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Jen on Problems, 9Queens and a Study Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
February 27, 2008
Jenslideb.jpgProblem Aesthetics

I was excited when Gary Kevin Ware agreed to write a follow-up piece to Bart Gibbon's 64 square tour , this time for composed problems. Initially, I wanted him to cover a lot of endgame studies, because I assumed that like me, practical players enjoy those the most. However, I soon realized that introducing readers to a wide variety of problems including the bread and butter of most composers, mates in two, three and up, was not such a bad idea. Many studies don't work well for a 64 square tour. Take this gem, from Leonid Kubbel, which I found in Chernev's 200 Brilliant Endgames:

White to Move and Draw, Kubbel, 1916

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This study doesn't work that well for a 64 square article because the introduction (f7, e6) is not the impressive part. It would need to be an example for e7, but it seems wrong to present a composer's work at an arbitrary point.

I loved most of Gary's 64 choices, but certain problems like this one, did not draw me in initially:

Comins Mansfield, Chess Correspondent 1947,
White to Mate in Two


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This problem makes me want to look away- the first impression is grotesque. Just as I'd involuntarily avert and then refocus my eyes when confronted with a pierced chin, I look again, try to solve it, and am able to appreciate it.

This Reti study appeals to me much more:

Reti 1922, White to Move and Win

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When I talk to problem aficionados about how much I like "realistic looking endgame" studies, their eyes often roll.  It's true: I want something that looks like it could come from a real game but has such an amazing finish that I'm struck with pleasurable disbelief that such a small number of pieces, placed in such a typical configuration, could have created something so strange and beautiful.  The incredulity is akin to enjoying non-dairy cupcakes (doesn't that sound awful!?), made famous by the popular book,  Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World

To close my problem discussion, I encourage you check out an awesome website that I accidentally discovered, a French site that combines art history with chess problems and games. 

Who Am I to Judge?

The USCL Game of the Year contest is in full swing ( Be sure to check out my fellow judge Dennis Monokroussos' weekly videos on the games. ) Yours truly is ranked dead last in the "judging contest." This means that my rankings deviate the most from other judge's rankings. Maybe I have a subconscious fascination with exotic rook maneuvers that biased me toward certain moves. I blame it on being taught the Lucena position way too many times as a child. My ranking plummeted last week due to the Tangborn-Kuljasevic Game, which I picked as fifth place.


The average of rankings put it in 14th place, so I guess you could say I was "way off." Or maybe the other four judges were "way off." Anyway, I vindicated myself this week: My ranking for Molner-Arnold (14th) was just one place off its actual ranking (13th).


I just launched the website of a new non-profit, 9queens.org.  My 9queens partner is Jean Hoffman, who I met at Junior High National about 14 years ago. I was very impressed that she was wearing cool nail polish, listened to Metallica and was playing bughouse with another girl. Luckily all those things (with an appropriate substitute for Metallica of course) have become much more standard at chess tournaments. Part of the credit must go to tournaments like the Susan Polgar Invitational and the All Girls' Nationals. Jean and I became friends during a brief overlap at the NYC non-profit Chess-In-The-Schools and in October 2007, put on our first 9queens event in Philadelphia. Our Queens' Academy for female players is now a monthly series in Philadelphia.

The first Queens' Academy in Philadelphia.

On the 9queens blog Jean wrote a response to a study by Dr.Anne Maass, "Checkmate? The role of gender stereotypes in the ultimate intellectual sport" (European Journal of Social Psychology, Wiley.)

The study selected 42 male-female pairs of similar chess ability. In half the cases, the players were told the gender of their opponents and in the other half, they were unaware of their opponent's gender. Women lost significantly more games when they knew they were playing men. The first thought and the primary conclusion of the study was that women were intimidated when playing men, and under performed.

But you could easily flip this assumption: Maybe men play better when they know they are playing women? There are two ways to rationalize this:

  1. Men may feel a greater subconscious need to demonstrate value to a woman, so that she's more likely to date him. The Internet could be the perfect place to isolate this variable, since men often claim that they are "distracted" when playing against attractive women in person.
  2. Losing to a woman may hurt certain men more than losing to another man. The greater fear motivates the man to focus harder.

In future trials, three groups could be compared: one in which the genders of both players are revealed; one in which only women know they are playing men; and one in which only the men know they are playing women. Unfortunately, there are so few female chessplayers, that it is hard to generate the critical mass required for such a study. As Dr. Anne Maass told me: " It is unfortunate that we have 'used up' the entire female (chessplaying) sample in Italy and since ethical rules in our field prescribe that we fully debrief our participants, they now all know about the aims and hypotheses of our study."

That's all for now. Happy Leap Year!