Saturday, January 26, 2008

SPICE outreach - U of Washington

by Gregory Alexander

For two days in a row, the student paper put Susan Polgar on the first page of the paper, The Daily (University of Washington). Here was the student reporters article regarding the event:

The crowd was diverse — men, women, students, adults and even children — but one thing was clear when chess grandmaster Susan Polgar entered the room: a celebrity had arrived. The Chess Club at the UW invited Polgar to speak on campus at the Mechanical Engineering Building last night, and she drew a large crowd.

Polgar, who broke down gender barriers in the male-dominated world of chess when she qualified as the first woman to compete in the Men’s World Chess Championship, touched on issues of gender, technology and education in her speech.

“She’s an incredible chess player,” said Brian Rowe, a UW alumnus who brought his young daughter.

A small, elegant woman with a steady blue gaze, Polgar fielded questions from around the room, which was so crowded that people leaned casually against the doors. The questions were as diverse as the audience, and Polgar answered them with the assistance of her husband, manager and fellow chess player, Paul Truong, who called her “one of the breakthrough[s] for women” in chess.

Polgar said that gender doesn’t matter during a game.

“You look at the board and moves [rather than the opposing player],” she said. “It’s not who you play, but what you play.”

A question arose regarding nationality and its link to a chess player’s style. Polgar dismissed the notion, remarking that you can’t tell an Icelandic from a Bulgarian simply by looking at their playing styles.

Polgar said that chess is not a game decided by nationality or gender but instead by “who blunders less and who takes advantage of the opponent’s blunders.”

The discussion moved later to the effect of technology on chess. Players should not be scared away from using computers to enhance their chess playing, she said. “Chess programs don’t harm chess players,” she said. Instead, chess software “enriches the chess community.” Chess software can level the playing field for people who may not have access to chess clubs like those that exist in metropolitan areas.

On the other hand, technology can also facilitate cheating, Polgar said, although most online servers can usually catch cheating. Certain tournaments make players go through X-ray machines like in an airport, she said after Truong described an incident in which a player used an earpiece to communicate with another person calculating moves with a computer.

As a child, Polgar spent six to eight hours a day solving puzzles, studying strategy and playing games. Her father was not a professional player, but he helped her practice.

Polgar and Truong have developed a curriculum that incorporates the tenets of chess into all subjects taught in a classroom. In the classroom and at home, chess can be used as a tool to teach anyone organization, logic and concentration, no matter his or her age, Polgar said.

“The most important thing for a young player is to have fun,” she said.

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