Thursday, June 7, 2007

What's the Oldest Evidence of Chess?

There’s an old saying "If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it is probably a duck."

That’s why some of us Goddesschess folks believe that this little piece (approximately 1.5 inches tall) is a chess piece, probably a king. It was identified as a chess piece (a king or queen) by the archaeologists who excavated it in July, 2002 during an ongoing dig at the cultural heritage site of Butrint, Albania, and dates to approximately 465 CE.

The assertion that this piece was a chess piece caused quite an uproar within the insular and sedate world of chess historians. More about this tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Desperately Needed - Just For Men...

Oh, I know I shouldn't do this, I know I shouldn't. I'll probably be really sorry for this tomorrow morning.

Time and chess wait for no man - well, something like that. I know only too well the sad truth of that maxim whenever I accidentally look in the mirror at myself these days - of course, I'm not a man, but the sentiment is the same, alas... My goddess, to see super hunk GM Vladimir Akopian reduced to such straits - well, perhaps it's time I hung up my chess pieces, darlings.
(Photo upper left: VA at the 5th Gib-tel Masters, January, 2007; photo upper right: VA circa 1998)

It seems just a few years ago, back in August, 1999 when VA was one of the hottest properties in Las Vegas during the 1999 FIDE World Chess Championship at Caesar's Palace. I was there, panting after him - discreetly, of course. He was SO gorgeous - thick black hair, flashing dark eyes, slim, lithe, powerful, dangerous - and those fingers - oh my, those fingers when he picked up a pawn and moved it forward ever so gently yet firmly, just still my heart.

Perhaps we could take up a collection and buy VA a year's supply of "Just for Men," the hair coloring agent that pretends not to be a hair coloring agent - oh, and a year's supply of Gillette razors - whatever the latest whiz-bang model is (I think it has five blades now, it shaves you all at once...)

2007 U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2

Okay, here is the June, 2007 top 20 women in the USA. The top 10 women (who, I assume, accept an invitation to play) will play in the 2007 U.S. Women's Chess Championship: 1 Polgar, Susan Zsuzsa NY USA 2597 2 Zatonskih, Anna NY USA 2491 3 Krush, Irina NY USA 2488 4 Goletiani, Rusudan NY USA 2392 5 Baginskaite, Camilla CA USA 2361 6 Rohonyan, Katerine MD USA 2304 7 Tuvshintugs, Batchimeg CA USA 2275 8 Abrahamyan, Tatev CA USA 2265 9 Battsetseg, Tsagaan MD USA 2234 10 Marinello, Beatriz NY USA 2211 11 Zenyuk, Iryna NY USA 2204 12 Airapetian, Chouchanik WA USA 2188 13 Epstein, Esther MA USA 2165 14 Melekhina, Alisa PA USA 2163 15 Eynullayeva, Roza MA USA 2138 16 Groberman, Elina NY USA 2137 17 Vicary, Elizabeth NY USA 2127 18 Kitagami, Show CA USA 2124 19 Sagalchik, Olga NY USA 2121 20 Shiber, Julia NY USA 2098 We know Susan Polgar won't be playing, so out of the remaining 19 women, who will play?

Chess Life to Female Chessplayers – You’re Invisible

The June, 2007 Chess Life has a nicely-written article by Macauley Peterson about up and coming young chessplayers, among whom Nakamura (born 1987, ELO 2663), Robson (born 1994, ELO 2293), Carlsen (born 1990, ELO 2693) and others are profiled – all males. Now I realize that females make up only a small percentage of chessplayers in this country, but really - are you actually implying (by omission) that there wasn’t one – NOT ONE? – female chessplayer good enough to consider profiling as the "next generation?" I have a few candidates – (hint: I looked up the "Girls Top 20" List at the FIDE website): 1 Koneru, Humpy g IND 2575 8 1987 2 Hou, Yifan wg CHN 2513 22 1994 3 Harika, Dronavalli wg IND 2476 42 1991 Koneru is 20; Hou just turned 13; Harika is 16. I’d say these girls qualify as up and coming young chessplayers, irrespective of their gender. Hey, Chess Life, way to go to appeal to the female chessplayers out here - highlighting ONLY male players. Geez! Female chessplayers DO exist, even if our numbers are small relative to male chessplayers. Can’t you be just a little more aware of us, too? We play in tournaments and support chessclubs and institutions just like you do with our entry fees and dues. We volunteer at local events to do whatever needs to be done and teach kids how to play chess just like you do. Some of us are (and have been) great players, and can kick male chess butt OTB just about any time. Are you just totally oblivious to the fact that there ARE up and coming female chessplayers, or are you deliberately blind to their existence out of sexism - or chicken-heartedness? Who runs the marketing department at USCF? Ha, what am I saying? USCF doesn’t HAVE a marketing department listed in Chess Life! Geez!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

It’s USCF Election Time!

Today I received my June edition of Chess Life in the mail – wrapped in a ballot on which, as a member, I can vote for up to four members of the United States Chess Federation Executive Board. The ballot will be mailed to Taylor, Bilyeu and Company and I sincerely hope it is never shown that this company, which I assume is a firm of accountants, has any connection whatsoever in any way, shape or form to any member of the USCF Executive Board or any of its officers, past and present. I’ve previously reported that I had let my USCF membership lapse in, I think, 2004. I renewed my membership around the end of March this year after I started regularly reading Susan Polgar’s chess blog and a few other blogs and chess news sources, and re-acquainted myself with some of the issues affecting USCF and, in particular, this election for EB members. I renewed my USCF membership specifically for the purpose of voting in this election. I would have been inclined in any event to vote for Susan Polgar because she is an icon of chess for all women and is a tireless ambassador the game and promoter of the game among our young people, girls and boys. She is honest, sincere and gutsy and it is because of her fighting the fine fight that today women and girls can play chess in all open tournaments and participate in championship events without regard to their gender. Not so long ago it wasn’t so. All women owe her a debt of gratitude for being one of the trailblazers that has made it easier for the rest of us in so many ways today. Normally chess politics gag me – but I became actively engaged and enraged by the absolute BS I was reading on the internet about SP and the other candidates she supports that was spewed out by gutless wonders hiding behind anonymous identities and the openness of the internet to protect them. I would not have necessarily voted for any of the other candidate SP supports – but after having read so much sexist and racist garbage and trash aimed at SP, Truong and Korenman, I determined to also vote for the three other candidates SP recommends: Paul Truong, Randy Bauer and Mikhail Korenman. So much venom, filth and hatred by those anonymous posters could only be triggered by immense fear that SP and her slate will be elected by ordinary chess people like me who are fed up with the bumbling incompetency and never-ending back-biting politics of the people who have run the USCF for the past several years. And, true to their cowardly hearts, the spineless anonymous jerks have resorted to the lowest of tactics to support their vested interests in seeing that SP and her slate are NOT elected to the Executive Board. When SP and her slate are elected, I do not expect them to work miracles – the USCF is sunk too deeply in debt and has burned so many bridges with potential sponsors that it may take years of concentrated effort and hard work by EVERYONE on the EB and ALL officers of USCF to repair the damage. I do believe that SP, Truong, Bauer and Korenman and other honest-hearted members already sitting on the EB who will support them will stop the slide of our federation which, after all, was founded to promote chess in the United States, and begin the turn-around to a sounder future. I believe that SP and her newly formed association with Texas Tech can only bode well for the future of scholastic and college chess under the auspices of USCF; and, speaking pragmatically, I believe that SP and Paul Truong can attract the kind of big corporate and individual sponsorship for adult and professional level that we desperately need. I ask you to please for Susan Polgar, Paul Truong, Randy Bauer, and Mikhail Korenman to the Executive Board of the USCF.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Want to Buy an Ancient Chess Piece?

I envy collectors who have the funds to buy the things they want. Sigh. There are beautiful chess sets available at auction. I look through the catalogs and see things I’d love to buy for $1,000 to $2,000. If only! Then, of course, there are the rare pieces that fetch $60,000 USD. You can find these at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. For great lot sales, though, check out Bloomsbury.

The question is why I feel drawn to these antique pieces? Part of it is because of my great love for history, especially ancient history. I’ve been fascinated by ancient cultures since I first learned to read. Part of it is the "story" I imagine behind each and every piece I see. Well, that’s always been the tension – tell stories and starve, or work for a living. I should have gone for a Ph.D in history and become a professor. Oh well.

One of my favorite places to visit from time to time is BC Galleries in Australia. I haven’t purchased anything from them but – maybe some day.

These are two lovely affordable pieces circa 1000 year old pieces, described as:
Two early Islamic bone game pieces, most probably chess pieces, each with concentric circle designs.
Origin: Circa 10th-12th century CE Afghanistan.
Dimensions: Height of each 3.7 cm
Price: AUD $575 USD $479

Maybe someday.

Chess and Squirrels 2


Psst, don't tell the boss, but I took a sick day today and it was glorious to get the front yard grass cut first thing this morning, before the rain came, and take that looonnnngggg nap from 10:30 to 1:30. Now I feel fresh as a daisy and ready to go; it's a wonder what getting enough sleep can do for a gal.
We added a new link to Goddesschess - it's "Chess Boss" and among other things you can do there is play chess for money. Well, I'm not sure how that's going to work out, but there could be a market for such a service. The site is crisply designed and they can't be all bad - I clicked on the "blog" page to see what was there and lo and behold, there's a picture of a squirrel on a tree trunk, just like I see from my kitchen window every morning! Anyone who puts a picture of a squirrel up at a chess website is all right with me :)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Vietnamese Redux

It seems the Vietnamese chess community has something of a battle going on regarding state funding of promising (versus "already there") chessplayers. What is it to be? Funding many promising young players at a low rate of support every month, or funding fewer, more mature players with higher ELOs at a higher rate of support every month? Is the immediate controversy at all related to the relatively poor showing of the Vietnamese Women in the recently concluded First World Women’s Team Chess Championship? Unfortunately, no. That event wasn’t mentioned in the article – and perhaps the author doesn’t give a rap about women’s chess in Vietnam. All the players the article mentions are males: GM Le Quang Liem: 2541 (born 1991) GM Dao Thien Hai: 2543 (born 1978) GM Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son: 2542 (born 1990) GM Nguyen Ahn Dung: 2528 (born 1976) GM Tu Hoang Thong: 2472 (born 1972) Tran Duc Hoa Khanh: 2183 (born 1974) Here is the article: Investing in sports talents needs thorough change 14:21' 03/06/2007 (GMT+7) VietNamNet Bridge – Chess player Le Quang Liem is a rare talent but the total State investment in this great master is only VND43 million ($3,000) a year or only VND3.5 million ($215) a month – too little for a great talent. Le Quang Liem is the first player who has held all three national championships for traditional, rapid and blitz chess tournaments within a given year, according to Vice Chairman of the HCM City Chess Federation Nguyen Phuoc Trung. Mr Trung also said that in early July, when the World Chess Confederation (FIDE) announced the Elo and the new rankings for chess players worldwide, Liem had passed Thien Hai and Truong Son to become the top chess player of Vietnam. At the age of 16, Liem has proven his talent in overcoming great masters like Thien Hai, Anh Dung, Hoang Thong and Truong Son. Is there any special investment for Liem to develop his talent? “Liem currently ranks 372nd in FIDE’s ratings and if he is invested in properly, Liem can enter the top 50 of the world,” Mr Trung said. What is proper investment? It is participating in around ten international contests and being trained by a good coach who is paid US$5,000 a month. That’s an unreachable dream for a Vietnamese chess player, even a rare talent like Liem. It is sad to know that the above investment level is a dream but it is much sadder to know the current investment in Liem, because it is too low. Each year Liem receives VND21 million of salary from the HCM City Department of Sports and Physical Training, VND2.5 million for being a national sports great master and around VND20 million for being a member of the national chess team, totaling VND43.5 million (less than $3,000). Changes are needed Hoa Khanh, a former member of the national chess team, said: “Irrational investment mechanism has held back the development of sports in general and chess in particular. It’s absurd when a pupil who has just played chess for a short period of time and shows a little talent is immediately selected for the team of key chess talents and enjoys State support of several hundreds of thousands dong a month.” This amount of money is small but it becomes a big number when the payment for hundreds of players of this kind is added up. In addition, there are many other kinds of talented players who also receive State money. If this whole sum of money is invested in a small number of big talents the results would be much better. The viewpoint of Hoa Khanh is the way that developed countries perform. An overseas Vietnamese in Australia said that his family must pay everything for their 7-year-old daughter who has won a gold medal at a state swimming contest for students. If this girl becomes a member of the state team she will receive huge investment from the state and her future will be very bright. Irrational investment has hindered the development of many talents of Vietnamese sports, for example chess players Dao Thien Hai, Truong Son or Anh Dung, who have shown signs of stagnation since they lack opportunities to play in international contests. Le Quang Liem’s future will be the same when he can’t devote his mind and life to chess but has to study at school to prepare for his future life. “People like Quang Liem, Truong Son and Thien Hai are rare in Vietnam. We now have only five great masters of chess. Those transcendent heads, if they focus on studying at school only, will easily find a good job to earn a high salary. If they pursue the career of a chess player, after they stop playing chess, they can only work as a chess coach and earn a low salary. So who dares to let their children pursue such a sports career?” Khanh asked. So, a thorough change for investment in sports is a must. (Source: Tuoi Tre) Here are prior related posts: A Different Perspective Dragon Capital – Trying a Queen’s Gambit? It seems to me we have our own "war" going on right now in the USCF, between the supporters of "adult" and the supporters of "scholastic" levels of membership. That chess wag Sam Sloan recently "made a motion" (not, of course, to the actual Executive Board of the USCF, but as a post on an online message board that he can always disclaim as "not serious") to fund increased prizes in USCF-sponsored adult championships by increasing the membership fees of scholastic members by $3 per member per year. Basically, SS wants to stick it to the kids (who now are a majority of USCF paying membership) to benefit a relatively small number of above 2600-rated U.S. players who play the rather anemic tournament circuit in the US every year rather than travelling overseas where the events are more numerous but the competition is also more fierce (and they would probably, but for Nakamura, Onischuk, Krush, and a few others) lose their butts. Hint: The way to improve chess in the USA isn't by sticking it to the scholastic players.

Polgar at the Candidates' Matches 2

Hmmm, I think I'm over the worst part of my disappointment that Judit Polgar didn't make it into the second round of the Matches. But if I start sobbing uncontrollably while I'm writing this post I promise not to spot up your screen with my tears.

Oh darlings! Things seemed to start out so promising yesterday morning. Not only was the weather here great (although with the constant threat of thunderstorms because we are centered under an unstable air mass), I was able to watch Judit's game taking place on my computer screen with virtually no problems - although sometimes a bunch of moves would suddenly show up all at once. Fortunately, I figured out how to back-click on a move to figure out what had happened. I'm not a college graduate for nothing, heh heh. Well, to tell the absolute truth - since I don't have any deep understanding of the kind of chess that people like Polgar and Bareev play, I often had no idea why they moved the pieces where they did. But - see below...

I was also trying to follow along with Susan Polgar's annotations of the game, and her comments gave me the necessary background to appreciate what was taking place on the screen.

Amazingly, I actually guessed a few of Judit's moves correctly - that is - I screwed on my thinking hat and stared hard at the screen, and said, okay, this is where I would move, generally without being able to come up with a good reason for doing so, other than to take a piece or move into what seemed a better position (of course, isn't that what all the really good players say? LOL!) And - lo and behold - sometimes she would move her piece there. This only happened a few times, and it was scary, man! The implications could be staggering for the future of my non-existent chess-playing career.

Oh no! Maybe Judit lost because I was filling the ether with my crappy chess moves and somehow, some way, she picked up on my brain waves out of the millions that were bombarding her from all over the world. Oh goddess! I sure hope that's not true!

Oh, Judit. How sorry I am that you did not advance. You would have had hundreds of thousands of women and even men chess fans rooting for you from all over the world. As it is, you get $40,000 less what I assume is FIDE's customary 20% off the top "take," and you go home to Gustav and the kids. Somehow, that doesn't seem right. But you'll be happy to see them, and happy to let your hair back down, until your event, whatever it is.

Shirov, who used to be so cute but who has let himself go terribly the past few years (weight and looks wise), made it through! Somehow, it seems like a "sign" to me - if you know what I mean (well, you probably don't; actually, not many people do, and most think I'm just a nut case). How well I remember that 1998 match in Germany between you and Shirov. You were both so cute back then - it was a sort of "battle of the sexes." If Shirov makes it through to the final four of the Candidates' to play in Mexico in the fall, I perceive that as a good sign for you. Yes, I know, it doesn't make much sense. But the Goddess works in very mysterious ways.

I guess all I want to really say is please don't retire any time soon, Judit. I love Humpy, but she's not ready to step into your shoes yet, and there doesn't seem to be any other woman behind her who can meet and beat the chess hommes on a regular basis. Not like you.

Wow, talk about pressure...

Senet and the Promoted Pawn

Here is an example of a senet board, this one from the tomb of Amenhotep III (c. 1386 – 1349 BCE). Senet was a game of 30 squares, and although the rules of the games are not precisely known, intact games recovered from tombs consisted of either five or seven pieces of the "spool" and "reel" type, as in the photograph, and several squares on the board were marked with either hazards or blessings. Some of the marked squares can be observed in this example and notice the checkered pattern on the drawer end. The game dates back possibly to c. 3500 BCE, and in later years during the long Egyptian civilization it took on religious and mystical significance. Some tomb paintings depict the senet board as a red and black checkered board. One of the most famous depictions of this type of board is from the Theban tomb of Nebenma'at (c. 1250 – 1100 BCE), where he plays Senet with his wife, Meretseger, on just such a board (click on view 9). Another view here.

As shown by the ancient Egyptians' use, the two-colored checkered gameboard goes way back in history. During the Egyptian ceremony of the judgment of the dead, the gods stood on a checkered floor, thus associating it with Egyptian religious ritual. In senet, which developed mystical and religious associations connected with the journey of the deceased through the underworld, the game was won by a player successfully moving all of his pieces off the board. At that point, the literature says, the pawn (decedent) becomes an imperishable star. In the latter years of Egyptian religious practice, this transformation was not restricted only to Pharoah, but could be achieved by anyone. Could this tradition, perhaps, be the ancient root of the concept of "pawn promotion?"

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Has Anything Changed?

I finished reading Jennifer Shahade's book Chess Bitch today. It was a great read - I was disappointed to get to the end of the book! I especially appreciated the section where she talked about women who played chess in the "early days" in the United States ("Playing for America.") As I was reading, I was very much struck with this story from the career of U.S. player Mary Bain, and I take the liberty of quoting from Ms. Shahade's book: (p. 229) It was not until 1951 that Bain managed to capture a single title from the Gresser and Karff duo [U.S. Women's Chess Champion title holders]. This enabled her to take another stab at the world crown. She was thrilled to travel to Moscow, along with second-place Karff, to participate in the 1952 World Championship Candidates. . . . (p. 230) She was livid that the American Chess Federation offered her neither financial nor psychological support. "My sendoff was cruel. I was told that I was not going to represent the USA and USCF but Zone Number Four. No use complaining..." She also had no second to help her analyze adjourned games, which ususally resumed the following day: "When I have an adjourned game I stay up all night and then make the worst move." Ideally, Mary would be sleeping soundly, while her trainer would work through the night, and then supply her with a thorough analysis in the morning. British Master Golombek sympathized with Bain, pointing out, "It is very sad that a great country like the USA should have such a weak chess federation." Perhaps the worse insult was that the Soviet Federation had been willing to pay all expenses for her second, but Bain had not been told this until it was too late to arrange. Does this sound familiar? We have the same kind of treatement of our women chessplayers going on over fifty years later. Two recent examples are the way the USCF treated the Women's 2004 and 2006 Chess Olympiad Teams - the same way they treated U.S. Women's Chess Champion Mary Bain - like dirt! It is well known and publicized that the USCF tried its best not to fulfill its contractual obligations to the 2004 Women's Olympiad Team, including waiting several months to pay them the bonus money the team members earned by bringing home the first ever Women's Team Olympiad Medal (Gold) and promptly cancelling the Women's Olympiad Training Program that Susan Polgar had been asked to spearhead just a few years before! I have written in this blog about the inability of the USCF to keep the 2006 Olympiad team together - they finished in fourth place and had earned a spot to play in the recently-concluded First Women's World Team Chess Championships. But we couldn't even field a team of players. Botswana sent a team of four players to the Championship, which didn't win a single match. Wouldn't our "B" team have done better? Of course, the USCF probably didn't have a contingency plan for a "B Team" - or the money to send the team to Russia to compete even if we did have a "B Team." Geez! The richest country in the world - so we claim. But we can't afford to send four women to Russia to compete in a chess tournament. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.
The Weave revisited: The WEAVE Discussion group archive: "Is chess the game of the goddess?" The Weave began on December 6th, 1998 as a Wild Card discussion in Art Bell's old C2C message board system. Evolving into a cooperative survey, The Weave contains articles wrapped in the cloth of chess and chess history. During the course of discussion, it became apparent that an archive of messages should be gathered and preserved with a view towards future reference, study and speculation. We continue to build on the past with ongoing interactions at Delphi, as well as via private content submissions delivered to this site. The WEAVE continued at Delphi Forum...there are many many posts that are fasinating, and filled with history, archaeological, and submissions from chess historians.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Why Do I Play Chess?

Why do I play chess? I have no idea why that question occurred to me today while I was sitting here at the office desperately trying to find some commentary on Judit Polgar's win against Bareev at the Candidates' Matches. The question gave me pause because - no answer came to mind! Gee - am I dead??? So then I thought "oh for goddess' sake, Jan, you have to come up with some answer. Preferably something profound and thought-provoking, something that will give any readers who stumble upon this blog a sit-up-and-take-notice moment - aha - I feel exactly like that myself. I shall become famous, I might even win a Pulitizer prize...the first for a blog..." I am still waiting for inspiration to strike my fingers, which are patiently poised over the keyboard; it seems the Chess Goddess' mojo went out to lunch after seeing to it that Judit won her "must win" game today. Will She see to it that Judit win's her second "must win" game tomorrow? (Note to self: email Isis and see what the current line is, maybe it's worth a $5 bet). And will She get Judit safely through the tie-break so that she moves into Candidates' Matches, Part Deux? Does the Goddess' mojo have mojo, or will she need to boost some extra caffeine tomorrow??? Thank Goddess that I'll be able to watch the game online - oh and Chess Goddess - can you also make sure there are no technical or transmission difficulties tomorrow while I'm watching the game? Back to my question - why do I play chess? I'm thinking about it but I'm coming up blank. I don't play well, I have no deep (well, to be honest, none at all) understanding of positional play or tactics, I'm lucky if I can think three moves ahead on a good day and usually I'm busted by my imagined second move anyway because the other guy NEVER does what I thought he might do, I don't know a Ruy Lopez from a Queen's Indian, I'm not interested in improving my game by doing any kind of studying (yech) and I hate to lose. Doesn't sound very promising, does it. I could say it's because I love the game, but it sure doesn't sound like I love the game very much, does it! So I guess I'll just have to settle for "I play because I'm an eternal optimist." That line of reasoning goes perhaps some day I'll wake up and I'll be a chess genius, and I'll blow away anyone who plays chess with me, showing no mercy and without regard to race, color, creed, age or gender. I shall zoom up to the top of the ratings charts faster than I can lose 20 pounds, enter all the big name Opens and win them all, make a kajillion dollars from endorsements (wow, that middle-aged woman sure can play chess. And do you know why - it's because she uses [insert name of product]), and win the world championship - not only being the first woman to do so, but the oldest player ever even when I knock 10 years off my age. Then I'll move to Seattle, become a recluse, ask Robert J. Fischer to marry me and we'll clone a chess genius together who lives happily ever after spending all the money we made while we were great chessplayers. Ah, to sleep perchance to dream - well, I know it's something like that, that line from Romeo and Juliet? Well, from one of (as Candi Kane calls him) Spearshaker's plays. Okay - time to get a large glass of wine and settle down with Chess Bitch out on the deck.

Polgar at the Candidates' Matches

Judit pulled out the stops and won with white today, yippee! Susan Polgar published an interesting photo of a smiling Judit snuggling a baby lion on her shoulder in front of a bookcase filled with chess sets. Hmmm.... She also provided analysis of the game and practically a blow by blow description. So, the score is now Bareev 3, Judit 2. Judit still has to win behind the black pieces tomorrow in order to force a play-off. Can she do it? My goddess, the woman is causing me to go prematurely grey...
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