Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Consider a man, a woman, a chess set.

the woman, a novice, challenges the man, considerably more experienced, to a duel on the blasted heath of the black&white squares. he accepts, intrigued. she smacktalks savagely, all bravado and bluster. he patiently waits until she makes a series of beginner mistakes, then takes her apart, like a cat delicately but savagely dismembering a mouse, until she realizes she's quite dead.

"good game", she says. she means it. they shake hands and part friends. she's exhilarated. the humiliation is delicious. addictive. they will meet again.

so here's the question. here we have a man, a woman, a chess set. considering that the woman is a novice, and men generally have dominated the chess world (as far as I know), what should a fellow do in this situation, if he considers himself a feminist, an ally, a profeminist man, whathaveyou? how should he behave in order to remain consistent in his principles?

should he:

a) grind her into paste, as that's the only way to learn to be a good chess player, and it is certainly desirable to encourage good female chess players (by any means necessary)?
b) let her win, so as to balance out the 2000 years of chess inequity, acting as an agent of reparations in a way?
c) "chess? who wants to play chess? that's soooooooo patriarchal. let's go shopping!"

I mean, when it comes to men and feminism, is it faith or works that distinguish the good guys from the bad guys?

I have a good guy who spars with me at the gym. It's for fun. He has greater strength than me and seems to manage to be fitter than I am, in general. Basically, he takes an analytical approach: "This is what you're doing. Try to do this." In terms of skill we are actually more closely matched, so I will give him advice, too, at times. The point is that he doesn't use his greater power in order to dominate me.
He should teach her to play if she actually has an interest in the game.
In this, I would say anwser A. I can play chess and the only way to really learn hw to play chess and get good at it is to loss...a lot.
If he chose B he would not be holding her at the same level as him...being that he is profem.
I think I missed the metaphorical part. I like chess. Haven't played it in a few years. I used to be fairly decent at it.

In the various parks here, men (mostly men) set up chessboards and invite people to come play them, for a price. It sort of puts me in mind of the "Whore of Mensa."
I'm with unsane and renegade evolution and choose option d): he should teach her, then annihilate her. I'm not really sure how being ground into paste would teach a person anything, no matter how good a loser they are. I mean, if A is a pro-chess player and B is a newbie, the only thing B would learn is 'this is how you grind a newbie into paste'. You get the theory and advice in first, *then* you practice until you drop.
Aside from teaching her how the pieces move – which we’re assuming she already knows – there’s not much – maybe the rudiments of some basic openings – he can teach her except by experience, by beating her repeatedly. Most of what goes under the rubric of teachable chess theory is only comprehensible to someone who’s already at least a middling player. (Books on chess, for example, are mostly wasted on rank beginners.) And the only way most people ever become middlingly competent by playing a lot against someone better. If he throws games to make you feel competent, you’ll never become competent. If you have a moral objection to games in which better players beat weaker ones, stick with paper-scissors-rock.
treating her gently would be insulting. I agree withthe others- teach her then treat her as an equal.
My grandfather taught me to play chess, and I'm fairly certain he let me win on a number of occasions. but, not always.
If the man and the woman are just playing as a hobby, then it really depends entirely on the relationship between the two players, and their level of interest in the game of chess. Some people don't worry much about what the "right" move is in a particular situation, and just want to get on with the game; others will be appreciative of their opponent suggesting what they could have done better (which would be the best way of actually learning to play better). If the novice woman is sensitive about gender issues, and would feel any attempt to offer advice on her moves was just patronising her, then obviously it would be inappropriate to offer advice; on the other hand, if she is less bothered (or knows the man well, and understands that it his passion for the game, or a genuine desire to see her abilities improve) then maybe it would be okay.

The answer to the question is that the male, experienced, player should regard his opponent as a person in her own right and not a symbol of her entire gender. She has her own reasons for playing, as does he; whether he teaches her, or throws the game, or crushes her, should depend on why she plays the game, and what she hopes to get from it.

My take on it is simple: in feminist terms, the game is not important, the personal relationships between the players is what matters, the game is merely one element of that relationship.

Incidentally, if the difference in ability is sufficiently marked, it is possible for the experienced player to give "odds" of a piece at the start of the game, so he does not patronise her by playing worse than he is able, but he starts with a handicap in terms of material.
well, I don't know - is a chess game really Man vs Woman, or person vs person, or is it brain vs brain?

there are a lot of good responses - plenty to think about here.

if a female chess expert was playing a novice fellow, should she slaughter him or go easy? what would be the feminist thing to do?

unsane - it's cool that you generalized outside of the world of chess. I know you're really into martial arts, yeah?
Chess chivalry never even occurred to me tbh. I mean, yeah, like I say, grandpa went easy on me, but he was my -grandfather.- and i was a kid.

you play chess, AP?
you play chess, AP?

apparently, badly. I got my ass handed to me.

I was crushed, slaughtered, annihilated, trounced, beaten, bested, whipped - a good time was had by all.

I didn't feel punked, or slighted, or dominated, or patriarchy-ed. I just felt like a person playing chess. badly.
Ap if I may...who did you play? Antiprinces? Der?
Hi antiprincess

I'm not so much into martial arts as I am into sparring. Somehow I'm also not so much into sparring as I am into losing myself in the moment. Somehow, in sparring, you lose your rigid thinking patterns. I find that I can be troubled by something, and then go sparring, and it really shakes you up, making you forget whatever you were thinking. Then you can return to life or your problem with a fresh perspective.
I think the first thing you should do is leave gender out of it. When you play chess, the rules include nothing about gender and your gender does not alter how the pieces move or what the victory conditions are. In short, like many things, gender is beside the point and it is nonsensical to somehow bring it in as if feminism or anything has anything to do with it. It is a game of chess.

That said, I'd chose option A. That's the only way you learn how to play. I had a friend whose whole family chose option A with all the games they played, from the time they were all young kids. We're talking mostly board games of various types. His parents and his siblings NEVER let anyone win at anything. So of course, the parents crushed the children - at first - but as they got older, having learned from their parents and also older siblings how to really play to win - cutthroat, as it were, EVERYONE in that family was a master game player. They could pick up new games and figure them out pretty quickly. And they all still love to get together and play games as a family - it probably helps that they don't take the competition personally - they see it as fun to really play to win and know that no one is holding back. That makes a win actually mean something.
I fucking HATE when people try to "tone it down" (read: dumb it down) because I'm a woman. THAT is sexist as hell. Like when the male mechanic starts talking to me as if I barely know what a car is. (For the record, I take my car to a female mechanic who's awesome.)

Or when a group of guys will start explaining the fundamentals of baseball to me, assuming that I know nothing about the sport.

Or when they think I don't know anything about computers. THAT'S the one that I get the most, given my line of work. Fuck that noise.
Well as far as teaching goes, what you described would be known as a "teaching game," going somewhat easy on the person but still picking them apart slowly. It allows them to get used to how the pieces work, and with repeated games she would find ways to tighten her game up. It's used on male players that are far below their opponent, especially students.

I'd think the fair thing to do, regardless of gender, if she was interested in improving and learning would be for him to do the same thing, but silently offer her openings to potentially turn it around temporarily, reducing these intentional openings as she gets better. That's how I learned to play, and how I used to teach kids(not that I'm a pro or anything mind you, but my teacher was trying to turn pro and it's how he learned).
well, it's really the mindset behind the decision to trounce or not to trounce that intrigues me.

fellow A: chess is chess, not some complicated battle of the sexes. all that matters is how quickly and elegantly you dispatch your opponent. Fellow A has no time for endless discussions of feminism. he just wants to play.

fellow B: obviously ambivalent about men's domination of the Chess World and the world in general, cares deeply about the state of Class Woman, wants to Fix It, even if that means throwing a game.

fellow C: wants to go shopping because chess is too patriarchal.

so who's the Pro-Feminist Man? who's the Ally? who's the Jerk?
In my oh so humble opinion:

Fellow A: An elitist jerk who isn't interested in getting another person to play and just gets his thrills defeating an opponent. Neutral, though the indifference towards gender would imply the "ally" descriptor in this case.

Fellow B: Means well, really, just doesn't understand that defeat is an inevitability and if that woman did indeed take a serious interest in chess she should learn how to play seriously she'll need to face it. If she just wants to play here or there there's no harm in throwing one or two matches to build confidence, but a better course of action would be to play and point out what's going on and why.

Also, "fixing" a casual game between friends as a strike against the patriarchy of chess has to be the most ineffectual thing I've ever heard shy of doing nothing or making things worse. I'd say this guy's the pro-feminist, but in his enthusiasm he's failing to see the bigger picture.

Fellow C: Chess was developed as a crude war simulation. By claiming it's too patriarchal, he's implying that women have no capacity for tactical reasoning and should stick to stereotypically female pastimes such as shopping. Whether or not this is in fact the intention, by encouraging the stereotype as opposed to treating the woman as an equal, he would come off as the jerk.
... she should learn how to play seriously she'll need to face it.

she should learn how to play seriously because she'll need to face it.

How did I miss a whole word?

My grandmother also didn't/doesn't believe in throwing games. She never did. She'd explain the rules as often as we asked, even in the middle of a game. However, she made us earn every single win. The results in my family were different from that of the family you described.

My father and his brother are both extremely competitive. So am I. I love beating the pants off of guys who think that women can't play as aggressively as men. However, none of my other siblings seem to enjoy table games at all.

I like the idea of handicapping the game when you're playing with little kids because, to me, it's more important for them to first develop a love for the game. If they get beaten every time they play, some kids will simply lose interest before they get the chance to improve enough to win.
bint - I wonder if personality doesn't play some small part in that - some people just plain don't like table games.

Some people hate losing and give up, other people see losing as a challenge, and lose interest only after they've "solved" a game and managed to win it. Still others enjoy the playing of the game itself and see winning (by anyone) as ending the fun of playing.

I also wonder if attitude plays a part - if you humiliate someone for losing versus telling them all the things they did right this time. One can see progress even if one loses. There is a difference between being crushed, for instance, and a close game. If the games get closer and closer, that is progress you can see.

I would think handicapping would not teach someone how to play - they wouldn't really be playing the game, they'd be playing something else with different rules. In real life, the "games" you play to get work and so forth you have to take the rules as they are - I would think that being able to do so would be a useful skill. As would perservering in the face of losing. I think many successful people are successful, not because they are smarter than others, but because they simply did not give up in the face of adversity.

Read this, you will like it

why thank you, cheshire! I certainly did!
I'd definitely never chuck a game, but I do ease up on novice players by simply not thinking very many moves ahead. I don't think the gender of the players should matter at all.
www.gameknot.com is a nice correspondance chess site, for those who would like to enjoy chess but don't have time to sit down and play a game in one go.
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