Online Chess Interview With Grand Master Jennifer Shahade
In 2006 Shahade was hired by the United States Chess Federation to be the web editor in chief of their site www.uschess.org.
Dennis Steele: "Jennifer, I would first like to thank you for taking the time to answer questions from the ChessManiac community.
Dennis Steele: As the new website content editor for the USCF I see you have started to overhaul the USCF website... I just want to say one thing in regards to this...IT'S ABOUT TIME THE USCF GOT SOME NEW BLOOD IN THERE! Love the changes you have made to the site! What are your plans for the site? What is the new USCF website's mission statement? Keep up the good work Jennifer!
Jennifer Shahade: Thank you Dennis! The mission of the site is to offer exciting news and commentary on the major U.S. tournaments and top players. The place to go for news and colorful updates, is Chess Life Online.
We hope to achieve two goals by updating the site so frequently: promote our top players, organize and generally improve the image of chess in America and b. entice more members by making some Chess Life Online articles "members only", and offer members the complete contents of Chess Life Magazine, where they can play through the games over the web.
My future plans include blogging contests, more instructional material, better integration of important crosstables into the site, and weekly top ten lists. Another thing that should be available soon is the ability for members to make comments on any article on the site.
We also plan to phase out the old site, and get all the relevant material (TLAs, ratings, etc.) onto the new site.
Dennis Steele: Where do you see the USCF in the next 10 years? Are we about to see some drastic changes?
Jennifer Shahade: I think we've seen drastic changes with the new magazine and website, and that this will eventually increase USCF revenue and enthusiasm. All the staff members I've interacted with here in Crossville TN are hard-working and enthusiastic. I hope that all these positive changes will help to make chess more marketable, and attract sponsors so that we don't have to worry about the future of the U.S. Championship or Olympic sponsorship!
wildwild: I see on the front of your book, Chess Bitch, that it has a Yoko Ono quote. I was wondering if she inspires you in any way, or was it the publishers decision?
Jennifer Shahade: Yes, Yoko Ono's art, career and personality do inspire me. I contacted her, and she read the book and sent me the quote that ended up on the cover.
wildwild:I would like to know if you have ever taken an individual and trained that person how to play chess like you do...sort of taken that person under your wing and have trained them to go to another level?
Jennifer Shahade: I've taught a lot of talented players through my work at Chess-In-The-Schools, and I also teach privately. However, none of my students have surpassed me yet!
Ray Duque III: How old were you when you started playing chess and who taught you how to play the game? What kind of interest or hobby do you like besides chess?
Jennifer Shahade: We have a family picture of me playing chess when I was only 2 years old, although I think I was hamming it up for the camera. :) That picture is in my book Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport.
I probably knew the rules at about six years old, and played in my first tournament at around 10 years old. Then I got really serious about the game in high school.
Chess, writing and poker are sedentary activities which I'm very fond of, so I like to balance the rest of my time by being active. I love basketball, running and dancing. Ever since I started working as the web-editor of www.uschess.org, I've become more interested in photography. I take a large percentage of the photos for the site with my Nikon D70 camera, and I've learned a lot about digital photography and Photoshop in the process. I also see now there's a lot more to learn!
Nyxie: I read your book, and I found your writing style and frank viewpoint to be refreshing from the more stodgy chess related books I have read previously. That being said, I am an adult and I was not able to recommend it to some of my younger friends. Do you have plans for another book, and if so will you write one that I can recommend to all age groups? I'd love to see you do a book on famous games from women's chess history.
Jennifer Shahade: Yes, I'd consider writing such a book. However, it would take me a long time to write such a book, and I'm not even sure if a publisher would commission it. The problem is how big is the market for a book on chess for young girls? 500-2000, tops. A publisher would have to trust that so many more girls are playing chess, that the book would eventually sell enough to justify the investment. Chess Bitch has more potential to sell to male chess players, since it's filled with fun stories, as well as non-chess players or very casual players. A book of top women's games probably doesn't have that potential.
Nyxie: What do you think would help us to promote chess to more young people in the United States? Do you see a way we could package it to a media now culture and still keep its rich history alive?
Jennifer Shahade: There are a lot of young people playing chess in the United States! If anything, I see a larger problem with keeping those young people interested, at a less intense level, perhaps. I want to see chess on T.V, and I believe it can happen with the right commentators and editors. I love doing live chess commentary, and have always wanted to test my skills out on live T.V.
I'm excited about the U.S. Chess League, which is now in its second season. My brother Greg, is the commissioner and I'm the manager of the New York Knights, the best team :) There are ten teams now, games are played on Wednesdays with a special "Monday night" game, and the website is constantly updated with stats, annotated games, pictures and predictions. I think he's created an infrastructure that could eventually be marketted as a sport to the mainstream press.
Nyxie: As a titled player do you enjoy the pressure that comes with the tournaments, or do you ever wish you could just step outside and walk down to a pub or local club and just play a fun friendly game?
Jennifer Shahade: Yes, sometimes I think it would be fun to be a non chessplayer, so I could learn chess and enjoy it on a more casual level.
Peter British Rael: What would you advise a low-rated player (like myself) to do to improve? Would you recommend studying openings, middle games, endgames or a combination of all three?
Jennifer Shahade: I would emphasize tactics and endgames first. Like Maurice Ashley said to two young girls in a recent article on Chess Life Online, read a tactics book, and when you're finished go back to page one. Repeat four or five times and I'm pretty sure you'll see results!
Peter British Rael: There are several gorgeous lady chess players around nowadays. Purely in a an effort to promote the game of course, how about you doing a naked calender, with a tastefully positioned over-sized chess piece? Even the Womens Institute in the UK (previously looked on by the masses as a group of old ladies baking cakes) have done one, which is now being made into a movie. If you do a photo shoot, please send any out takes to British Rael, c/o Chessmaniac etc etc
Jennifer Shahade: I think it's possible to promote the "gorgeous lady chess players" without stooping to a naked calender. Also, I like that chess is one of the few areas in which women's performance is not affected by their looks. I don't want women chess players to feel like they need to be gorgeous to get invitations and sponsorships. On the other hand, I do think that people are pleasantly surprised when they read Chess Bitch by how many young, adjusted and stylish women are playing chess, and that's definitely a positive thing for the game.
winkensmile: What is your spin on the differences between men and women chess players? Do they play differently, or just differently when encountering different gender opponents? I know this is a generalization, and each individual player has his/her own unique way of dealing with it but maybe you have seen some common threads in your experience that you might share with us.
Jennifer Shahade: I wrote about this issue in the first chapter of Chess Bitch, Play Like a Girl. Read it for a complete answer to this question. In summary, I think that women may play a bit more aggresively for a variety of non-biological reasons- a. Judit Polgar imitation, b. wanting to impress coaches and fans, and c. most top women players are rated between 2300-2500, a range at which overly aggresive play is more common.
winkensmile: Who inspired, or motivated you to get into this level of serious chess? What chess players do you admire, past and present?
Jennifer Shahade: The Polgar sisters inspired me as a young girl. I still admire the Polgar sisters as well as other top women players like Stefanova and Xu Yuhua. I also admire the games and play of Mikhail Tal, Garry Kasparov, and Veselin Topalov.
TonyD: What interests do you have other than chess? Are you a football fan, and if so, what is your favorite team?
Jennifer Shahade: I am not a big football fan, although I always root for Philly teams. I just saw the movie "Invincible" and really loved it. I'll probably write about it on my blog. I'm from Philly, so of course I was excited by the movie, which is about the Eagles.
pl7: Did you enjoy the process of writing your book? What was the most interesting or surpising thing you learned during the process?
Jennifer Shahade: I loved the process of writing the book, although it was so challenging that I think if I had known how much work it would be, I may have chickened out before getting in too deep to quit! The most interesting thing I learned is how crucial structure and outlining is in a book. In an article, you can kind of play it by ear, but I really needed a map to write Chess Bitch. It took me several months to figure out a structure that would work. I nailed it after a few cappuccinos in a Prague cafe. This was before I wrote a word!!
pl7:What do you enjoy most about working with kids?
Jennifer Shahade: I love inspiring passion in them for chess. I don't care as much about exactly how strong they are, but if they find a beautiful combination and their eyes light up, it makes me very happy.
pl7:In general, what aspects of chess do you most enjoy?
Jennifer Shahade: I love chess problems and combinations. I also really like endgames.
pl7:What do you like least about professional chess?
Jennifer Shahade: The amount of opening theory you need to know to play the sharpest lines and too many draws at the highest level.
pl7:Do you have any aspirations to play top level competitive chess again someday?
Jennifer Shahade: I'd love to, but who will pay me?
pl7:How did you first realize you had a real gift for the game?
Jennifer Shahade: I realized it at the age of 13, when I started to crush certain masters in blitz chess.
robbakery: Fatigue often greatly reduces level of chess play. What measures are good to use to maintain a high level of mental energy?
Jennifer Shahade: Play in tournaments with one round a day, and when you do, limit your preparation time. Also, drink lots of coffee and try to just power through without worrying about the three days of post-tournament recovery sleep. Finally, don't socialize during tournaments or at least limit socializing with your likely competition (too much subconscious emotional energy)... but I'm very outgoing, so it's always been hard for me to limit socializing.
Dennis Steele: Jennifer, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.
Jennifer Shahade: You're welcome.