Of a Like Mind

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Irina Levitina and I have almost nothing in common. 

If personal knowledge can be considered the product of our experiences and if we can agree that our experiences form the basis for our perspectives, our beliefs, our ideas and opinions, then what's to be made of the fact and Irina and I have independently arrived at the same conclusions regarding chess?

Hold my hand and accompany me on a short journey to the point. We'll be taking the scenic path.

   Irina Levitina was a great female chess player, at one point almost the best in the world. She lost her match with Maia Chiburdanidze for the Women's World Championship in 1984 with a respectable score of 5-8.  She was the Soviet Women's Champion four times and the U.S. Women's Champion (after emigrating) three times, two of which were jointly held. Levitina had been called a female Tal both for her wild playing style and her other-worldly personality.
   While living in Russia, Irina took a fancy to the game of Bridge. This isn't as innocuous as it might seem. Not only was Bridge highly unpopular in Russia, but the USSR actually condemned it as "a depraved practice . . . imbued with harmful social tendencies."  Simply being a known Bridge player was enough to invite surveillance and harassment.  Although the cadre of Bridge players in Russia was tiny and inexperienced and although even books on the game were practically non-existent, Levitina somehow managed to become "the first high-ranked chess player of either sex, and the first Soviet citizen, to win a bridge award [NY Times 10-19-1986] by winning the International Bridge Press Assoc.  AlpWater Award  (donated by the Alpwater Swiss Mt. Spring Water Co.)  for the best deal by a woman in 1985.  Bridge started consuming her. Even before emigrating to America in 1987, Irina had decided to retire completely from chess. Coming to America, however, revived her a bit and she played until 1993 when she retired from chess to concentrate on Bridge. 
   According to several sources, she has been the World Bridge Champion four times. This is a little misleading. Her Bridge Championship results were in different categories:
   ~In 2000 her team, comprised of Piotr Gawrys, Sam Lev, Irina Levitina, Jill Meyers, John Mohan and Migry Zur Campanile, won the World Transnational Mixed Team Championship (formerly the World Mixed Teams Championship). In this tournament each team, whose members aren't limited by nationality,  must be comprised of at least two men and two women with six as the maximum number of members. One woman and one man play at a time. 
   ~In 2002 her team, comprised of Lynn Deas, Irina Levitina, Jill Meyers, Randi Montin, Beth Palmer, Kerri Sanborn, won the McConnell Cup. This women-only event is held every four years as part of the World Bridge Championships.
   ~In 2006 Irina Levitina and  Kerri Sanborn won the World Women Pairs Championship, a tournament held every four years.
   ~In 2007 the USA team, made up of Jill Levin, Irina Levitina, Jill Meyers, Hansa Narasimhan, Debbie Rosenberg, JoAnna Stansby, won the Venice Cup (a women's event). This tournament is held every two years in conjunction with the Open World Team Championships.

The USA team at the 2007 Women's World Team Championship (the Venice Cup) held in Shanghai sparked a controversy that rocked the Bridge world.
                   Jill Levin, Jill Meyers, Debbie Rosenberg and Irina Levitina

   In what they perceived as heavy anti-American sentiments over the war in Iraq, environmental issues and U.S. policies of use of torture at the foreign venue, the members spontaneously made a sign that read, "We did not vote for Bush" in an attempt to demonstrate that Americans didn't, by mere virtue of their citizenship, agree with the current U.S. foreign policies and to help alleviate some of the tensions they had experienced at the tournament.
   The reaction from the media and some members the United States Bridge Federation was immediate and harsh. Reminiscent of a somewhat similar scenario with the Dixie Chicks but within the small confines of the Bridge world, the controversy was just as great and the incriminations just as strong. Lawyers for the U.S. Bridge Federation proposed a compromise: "It calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service 'that furthers the interests of organized bridge'; and an apology drafted by the federation's lawyer. . .  Alan Falk, a lawyer for the federation, wrote the four team members on Nov. 6, 'I am instructed to press for greater sanction against anyone who rejects this compromise offer.'”

Jill Levin, Irina Levitina and Debbie Rosenberg refused to comply.
The issue appears to be still unresolved.


   Ah, the point is just around the bend!

   [compared to Bridge] "I don't think I would admit that Chess is more interesting, as you always start with the same set-up.  No, if I had a choice again, I'd never have started playing chess, if you consider how much time has to be spent nowadays studying theory, how much you need to know and remember if you add it all up. The game itself, improvisation, plays a subordinate role, a much less significant role today than when I started playing. I saw this once particularly clearly at a tournament in Sochi, before there was even any mention of computers. A game between two Grandmasters: 33 moves of theory, and after 40 moves the game was adjourned. They had made at least one mistake each, then they had to analyze the adjourned game. Is that really playing?
   . . . Real Players want to play, not to laboriously study and analyse openings at home. They can't do this, or they don't want to do it, it's boring for them. Perhaps I understand better than you do, as I'm one of those types myself."
   . . .Now blitz, that's another matter, especially when it's not being played in a tournament, but just for its own sake. . . it's interesting, it's exciting, it's fun. If you lose a game, you can get your own back immediately. It's a real game, a game in the literal sense of the word, and you're playing against a specific opponent, trying to exploit more than just their chess weaknesses. That's why I really like the idea of Random Chess, as this could take Chess back to its original purpose as a game and you wouldn't have this monstrous opening preparation. But even if people start playing this kind of Chess, it's still difficult for me to imagine myself ever sitting at the chessboard again. . .
   Chess isn't really designed for the female nature, and nor is the endless struggle that is characteristic for this sport. For chess you need lots of strong qualities that are found much more rarely in the fairer sex than in men - the desire to play, to constantly prove something, vigour, fervour. Perhaps this is why women are usually weaker players than men. Chess is a very harsh thing and the tragic element of Chess is the price of mistakes.  You can play wonderfully for several hours, put up a building, but one mistake leads to disaster and the building comes tumbling down.
   These moments create additional nervous tension.  Most women just don't have the strength for such psychological feats.  Plus, they have more fear of defeat.  Anyone who is indifferent to losing will never become a first class sportswoman.  Also, in Chess, you play in silence; conversations during the game are forbidden; and you have to keep that up for several hours in a row.  I know, I know, the rule is broken all the time, but still, in Bridge the whole game is oriented towards conversation. Socializing with and having feelings for your partner is no less important here than other qualities, and in women this feeling is developed, perhaps even more so than in men."


Irina Levitina and I have almost nothing in common and she completely overshadows me, yet I've reached similar conclusions about Chess some time ago and I agree vehemently with 90% of what she had to say.