Chessy Talk: Interview with Batgirl

Chessy Talk: Interview with Batgirl

Aug 5, 2011, 3:32 PM |

Few people happen to be so talented in writing, in which no matter how much time passes by, you basically will never get bored of the interesting subjects they always highlight or research.

It was until the moment when I met my future coach RetGuvvie98, who gave me links, documents and home works. One of the “materials” he recommended to me, was a downloadable file from a member called “Batgirl “. Even after downloading it, I was very curious about this member (oh like many others), started reading some of her blogs, and I was very pleased with what I’ve read.

Almost three years have passed since then, yet I still remember some of the best I’ve read from Batgirl: The man who saved Philidor, Nikita, Chess in Cuba, Chess Resorts,  and A chess painting.

That said, my favorite one was the recent Jewish Chess Players, which happened to be a topic I’ve always researched myself.

 Among the list I’ve had, which was consulted with a friend, Batgirl was my first choice. And I honestly never thought that she would accept such a request, since she doesn’t socialize a lot here as it’s mentioned on her profile page. Yet I tried and felt very pleased when she accepted my request to be interviewed by someone she did not know.

It’s also worth to mention that I’ve always wondered if she was a journalist because of her interesting topics and good writing skills. Yet I was astonished with her answer later on. Not only that, but some very interesting facts behind the lady, who’s a favorite blogger of many members... Me included. 

A very interesting Interview…

-So Sarah (can I call you that during the interview btw?), can you tell us how and when did you learn to play chess?

Sarah works for me.  I learned to play chess about 15 years ago (I'm 37 now). I learned on my own by using a chess program called CM2000 that was given to me and a library book by I.A. Horowitz that I think was called Chess Self-Teacher.  If you do the math, you'll notice that this coincided with the advent of the internet. Just a year or so after my self-introduction to chess, I started playing on the nascent World Wide Web, and in fact, only "got connected" in order to play with real people rather than with my CM2000. 

- Did you have any chess goals or ambitions? How a serious chess player were you then? 

Initially, I was quite serious, thinking I might have a certain talent for the game.  But it didn't take long to see my talent was quite plebian and my potential, at best, would be that of a moderate-sized fish in an extra-small pond.

- And then you found, how did that happen?

I've been at almost since its inception a little over 4 years ago.  Since I do a lot of online research involving chess, the site came to my attention relatively quickly.  My chess activity goes back 15 years.   I'm not sure has actually changed anything for me.  I've had blogs before; I've written for different chess sites before; and I've published my chess history explorations before in various forms - most commonly though my websites.  I think what offers - and this is not little thing - is a ready-made reader base within a friendly and supportive atmosphere with access to some very nice-to-use tools.

- Eventually you became a well known blogger within the community here. Are you a journalist Batgirl? If not, do you wish to become one? Perhaps a chess journalist?

I'm not a journalist and have no desire to be one.

-Which is surprising, and what’s your real life job?

I spend around 60 hours/week working in a convenient store. 

- From your home page I can tell that you're very clear about the purpose of your presence in here, yet can you tell us what do you think about the site? Was there anything around that forced you to avoid socializing with members?

As I mentioned in the previous question, I spend a lot of time on the job.  I also have certain other hobbies/advocations that use up my time.  Chess research is a very slow, tedious and, yes, time-consuming process.  I think this is something that isn't always very apparent.  A simple blog article (and I've published over 500 here in the last 4 years) can take anywhere from a couple hours to 20 or 30 hours to research and write. While I'm far from being an unfriendly or anti-social person (although I am quite reserved), I simply don't have time to interact or build relationships with a variety of people.

- Getting back to your blogs, there was a blog that I liked which was about "Jewish chess players". Now what exactly made you write about such
 facts that might offend some people? And were you reluctant when you did that research?

I'm a non-practicing Jew.  What I thought was interesting about that article was the time in which the original text was written. Hartwig Cassel wrote about Jewish chess players back in 1904. 

Even then, Jews were, of course, a group that attracted certain responses, much of them negative and I
 could see Cassel's intent to put Jews in a positive light.  But later history has changed how the public views Jews, I think, which flavors the article (which was very proper in 1904) a bit tangier. 

I always try to maintain a certain distance, certain objectivity, hoping to find truth rather than my own perception of truth.  I'm not sure it's even possible, but I do feel that one must look at things from all sides and directions to better understand.

- You also wrote couple of blogs about female chess players and their influence throughout history, the latest one was Revolutionary chess ladies, I liked it a lot.

 So what do you think about female chess players in general? Are they, or can they be better than men? A controversial question
 indeed, yet surly you have your own opinion as well?

I've written far more than a couple articles on female chess players throughout history. There's no doubt that, as a group, women trail far behind men in chess.  Does this mean women are less capable?  Who knows and who believes anyone who claims he knows?  There are so many variables; I don't trust any absolute statements in this area.  I've noticed that some folks take the fact that few women play at higher levels and extrapolate it to mean that men in general are stronger than women but that seems like faulty logic. I do know that I generally find games from women's chess tournament more entertaining than those from open tournaments.

- Do you feel strange, since you're one of few females around that write intensively about chess like the way you do?

Not at all.  Gender has nothing to do with writing.

- Is there any Chess journalist you like?

Gennady Sosonko.

- You're American, and you do know that traditionally, Russians and soviets had better chess schools than Americans, why is that?  However, do you think that American chess players are catching up now?

The reasons why Russians have had better chess training is historically documented. 

The simple answer would be that the Soviet government pursued a hyperactive role in promoting the game as opposed to America's laissez-faire approach.  The Soviets produced more and better chess players but at such a great cost.  That great love of chess seems to still exist in Russia and in former Soviet countries to a greater extent than here in the U.S. 

 Over the years many non-Soviet/non-Russian players have risen to the higher levels: Fischer,  Anand, Short, Carlsen.  Of course there are many great players today from former Soviet countries. It's hard to separate the Soviets and former Soviets from Russians in this respect.

Americans are a long way from catching up simply because the U.S. doesn't embrace chess to the degree that other countries do.


- From your own research and interest in chess history, what did you notice about chess' evolution in the last 100 years?

I think most of the so-called great advances have been in the areas of opening and endgame theory . . .  that is until the rise of computers.  Computers have possibly had the most profound effect on chess, particularly in understanding defensive resources.  Another profound advance is the development of databases, making games, past and current not only immediately available but searchable for study. 

 That said, I am constantly amazed at the quality of play I find in 19th century games - so, perhaps the advances are somewhat esoteric and the importance of such advances gather more and more relevance the higher we go in skill level.  I think at my level that the practical value of such advances is pretty much negligible. My chances of beating Morphy would be about the same of my chances of beating Shirov.

- Yet don’t you think that computers have somewhat spoiled the game and the usual hard work and time spent by some individuals?

I personally despise computers' involvement in chess. First, they promote cheating - and not just online, but even in playing halls. Second, people use computers to appear to be experts, which seem also to be an exclusively online problem.  Third, folks tend to rely on computers for analysis rather than on their own minds.  Even if computer analysis proves to be more objectively accurate, relying on it defeats creativity.  The true beauty of chess lays in ideas not moves.  On the other hand, I applaud the existence of databases and the ability to examine games and positions. 

- Ever thought of travelling yourself to unveil the mysteries behind some historical chess questions that you always have had?

Nope.  In fact, I'm more interested in American history than in chess history.

- And if given the chance, would you like to join a production team of a chess documentary series?

Nope. Although I have contributed in varying degrees to several books on chess, I'm pretty much a soloist.

- Then why not publish your own Chess book one day then? 

I have no desire to write a book and feel eminently unqualified even if I wanted to.

- So How do you exactly prepare and research your topics before posting them as blogs, and is the internet your only resource?

The internet is indeed a great resource, but not so much because of what other people write (although there are great sites that give cross tables, tournament results,  basic quick biographical facts, etc.) but because of access to thousands of online books, newspapers and periodicals.  

Sometimes I get books from the library or through the wonderful intra-library system.  I usually get a germ of an idea from general reading or perusal or from a friend. After I have an idea, I do a pretty intense internet search - mostly within books newspapers and periodicals - to ascertain if there's is enough information available to me to answer my own questions- keeping copious notes. If I feel I can proceed, I try to develop a hook or a point of view from which to write. I continue searching and reading.

 Any facts I do find, I try to corroborate and substantiate. This in itself can be very involved. After I finally get enough material, I sit down and try to write something I hope will interest a reader.

- Is there any ongoing chess issue that you're reading about or investigating nowadays?

Not really.

- What's the position of Chess as a game or sport compared to the other games and sports?

I think chess is a game - a competitive game, for sure - but still just a game.  I really shouldn't say "just a game"  since chess stands head over shoulders above almost all other games due to its recorded cultural history, its recorded development (especially the record of games for the last several hunded years) and the intense study and preparation by its proponents, both amateur and professional. I think to term chess a sport is to stretch the definition of sport beyond its normal intent. 

- Your favorite chess player?

I have several.  Paul Morphy has always been on top of the pile because he was so unlikely a hero. I also like Tschigorin for his daring, Dadian for his controversial role and quite immense tactical vision and Blackburne because his games simply blow me away.  Among the ladies I value Adele Rivero, another unlikely champion, Ellen Gilbert, who was totally amazing and Nellie Showalter because she's so darn sweet.

 - You never mentioned Garry Kasparov, though he is considered by many to be the best chess player the world has ever seen and is a respected chess author...

I wasn't asked about GK specifically.  I also consider him the best chess player ever.  I'm a little less in awe of him as an author since I believe much of what he wrote, especially in his great predecessors series, was in good part a team effort and not a pure Kasparov effort. But I've always liked Kasparov, even with his overbearing demeanor.  There is an intensity about him that's quite attractive.

 Kasparov is one of the most thoroughly competitive animals, willing to do immense preparation before playing and once the games begins, totally unwilling to accept defeat. The main legacy from Kasparov that impresses me was his melding of computer and human strengths. He also impressed me with his decision to more or less walk away from chess after devoting his entire life to the game.

- And what about your favorite chess book?

The Immortal Game by David Shrenk.  It's the most concise (and mostly accurate) history of chess that I've read. It addresses broad questions without getting bogged down in minutiae and is written in an original and compelling style. I also thoroughly love Sosonko's three books.

- You don't play much chess on the site as you stated on your profile page? Surely you have some free time to play some games?

I used to take the game more seriously and would only play standard length games.  When I was playing such games, I think my level of play was much, much higher than it is today, but on the other hand, as I started playing better, my opponents tended to be stronger which meant I had to apply myself more just to stay even.  It seemed to me that one must keep pushing just to stand still and I was growing tired from all that pushing.
Chess was becoming a stressful drudgery rather than a fun pasttime. So, one day I decided to try blitz and, although my quality of play was even lower than that of similarly rated opponents in that format, I found the game fun.  So, I completely gave up playing regular chess and have been enjoying playing blitz chess exclusively for the past 6 or 8 years.  I generally play 10 to 20 games a day, but on other sites.

- Any other bloggers you like on the site?

I read a lot of blogs.  I've had some favorites over the years and I hesitate to try to mention them for fear of hurting anyone whom I might miss. But, just for the record, one of my favorites has always been "dozy" although he doesn't seem to write much here anymore. One blogger I've enjoyed recently is "Spektrowski" who mainly concentrates on translating the writings of Mikhail Tal. 

- Do you play or share your blogs on another site, or like me, this is your home?

This is my home.

- WHAT IS with the batgirl name and avatar?! What about your real picture? A lot of readers are interested to see your face, ever thought of removing that mask?

The name "batgirl" is a handle I picked in 1996-7 when I first joined FICS (This was back when the number of chess sites was very limited). The reason for the name was that I was working 3rd shift at the time and my sleeping habits were like those of a bat. I've used it ever since whenever possible. 
Erik & Co. have created a fantastic site that has tenacles reaching in all directions.  I think it's primary strength, however, lies in its social aspect. But the social aspect isn't its only strength and there's room for all different approaches. Before I came here, I wrote about chess history and the 
culture surrounding it.  I started writing here really just to experiment with the blogging tools and gradually focused all my writing energy here.  I never came here to socialize.  As a writer, if I can call myself that, I feel the only thing that matters are my words.  Beyond that, I'm a very private person and extremely leary of the internet, so I prefer hiding beneath my cowl.

It was a real pleasure Batgirl, Thank you. 


This Chessy Talk project is dedicated to many friends and memebrs who deserve the utmost credit for contributing a lot to the site. So interviewing them is the least I can do. Yet I would like to salute and thank my dear friend Veggiegirlie for Reminding me of how cool it is to interview some people. She basically reminded me of my days when I was a part time journalist.