Pawn stars (not sex)
02-08-06 Seleccionado por: karaoke kamikaze
More than 30 years after Fischer-Spassky, it took a nightclub bust-up involving a chess beauty and two male rivals to put the game back in the headlines. Meet the girls who are grandmasters of the paparazzi.
Think chess and you may visualise bookish tweed jacket-wearing types, swapping pawns in silent battle. Or you might have a flashback to 1972 when, at the height of the Cold War, America's maverick champion Bobby Fischer duelled with the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, with the former narrowly prevailing. A younger generation may recall Garry Kasparov battling the computer Deep Blue in 1996 - the ultimate man versus machine head-to-head - with the Russian triumphing 4-2. What you will almost certainly not think of is attractive women wearing very little clothing, wondering whether to castle or not. Perhaps even more improbable is the thought of two male chess grandmasters fighting over one of them. But that, in the game's new sexually charged world, is exactly what happened during a tournament in Italy last month.
No sooner had 19-year-old Arianne Caoili hit a nightclub dance floor one evening to display her salsa moves 'energetically' in close proximity to Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian, than Danny Gormally, ranked four in England, himself said to have been making advances on Caoili, raced over to challenge his rival. The pair ended up fighting on the floor before 30-year-old Gormally was dragged away, eventually taking no further part in the Turin tournament, flying home to Durham rather than seeing what Aronian's friends, who were thirsting for revenge, thought of the incident.
Caoili is not the only player in the women's game turning heads. Indeed with no physical reason why women should not compete against men, they are becoming more and more prominent. Given the sport's popularity in the former Eastern bloc, it is no surprise that Russian women are making headlines. Any woman whose looks outreach their talent is, perhaps predictably, labelled the 'Anna Kournikova of chess' (Maria Manakova, 31, recently fell into this trap having only become popular late in her career after she posed nude for Russian magazine Speed), while those who live up to their looks are likened to 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova. Either way, sex sells in the chess world as successfully as in every other area of life and with celebrities now seen playing regularly, such as former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, it is more glamorous than ever.
The undoubted new star of women's chess, Kosteniuk has already appeared on the cover of Vogue in her native Russia. The 22-year-old has substance as well as style - she is ranked number three in the women's world rankings. She claims to have the most visited website of all chess players, though the extensive photo galleries of Kosteniuk draping herself over gigantic chess pieces in her smalls may have as much to do with that as her insight on the chess world: 'I am clever, so I can play chess. And I am not ugly, so I can model.' Kosteniuk started playing the game at fi ve and soon afterwards her father gave up his career in the military to coach her full-time. By the age of 14 she was a grandmaster, something she has since written a book about, and at 18 she took a game off former world champion Anatoly Karpov. Kosteniuk often plays exhibitions against up to 50 opponents at once, sometimes wearing roller-boots to save time.
The two-time US women's champion wrote Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport last year, an autobiographical account of her time in the game. As well as highlighting feminist issues such as what she calls 'beauty fascism' within the sport (she also says assertive women are routinely called bitches - hence the book title), Shahade profiled many of her opponents, lifting the lid on the vibrant party scene that surrounds women chess players who are constantly on the road. 'There is nothing wrong with making chess sexier and introducing the hip players who participate,' she says. The 25-year-old from Philadelphia started playing chess against her father, himself a grandmaster, and now teaches the sport to youngsters across America.
The 19-year-old Australian number three, who was born in the Philippines, has been silent since her entrancing salsa dancing in an Italian nightclub led two grandmasters to fight over her. Caoili's mother said that the international media frenzy that greeted the incident had blown it out of all proportion. 'It was just a storm in a tea cup,' she said. 'It's just the typical thing, isn't it? Sex, beauty, scandal - it sells. Even in the world of so-called chess nerds.' Former child prodigy Caoili does have a reputation for being a party girl, however, and on her website she lists her interests as singing (she aspires to record an album), dancing, pina coladas and, most intriguingly, dwarves, in addition to 'getting up to no good'. Grandmasters beware.
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