Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chess Is Like... The Carlton Club?

I'm writing this column with a heavy heart. I know that chess coverage in the British mainstream media is rare and should be welcomed. However, there is always scope for saying no. And this is that time. For The Carlton Club, I could have easily substituted MasterChefVacuous Society or James Bond, such is Tom Peck's ability to allude to completely irrelevant things.

Magnus Carlsen attacks a photographer. Perhaps.

I just don't know what impression of chess Mr. Peck is trying to create. And that's create, not portray, because anybody who knows anything about the game will appreciate how misjudged his piece is. 

I'm a fair man, so I'll let you lot read it and judge it for yourselves. However, I'm quite happy to go to war on one particular point.

"Don’t come if your wife if (sic) heavily pregnant. It will last many, many hours – and you’re not allowed your phone."


Now, I'm all too aware that chess is riddled with misogyny. Just look at an average Chessbase feature; half the pictures will be of female participants even if they constitute 5% of the field. 

But this comment is dangerously sexist on a much more general level. Let me break it down for Mr. Peck in list form, a format he appears to like.

1. Apparently, women don't read newspapers.
2. Apparently, women aren't interested in chess.
3. Apparently, if a woman isn't interested in something, she'll pass the time on her phone.

I could go on. Down with this rubbish.

Chess Is Like... Index


Anonymous said...

Benefit of the doubt - the phone comment is in case you need to make a call as she goes into labour.

Matt Fletcher said...

What a terrible article! I read the pregnancy bit slightly differently - don't go to the chess if you're waiting for your wife to call to say she's in labour because you won't have your phone. Which I think slightly negates point 3 (but not the others).

Tom Chivers said...

Was the article really that bad? On the specific charge of sexism, aren't women allowed wives now too?

But I think he should state his source for "It is a way of thinking that, unsurprisingly sends a lot of players mad." It's an astonishing claim if you think about it.

I don't read chessbase any more, but when I did it used to be the case that if the players were male you got to look at the board, if female the players themselves. I'm sorry to hear that still seems to be the case.

AngusF said...

I read the sentences to which PJM objects differently: The husband has left his heavily-pregnant wife to go to watch the chess where he'll be locked away and uncontactable for several hours...

PJM said...

Tom, whoever's bringing their wife, it's still a woman being portrayed as uninterested.

If you read the article as a chess player, it makes no sense. If you read the article as a non-chess player, it... makes no sense.

Tom Chivers said...

Isn't the overall point that live chess isn't much fun for the uninitiated? I agree with that about live chess in person, although not necessarily live chess via a good internet site.

Peter said...

The problem in the main is, unless observers reach a certain level of competence at chess, it is largely incomprehensible to them.

What they don't understand is how damn complicated it is.

IMHO in the last century there were three massive scientific revolutions, namely l=mc^2 quantum mechanics and the last one which chess hints at; chaos theory, I don't like this term, because to me it sounds pejorative, I prefer, nonlinear dynamics or the science of complexity.

We used to round down or round up decimal fractions to two significant decimal places, because in our ignorance we considered anything further to the right of the decimal point, is irrelevant how wrong we were, thus was born the term 'The flap of the butterflies wing'.

Chess demonstrates this principle beautifully, one move change in the opening and you get a totally different game. Complexity is everywhere, morphogenesis, the weather, the stock market and most important of all human history.

Chess is an incredibly useful cultural asset because it teaches the mind the nature of complexity. The sad thing is, British culture in the main has not woken up to this.

ejh said...

The overall point might very well be that: but if that's so, Mr Peck might have written it without all the crap that he's put with it, which serves no other purprose that to draw attention to his own capacity for ignorance.

Anonymous said...

You bloggers protest too much, methinks.

It is supposed to be a lighthearted outsider's look at the world of top chess. Of course he writes knight on d6 takes f4 because to him that's just as meaningless as knight on d5 takes f4, or whatever was actually said.
Surely we can live with that.

And obviously some chess players are quite mad.

As a lighthearted piece it's not too bad. The bit about the press room being apparently full of Bond villains was quite good! And I don't see any sexism, actually - he only writes that you shouldn't take your heavily pregnant wife to a place where you have to be very quiet and can't use your mobile. Egad, that is all - save your ire for Chessbase!

ejh said...

As a lighthearted piece it's not too bad

Yeah it is. There's lighthearted which is clever and funny and original, and there's lighthearted which thinks it's all three but is none of them.

PJM said...

Okay. I may have misjudged the pregnancy/phone bit - fair enough.

Anonymous said...

I assume the pregnant wife isn't present at the venue- so not a sexist comment but implying you could miss significant life events while watching chess for hours... Not sure I can disagree with this.
I thought the article was funny and probably a typical outsiders view!

Tom Chivers said...

Interesting tangential comment Peter.

As I understand it what you are saying boils down to: chaos theory is a recent scientific revolution, with major implications for how we understand the world, but one that is poorly understood by non-scientists. However, at a sufficiently high level chess encapsulates the essence of chaos theory. Therefore getting better at chess helps us gain insight into chaotic phenomenon in general, and thus of the world.

Is that the gist?

Peter said...

Yeah you got my drift Tom, one of the big problems in our society is, the propensity for people to see things in black and white. For instance, from persecuting people of a muddled sexuality, to saying it is something to be proud of.

Tom Chivers said...

Thanks Peter. Well, nothing is black and white in chess.

Richard James said...

I really detest articles which say "Chess drives you mad" or "All chess players are loonies". Bill Hartston once said something to the effect that chess doesn't drive people mad, it keeps mad people sane. I tend to agree - at least it's true for me.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it obvious that Tom Peck himself has a heavily pregnant wife at home and his comment just reflects his own anxiety at having to surrender his mobile phone for a few hours.

John Cox said...

Obviously it’s tedious tripe, but that’s what you get when you need to produce 1000 words in two hours on a subject you know nothing about and have no interest in. Mr Peck comes over to us as a bit of a wanker, but that’s not surprising; I doubt any of us could write a better light-hearted look at a kick-boxing tournament.
It is a bit depressing the way there’s apparently a law that the media have to produce this exact same article every time there’s a chess tournament in London, though. I expect Punch had something similar in 1851.

Tom Chivers said...

I think John Cox is right that this kind of article will crop up from time to time.

Can we plan for the next one?

I.e.: What is a good response for the chess community to make?

Or ask it another way. Let's say a mainstream journalist writes something nasty about a stamp collecting convention. What kind of response from the stamp collecting community would be impressive to the non-expert?

ejh said...

I doubt any of us could write a better light-hearted look at a kick-boxing tournament.

I reckon I could, actually, not least because I know somebody who's interested in kickboxing: if you don't know about a subject, ask somebody who does. Don't tell me a journo on a London newspaper doesn't know how to find somebody interested in chess.

It's worth observing that many journalists have to write about stuff about which they know little all the time: it's what naybody starting out on a local paper has to do. In that situation, of course, you avoid actually going out of your way to be a jerk about it, which is actually Mr Peck's major problem here.

tom_peck said...


Having just stumbled across this, thought you wouldn't mind my making a brief comment.

Have a go at me, and the article, by all means, but I do take issue with the sexism stuff.

I wrote: "Don't come if your wife is heavily pregnant. It's four hours long and you can't bring your phone."

Having to come up with "five tips for watching chess live" isn't altogether straightforward. You just sit there. I was merely saying it's not somewhere you'd want to be if there's imminent risk of an emergency, as you're going to be stuck without your phone for some time.

Your wife going into labour would be the most obvious example. I only had ten words. With space I could have written wife/partner/civil parter/surrogate. But in any case, it is, for the time being, women who go into labour, and there's not much I can do about that.

It's not 'dangerously sexist.' It's not even remotely suggesting women don't read newspapers, or women don't like chess. That is a reduction YOU are choosing to make, not me.

As for the rest of it, fine. You can, of course, say what you like, but it's hardly, on balance, a sexist piece.

If you people, who are far more involved in the world of chess than I am, are so animated by the topic of sexism, you might like to direct your energies at your game, rather than at me. I think I saw one woman the whole time...


Tom Peck

Tom Chivers said...

Interesting comment Tom. Can I quickly ask you for your source re:

"It is a way of thinking that, unsurprisingly sends a lot of players mad."



Jonathan B said...

Writing that assumes the reader is male is sexist. End of story.

I understand that you may have struggled to fully explain your point in a limited number of words. You might, therefore, have chosen to say something else?

tom_peck said...

Jon B - It doesn't assume the reader is male.

If I had written - "Married men, don't bring your wife..." would that have made it better? Personally I'm of the view that such an introduction is unnecessary - it's assumed.

You write these little boxes to fill whatever space is left after the page is drawn, Often at the last very last minute. I thought it was a pretty crap line at the time, I wish I had thought of something better. One of the things about working in daily papers is having to accept you could have done better with more time.

But again I maintain it's not sexist. You the reader are making the assumptions or the reductions, not the writer. Does the Olympic Fencing Competition reduce women to nothing but their fencing ability? I would say not.

As for "it is a way of thinking that sends players mad." I concede that could be phrased better.

I don't think it's an outrageous conceit that a higher proportion of chess players have mental health problems than the rest of the population at large. I didn't mean to suggest it that chess itself was to blame, though that would not be an unfair reading of my words.

I meant more the way of thinking generally, the way the brain is hardwired, that CAN, in SOME cases, be at the same time well suited to chess, and have a propensity towards mental health difficulties. I only included said comment based on a brief reading, at the time, of this.



ejh said...

I was merely saying it's not somewhere you'd want to be if there's imminent risk of an emergency, as you're going to be stuck without your phone for some time.

So what? What's unusual about this? For many people this is the case daily in their jobs. This includes, you know, women who are pregnant, and men whose wives and partners are pregnant.

I didn't mean to suggest it that chess itself was to blame, though that would not be an unfair reading of my words.

Can you show me an alternative reading that is reasonably plausible?

ejh said...

If you people, who are far more involved in the world of chess than I am, are so animated by the topic of sexism, you might like to direct your energies at your game, rather than at me

What is you reason for thinking that we have not?