po Yang contributed an essay on the game's glorious history;
calligrapher Tung Yang-tzu brushed a series of Chinese characters in
various styles to illustrate the beauty of Chinese script, by which the
pieces are traditionally identified; K'o Yuan-hsin designed a "Martial
Drum" set; sculptor Chu Ming carved a set in bronze; painter Ou Hao-nien
suggested an idea for a set based on the novel "Journey to the West"
and painted the board for it. Many photos of the sets created by the
"The Way It Was." XiangQi Review (Volume 3, No. 4, 1993), p. 9.
Up to the early 1900s, games between famous provincial players were
rare, due to transportation and economic factors. Major cities formed
their own circles, each having their own top masters. The locals of
each region regarded their masters as "number one in the world."
However, these claims were not backed up with over-the-board competition.
Then, in 1930, came the East vs. South Match--between Shanghai &
Guangzhou. The match ended in a tie. Months later, Shanghai played
representatives of the 5 Northern provinces. Zhou DeYu of Shanghai was
the top scorer and was hailed as "champion of seven provinces." Further
matches were interrupted by the Japanese invasion, leading to WWII.
"Chessmen Stand Up." Dong Jian. China Pictorial (Jul 1990), p. 8.
Chinese chess pieces are usually round and flat. But Xi Zongqian of the
Beijing Arts and Crafts Factory carved a set of upright figures resembling
those of international chess. But Xi's figures are based on Chinese warriors.
The sets are available in two varieties--the standard plastic version or the
deluxe copper set.
"Young Chess Masters." People's China (Sept 16, 1956), p. 38.
The best young players from eight Chinese cities competed in a tournament
in Chungshan Park in Peking. Only a few lucky fans got in to see the actual
play; everyone else followed the moves on huge chessboards displayed outside
the hall. The cities represented were: Peking, Tientsin, Shenyang, Shanghai,
Wuhan, Canton, Chungking, and Xian. The youngest contestant was 15 and the
oldest 24. Shanghai took the team prize. The individual first prize was
won by 19-year-old Hsu Tien-li, a student at the Foreign Languages College
in Shanghai. At the end of play, he joned Peking's top master, Hsieh
Hsiao-jen, for an exhibition game that ended in a draw.
"Busboy Tells Why He Returned a Ditty Bag Filled With Cash." Popp, Robert.
San Francisco Chronicle (June 6, 1991).
The most honest man in San Francisco, who makes $7.50 as a busboy, had
a headache explaining why he returned the $277,700 he found in a bag under
a chair at the restaurant where he works. Allan Fong, 57, who came from
Guangdong, China, 35 years ago, said, "It wasn't mine, how can I take
the money? It doesn't belong to me." Fong usually relaxes by playing
Chinese chess in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown, where he likes to go
to unwind after work.
"Chinese Chess" [book chapter]. Falkener, Edward. Games Ancient and
Oriental and How to Play Them. Longmans, Green & Co., 1892. p. 149.
The author believes that Chinese chess is ideally suited as a
weapon in the hands of women: "This hidden power of the Cannons, and
the character they give to the game, makes them dangerous pieces in the
hands of a lady whose quick eye and ready wit would enable her to take
advantage of their power of sudden and unexpected attack, and of the
means of obviating it. Indeed owing to the lightness and brilliancy which
distinguish this game as compared with the solidity and deep-thinking
of ordinary Chess, it might with great propriety be designated