Saturday, June 23, 2007

Synchronicity at Work – The White Horse

It was yesterday I stopped by and checked out The Daily Grail website. You’re saying “whaaattt?” What is the rational JanXena doing visiting SUCH a website? The truth is, I visit there a couple times a month to see what the “other side” is talking about on the internet, on the radio (live broadcasts), and in print. I can always count on the Grail to give me some interesting news; sometimes we publish a piece in our “Random Roundup” at Goddesschess. Although I try to focus on rationalism in most things, I hope I’m not such an intellectual snob that I don’t like to have a little hoodoo/voodoo in my life every now and then! After all, it’s that very hoodoo/voodoo that led me to my interest in the Great Goddess – and chess - for that matter. Anyway, I found a very interesting story at the Grail about a recent crop circle that cropped up (pun!) in Wiltshire, England – a crop circle that looks like a three dimensional pyramid when shot from the air – see the photo above. Now ordinarily I don’t pay a lot of attention to crop circles, although they are fascinating, aren’t they. How DO they make them, anyway – overnight in most cases. Amazing – well, I don’t want to get us all distracted by such musings! This crop circle caught my attention because it is “pointing” to a “white horse” carved out of the underlying chalk on a neighboring hillside. This particular white horse is not ancient – but of course the worship of the white horse IS very ancient. In Britain, she was worshipped as Epona by the Celts, who brought horse worship with them from the European mainland. Horse worship is extremely ancient – and has been intimately connected with the Goddess. The horse is also intimately connected to ancient chess – both in the form of the “knight” (warrior on horse) and the rook, which used to be a chariot pulled by one or more specially trained horses and “manned” by one or more warriors. I did not PLAN this to happen but early this morning I sat down and wrote the post about the “Holy Grail,” the vulva/chalice symbolism and how it cropped up in the Yakut culture in the form of the sacred choron, a carved wooden vessel that is used to hold the sacred kumis (fermented mare’s milk). And I came across a reference to – can you guess? – a white horse: The horse is a central symbol of Sakha (Yakut) culture; the white horse represents the sun whose light energizes plant and animal life. At the ysakh festival, in the spring, a sacred brew of fermented mare's milk is drunk from special wooden vessels called choron. Well, knock me over with a feather, darlings! Or maybe I should say – mare’s tail…

  • white horse seen in a photograph of a recent crop circle in Wiltshire, England, found at the website “The Daily Grail” – I like the photograph, so I pass it on to Don for inclusion in a future edition of “Random Roundup” at Goddesschess
  • coming across a totally unconnected essay about feminine symbols in ancient history, and learning about the choron of the Yakut (a carved wooden vessel used in sacred ceremonies to hold kumis -–fermented mare's milk)
  • writing about Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and his theory that the “Holy Grail” chalice is actually a symbol for a woman’s womb and the connection of the “grail/cup” symbolism to the Yakut choron
  • the Yakut connection to one and possibly two chess variants
  • the Yakut connection to the white horse
  • the horse connection to two chess pieces
  • the horse connection to the Goddess (Epona is not the only horse/goddess link in antiquity) EQUALS
  • chess is the game of the Goddess

Is this a circle or what? I don't think it is just "coincidence." Some people just write us off as nut cases, but --

The Call of the Goddess

For years I resisted the lure of Dan Brown’s mega-hit "The Da Vinci Code;" the buzz continued to build, passed on mostly by word of mouth at first, and then things reached a critical mass and poof – the world had a "hit". From time to time Isis would suggest - for what seemed ages – that I read the book – you’ll like it Sis, she said. Nah, I said. As a joke, I went so far as to book us into the "Da Vinci Hotel" in New York during our 2005 Goddesschess anniversary trip, one of my more quixotic decisions that (except for the tub faucets that would NOT work in my bathroom) turned out perfectly delightful and were really cheap digs. (Image: modern choron).

I finally broke down and purchased the book when it came out in paperback. I read it quickly, nodding my head through much of it because, I have to say, the man certainly did do his research (although he was way off on some points, he was right on regarding others). Then I shipped it off to Don, who dutifully read it but I don’t think he cared for it very much :). Maybe one has to be a woman to fully appreciate – well, that’s a really sexist comment, isn’t it! Ha!

Now darlings, I’ve not paid particular attention to the legend of the Holy Grail nor to Da Vinci Code’s assertion that the Holy Grail was not a chalice, but was actually a metaphor for the womb of a woman – in particular, the womb of Mary Magdalene. I can appreciate the truth about the often brutal and vicious suppression of the so-called "divine feminine" by patriarchal-biased religions without going overboard and swallowing Brown’s story hook, line and sinker. And I am probably more familiar with so-called "goddess" symbolism than an average member of the public, having been studying such things since I first got hooked into the unlikely Goddesschess Partnership way back in December, 1998. So yes, I know about the "delta" and the "V" being symbols for the vulva, being symbols for the womb, etc. etc. etc. and how Brown (and others) drew the comparison to the chalice (grail). But I cannot recall that I’d ever read anything specific linking the symbolism of the chalice/cup (grail) to a woman’s vulva/womb. Lots of supposition and suggestion, but nothing concrete.

Well then, imagine my amazement early this morning when I read this, while checking out a totally unconnected research subject:

[images of] Megalithic women with hands clasped around a large vulva are found in the Bada valley of Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia. They too have abstract mask-like faces, somewhat concave with upturned edges, and no mouths. Menhirs known as bülbül ("grandmother") are scattered across the central Asian steppe, from Mongolia to Ukraine. Some place their hands over the womb; others hold a chalice there. The Yakut people still make carvings of women holding a ceremonial choron in this manner; in their religion, it is women who preside over the great spring festival in which people gather in great circles to dance around chorons elevated on pillars. (Excerpted from Max Dashu’s online essay "Icons of the Matrix.")

Hit me over the head with a hammer, hey – "some place their hands over the womb; others hold a chalice there." Well, Jan, duh! The symbolism is obvious. I think I need to dive back into Gimbutas, Jean Kimball and others and read with more attention…

Choron – a goblet for koumiss. A sacred vessel of our ancestors – choron – has come to us from time immemorial. And today the Sakha people take choron filled with invigorating drink koumiss with deep respect and trepidation. See also here and here.

I haven’t found any specific images of a carved Yakut image showing a female holding a choron, but the vessel at the beginning of this article is an example of a 3-horse leg choron used to serve the kumis (fermented mare’s milk) that was carved by the modern Yakut artist Ammosov. I find it extremely interesting that according to DNA evidence the Yakut may be traced back to northern India! And check this out for a very good synopsis of Yakut history and some images.

Just before the turn of the 20th century, the Yakut and Aleut (living on both sides of the Bering Strait) played (perhaps still play?) one and possibly two variants of chess, one of which Waldemar Jochelson wrote about in 1933, the other of which was described by Frederica de Laguna in later work. I’m working on articles on both of these games – hopefully they’ll be ready for publication at Goddesschess soon. It seems I've been working on them forever, but actually it's only been off and on for the past eight months or so...

It seems to me that the three "hitching posts" depicted in the 1993 school wall painting from Zhigansk look a lot like chess pieces. And there is an image of several people, including one "lady," holding a choron in front of her. The ancient traditions live one – perhaps in a somewhat garbled manner, but they still live...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Blast from the Past - Shahade 2006 Interview

March 12, 2006
The queen speaks!

Provocative U.S. women's chess champion Jennifer Shahade on why the thinking person's game isn't just for geeks -- or guys.
By Gary M. Stern

On the cover of her book last year about women in chess, top-ranked competitor Jennifer Shahade wears a strappy pink tank top, a pink wig and a come-hither look. Make no mistake: At 25, the New York City resident is a two-time national women's champion. Although men may get more attention, Shahade wants to encourage greater respect for and involvement by women. Next up: Her students will compete in the All-Girls National Chess Championship, for ages 5 to 18, March 18 and 19 in Chicago. We spoke to her:

Can you make a living at chess?
There isn't enough money from winning. You earn $12,500 from winning the U.S. Women's Championship.
Only 7.5% of competitive chess players are female. Why?
Role models. ... Since there are so few girls involved, it can be alienating.
Why choose chess? Chess can boost a woman's confidence in her intellectual endeavors and raise her self-esteem. You also can gain a Zen type of concentration.
What does chess teach you about life?
You have to submit to failure and keep going. I lost many times before I won the women's championship, and sometimes it was difficult to pick up the pieces and play again.
To earn extra money, you play many exhibitions. How do those work?
I've played up to 45 people at a time in "simuls," as in simultaneous. They're not as difficult for the professional, because chess is more a game of skill than of thinking. A great player sees the correct move instantaneously. It's about experience and intuition.
Any pre-game rituals?
I usually go for a 30-minute walk to clear my head. Chess is physically grueling. Many chess players lose 10 pounds during a tournament.
When did you start playing chess?
I knew the rules at 6, played a tournament around 9, but didn't get serious until 13. My dad is a chess master, so once I started to show motivation, he took me to tournaments.
What has been a major change in chess?
Chess players use computers to prepare for the game. The computers tell us where we went wrong and help us prepare defenses.
What's your favorite piece?
The queen!
Why are we not surprised?
The queen is the most powerful piece.
What do you see in the game's future?
We're going to see chess on TV. TV will help popularize it, like poker.
Best thing about chess?
Its fairness. It has nothing to do with what somebody else thinks about you or how much money you have. It's based on what you bring to the board.

Old Chinese Chess Commentary

Hola darlings! Whew - it's Friday night (finally), and I'm feeling all right! Hot as hell here, and the weekend is jam packed with yard work, an investment club meeting (remind me to tell you about the investment club some time), and a Sunday afternoon at a St. Martin's Fair - dodging thunderstorms, of course!

I came across this information in an article the other day and thought it was interesting - I've never heard of the "book" it mentions and probably most westerners have not. It's not quite clear from the article, but I assume it is about Chinese chess (xiang qi). As far as I can tell, all Chinese scholars think that the west got its chess from xiang qi via transmittal by Persian merchants, and most western scholars follow H.J.R. Murray's school of thought that chess was invented in India and travelled east to China along the Silk Road. Only a few brave voices from the west, such as Joseph Needham and Pavel Bidev, believed chess came out of China but, unfortunately, they're not around anymore to develop their theories further. I'm not aware of anyone else who has chosen to pick up the gauntlet, except perhaps Peter Banaczak, and I have not been able to get in touch with him for at least five years (he probably put me on a "do not receive list" - I can be a pest. Drat!) The last I know, Banaczak was working on his PhD, one of the few western chess historians who can actually read Chinese and has knowledge of ancient Chinese classics that mention a game that might very well be chess or a form of proto-chess.

It seems pretty obvious to me that the "standard history" of chess that we in the west accept as true is steeped in 19th century racism and few have bothered to "call" Murray's progeny on their implicit, unspoken assumptions of "western" cultural superiority. You know, the "Aryan invasion" and all that crap! There's a reason I call some of these people the chess Nazis. Ah, but that's an argument for another day, I don't feel like fighting tonight, I just want to soak my feet and have a glass of wine on the deck while the sun goes down.

The English translation of the article is somewhat quirky. This is the gist of it: a Qing Dynasty collection of chess games and - I think - chess problems - has been declared a "national folk treasure" by the Chinese government and now resides in - I think - a museum in Bejing. It's a bit unclear from the article, but it appears that only a portion of the actual games and/or problems has ever been published. It's also unclear whether what's being exhibited at the Bejing museum is just the published portion of the text, or the whole thing. So, without further adieux, here's the excerpted information from the article:

"The chess manual scripts collection, "the Deep Pool and Infinite Sea," has been cited as the "rarest and most valuable works" highly revered and esteemed among top Chinese chess game players for almost two centuries.

"These folk national gems have kept intact through centuries in spite of vicissitudes they have gone through from generation to generation. So people have taken interest in anecdotes about them and in particular titbits or sidelights of interest.

"The Qing Dynasty (Chinese) chess manual scripts represent a huge collection of the cream or quintessence of ancient chess games and well-known, knotty chess games collected and sorted out by author Chen Wenqian for 17 consecutive years, and he finally completed the copying in 1808. The entire works is divided into 16 volumes with a total of 371 famous chess games. But to date, there is one works only extant, as Chen was too poor and much in need to have it printed at that time.

"The collection of chess games emerged abruptly in 1933 after having had sunken into oblivion for over a century. Then, an ace (Chinese) chess game player in north China's Hebei province, Qian Mengwu, chanced on it but he failed to get it as its owner offered too higher a price that he could pay. Through the maneuvering of his friend, however, he succeeded to borrow it and got his chess pals to hurry through its copying overnight.

"About 30 years later, another chess star Liu Guobin on July 30, 1964 found the chess manual scripts collection with the introduction of an acquaintance at the China Bookstore. Then, he pawned a Swiss-made watch and bought the chess manual scripts with 150 yuan (some 20 dollars) he got from the mortgage. And, grand chess master Qian Mengwu confirmed it afterwards as the very works he had borrowed and had it copied with the help of his chess pals three decades earlier."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

2007 U.S. Women's Chess Championship - Players' List 2

I'm so glad that the players' list has been released today - actually I think we've received this information much earlier before the beginning of the actual event than when the players' list for the "Men's" Championship was released from its start date. I checked the USCF website again a few minutes ago and did not see the list published there. While I recognize most of the names on the list, I am most familiar with Krush, Baginskaite and Vicary, who have been fixtures in U.S. women's chess for many years. The players range in age from 15-16 (Melekhina) to 39-40 (Baginskaite). Here is their FIDE information: IM Anna Zatonskih (2468) dob 1978 (28-29 years old) IM Irina Krush (2478) dob 1983 (23-24 years old) WGM Camilla Baginskaite (2328) dob 1967 (39-40 years old) WGM Katerine Rohonyan (2362) dob 1984 (22-23 years old) WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs (2229) dob 1986 (20-21 years old) WF Tatev Abrahamyan (2268) dob 1988 (18-19 years old) WF Chouchanik Airapetian (2180) dob 1975 (31-32 years old) WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg (2241) dob 1972 (34-35 years old) WF Alisa Melekhina (2104) dob 1991 (15-16 years old) WF Elizabeth Vicary (2148) dob 1975 (31-32 years old) I'm looking forward to this championship, not only because Goddesschess is sponsoring a brilliancy prize!

2007 U.S. Women's Chess Championship - List of Players

Posted at Susan Polgar's blog early this afternoon, the list of acceptances and pendings for US Women's Championship: "According to Mr. Frank K. Berry, the following players have accepted their invitations for the 2007 US Women's Championship in Stillwater, Oklahoma:IRINA KRUSH 2512 CAMILLA BAGINSKAITE 2361 KATERINE ROHONYAN 2304 BATCHIMEG TUVSHINTUGS 2263 TATEV ABRAHAMYAN 2258 CHOUCHANIK AIRAPETIAN 2157 TSAGAAN BATTSETSEG 2234 ALISA MELEKHINA 2168 ANNA ZATONSKISH Undecided due to the recent birth of her baby and/or ROZA EYNULLAYEVA 2122 ELIZABETH VICARY 2155" According to a post by SP, Rusa G. is due to give birth very soon so that why she isn't playing. And we don't known if Zatonskih will decide to play or not (she had her baby in March). I would expect that she is physically recovered by now but her baby is very young and she may opt out of the event this year. I checked the USCF website twice today and did not find this news there - so perhaps the Berry brothers contacted SP and/or Paul Truong directly with the information - or else they have an inside line that gets the news up faster than the USCF webmaster :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TIC Blast from the Past: Judit Polgar and the 2000 Najdorf

Hola! I thought you might enjoy the following, which originally appeared in the October, 2000 edition of The International Chessoid, that late, great, sadly departed chess spoof ezine. Unfortunately, I no longer had the actual photograph referred to in the article saved on my hard-drive, but I found something similar online - it's not from the 2000 Najdorf, though, it's from an event in 2004, and it's not as form-fitting as I remember the original to be...

Ahem - you'll have to visualize scrolling text spelling out


September 27, 2000
Dateline Buenes Aires, Argentina
Alpheta Patton, Ace Girl Reporter

She came, she saw, she conquered, and so shocked the sensibilities of a GM Victor Bologan that he filed a complaint with the FIDE Politically Incorrect Committee alleging sexual discrimination! Other South American males on hand to watch the Super Tournament, the crowing (we mean, of course, crowning) event in this year's Najdorf Chess Festival, were appalled by Ms. Judit's easy victory over her male opponents, as well as her very chic form-fitting leopard print top.

Allegations of sexual hi-jinks surfaced in the local press when Judit first appeared the leopard print blouse when she played impressionable teenager MF Diego Flores in a key Round 6 game. Judit easily defeated the up-and-coming teen and a firestorm from South American Macho Male types followed in the pressroom and in the local press. This phenomenon, also known as Stupid Goat Man Syndrome, stems from long-entrenched cultural attitudes that a woman must never appear in public in a skin tight leopard print top. The Syndrome, which takes its name from "Macho", meaning "Stupid Goat Man" in Spanish vernacular, has been studied by sociologists from around the world for a number of years.

Judit weathered the press assault with nary a toss of her long tawny hair and concentrated on her sweetheart (by some accounts, her husband), Gustav Fonts, a Hungarian veterinarian, and the tournament. Judging by Gustav's smiles, she was successful in the one endeavor, while simultaneously kicking male goat chess butt in Buenes Aires.

The controversy continued when the by now infamous leopard print blouse reappeared in Round 9, in her game against GM Victor Bologan. Judit breezed through the game with a disconcerting grin. It was a draw in only 24 moves, and by virtue of tie-breaks Judit won the event by half a point over a visibly upset and tearful Bologan.

I caught up with Judit at a Vegetarians Only eatery in a suburb of Buenes Aires, where she and her honey, Gustav, were enjoying a local patiste known simply as "salad" (the accent is on the second syllable in Buenes Aires).

Patton: Yo, Judit!

Polgar: Oh Alph, I am so glad to see you! Where have you been?

Patton: What do you mean? I've been here since the beginning of the tournament! I even went to that disastrous debut of your Rock Band.

Polgar [shuddering]: Oh Korchnoi! Don't remind me of that! Those people threw beer bottles at us! Can you imagine! I thought that was something that only happened in B level American movies like "Blues Brothers"! I was so insulted!

Patton [patting Polgar's hand consolingly with one hand while hiding the other behind her back with her fingers crossed]: Now, now. Remember the audience! These fellas down here don't appreciate a true artiste! A bunch of sanctimonious horny goat-men, that's what they are!

Gustav: Amen, Alph!

Polgar: Now Alph, aren't you being a little bit too hard on them? After all, they're just Macho Men!

Patton: Now isn't that just like you, Girlfriend, to think up excuses for these [deleted on orders of the Editor. The Editor's Henchman]! You're just too forgiving, that's your problem! Why, just look at your history with the Dark One!

Polgar: Honestly, Alph! Sometimes you are so naive! I was paid very good money for those appearances at Kasparov's floundering website. In fact, those appearances paid for our honeymoon trip around the world, didn't they, darling (Polgar flutters her eyelashes at Fonts).

Gustav: Whatever you say, darling!

Patton: Oh gag me!

Polgar: What was that, Alph?

Patton: On the rag me! That's what PMS will do to a gal, Jude. Now listen, I didn't come all this way just to watch you play chess and listen to your stinky rock band!

Polgar: It is NOT stinky!

Patton: Judit, that group of chess sell-outs couldn't collectively sing their way out of a paper bag!

Polgar: Oh Alph, now you're being ridiculous! They're not chess sell-outs, even if they all do work for KasparovChess.

Patton: [Bleep].

Polgar: Anyway, what do you think about Victor, who I thought was my friend, filing a complaint against me with FIDE! Holy Khalifman!

Patton: Totally bogus, Girlfriend!

Gustav: Amen, Alph!

Polgar: I was so shocked! I cannot believe that in this day and age a fully grown woman can't wear a simple skin-tight leopard print body suit to a chess match without causing off-colour comment and claims of foul play! He said that I sexually enticed him, Alph, and he lost his concentration and that's why he drew in only 24 moves! Can you imagine?

Patton: Isn't that just like a Stupid Goat Man, to think you're coming on to him when all you're trying to do is be fashionable! Faux-leopard prints are all the rage right now, after all! And you've got the nice body to show off the lines. You were only trying to be chic!

Gustav: Amen, Alph!

Polgar: Shut up, Gustav, you're getting on my nerves.

Patton: Judit!

Polgar: Well, you'd be bitchy too, Alph, if you'd been what I've been through these last four days. Honestly!

Patton [Once again patting Polgar's hand with one hand, while holding the other behind her back and - you know the schtick]: Now, now, Girlfriend. It's all right! Here, have a garlic capsule, I hear they're good for your blood pressure. [Polgar takes a capsule and gulps it down with half a glass of Scotch]. Now, there! Don't you feel better?

Polgar: I do, I do!

Gustav: Amen -

Polgar and Patton [simultaneously]: Shut up, Gustav.

Patton: I wouldn't worry about that harassment complaint if I were you, Jude.

Polgar: You wouldn't?

Patton: Nope! If it gets that far, all you have to do is show up at the adjudication hearing in the leopard print body suit. Those chess hommes won't know what hit 'em! Blinded by the Light, and all that. Bologon's complaint will be dismissed. Mark my words.

Polgar: Well, if you say so, Alph. You're the one with the law degree, after all.

Patton: Don't remind me! Now let's get down to brass tacks here, Girlfriend. I didn't chase half-way around the world just to hear your off-key singing of "Sweet Mystery of Life" with that half-baked band of chess nerds!

Polgar [shocked]: You didn't!?!

Patton: Nope. I came because during our last interview in that airport bathroom you made mention of wedding plans with a certain homme of your acquaintance.

Gustav: Amen, Alph!

Patton: Geez, Judit, did you really marry HIM?

Polgar: There's no need to take that tone of voice with me. Alph. Gustav is a perfectly respectable man, of good family and fortune, young and virile, he has a steady job with a good income, and will make me many fine children when I go off birth control pills. And he's cute! Which is more than I can say for your latest amore!

Patton: Judit, I don't HAVE a latest amore!

Polgar: Exactly!

Gustav: Amen, Alph!

Patton: Oh for goddess' sake, shut UP, Gustav! Now Girlfriend, tell me true. Are you - or are you not - married to this cottonhead?

Polgar: Well, Alph, I never!

Patton: Okay, let me rephrase the question. Are you - or are you not - married to this idiot?

Polgar: Well, since you put it that way, I'll tell you -
[Remainder of interview deleted on orders of the Editor. The Editor's Henchman. Oh oh, now Alpheta will be mad at me!]
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Judit won the event on tie-break with 6.5/9.

Chess 'n Math in Montreal

I saw a news article online this morning about various shops in Montreal that serve up games, puzzles, craft and hobby supplies and lots of other goodies, for the young and the young at heart. It mentioned the shop sponsored by the Chess 'n Math organization. It's hard to believe it's been four years since I was last in Montreal. I wonder if Pi is still there - its a sort of chess pub/club stationed in a long narrow building on the ground floor on St. Laurence, with stark white walls and local paintings hung for sale, where you can't get alcohol or beer but you can get bad coffee and cold soft drinks and snacks, ask for a board and pieces (they come rent-free with a purchase of a beverage) and while away a couple of hours at tables built for two. The serious chess players congregate near the front door where it and the windows are opened during the summer to let out their cigarette smoke. Cross-ventilation is provided by an open back door. Don and I have passed several pleasant hours at Pi. One June night after a couple of games at Pi we were rambling around late night Montreal and we came across the Chess 'n Math shop - it was closed. We didn't get back during the day to check it out, but it sure looked intriguing from what we could see through the large plate glass windows. It's probably a good thing for my pocketbook that the shop was closed; I tend to go all soft and sentimental for stores that support good causes! Boutique Strategie, 3423 St. Denis St. at Sherbrooke St. 514-845-8352. www.strategy Hours: Monday to Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m. The Chess 'n Math Association ( runs this gaming shop, which has sets priced from $2.95 to $1,500 (a carved wooden set that sits on an electronic board), including ones using themes from Peanuts, The Simpsons, Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars and more. There's a wall of chess books, CDs, puzzles, and mind challengers like Risk, Cranium, Axis and Allies, Scotland Yard and Settlers of Catan. Proceeds go to the non-profit association, which offers camps, chess clubs and lessons. Ahhhh, I see they have an online catalog - oh oh, I can see those dollars flying out of my pocket already...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dast-i-khun (The Hand of Blood)

We've got a newly published article at Goddesschess by Charles K. Wilkinson, written back in 1943, within a relatively short time after the Nishapur chess pieces were discovered in Iran. It's called "Chess and Chessmen," which gives absolutely nothing away, lol! The Nishapur pieces are a big deal to chess historians because they are, I believe, the oldest yet discovered abstract chess pieces after the Arab style, dating to around 760 CE. Wilkinson's article is geared toward the more general reader, as it was published in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Bulletin. And so he gives a rather standard chess historian's overview of the history of chess from the traditionalist point of view (sticking close to the script, as the saying goes), but enlivens his article with several nice graphics depicting scenes from the Shahnameh and chess pieces 1,000 and more years old. We've livened things up even more by adding our own set of footnotes and commentary, some "food for thought." Dast-i-khun - the hand of blood. The phrase comes from the practice, in the early days of chess, of players wagering their own body parts as a bet in a game of chess. Wilkinson added it as a footnote to his article, almost as an afterthought. I was absolutely intrigued by the reference and appalled by the practice, so I tracked down some further information on it. We provide a reference from H.J.R. Murray to the practice and more description that you won't find anywhere else online (until the copyists find the article, that is). I'll bet there are a lot of chemists and pharmaceutical companies out there that would love to know what kind of herbs and other things went into that red "ointment" Murray describes as instantly cauterizing a wound! I am intrigued by the possibility of a "blood" connection to one or possibly more rituals of the ancient Persians from the days of their worship of the fire god and a sort of secrete society meaning for or mystical use of chatrang in either the ritual and/or in the religion; as I understand it, in certain rituals the blood of a sacrificed wolf was drunk by the worshippers. Hmmm, after having read through the above, I guess it's no wonder most men are scared to death of me. Bwwwwwwaaaaaaahhhhhhaaaaaaa.....

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Chessplaying Hughes Family (and Dog)

This article caught my eye because of the mention about "training up the dog" to play chess – he’s black and white too, just like my Spencer was. But the story is about a chessplaying family and one in particular, Rhian Hughes, who played on the Scotland Women’s Olympiad Team in Turin in 2006. The dog, as far as I know, does not play. Living Saturday, june 16, 2007 'We were going to train up the dog' FAMILY MASTERS Parents Jeremy and Brenda Hughes, with Lloyd, 17, Owen, 14, and Rhian 13. LAST summer in Turin, Rhian Hughes, then 12, became the youngest player ever to represent Scotland at Olympiad level. She already has a host of chess trophies to her name, but her best supporters are her first opponents: her family. The chess board on the coffee table of the Hughes' Edinburgh home is clearly not just for show. Jeremy Hughes, an academic renal physician, is also Chess Scotland's director of youth events. His wife Brenda has coached children's chess, and Lloyd, Owen and Rhian make up three-quarters of the chess team at James Gillespie's High School. "I knew there was a reason why we should have had four children," Jeremy laughs. "To have a chess team!" "We were going to train up the dog," Brenda adds. "He is black and white, after all!" Although it looks as though chess is in the blood for the Hughes, Lloyd was actually the first member of the family to play seriously. "I'm dyslexic and we were advised that chess might help my concentration," he says. "We moved to Seattle and I carried on playing there, it was a real hotbed of chess." Rhian was just five when she won her first tournament. Brenda says: "We had taken her brothers to a tournament and she asked if she could play along with the little ones. And then she won the big trophy." By the time she was 11, she was representing her country in international events. Brenda was astonished, when she went with Rhian to a competition in Montenegro, to see the upper echelons of female chess: players who could double as models, sporting the latest fashions. At Olympiad level, however, pressure on players is intense. Jeremy says: "It's not cold and calculating, it's an emotional game, incredibly tense and nerve-racking. There are moments when it's high pressure, like a poker game, suddenly the stakes are very high. People deal with it in different ways." "I get nervous for Rhian, but she's as cool as a cucumber," says Brenda. Rhian shrugs. "I get nervous before the game, but once I'm in it, it doesn't really bother me. But if I've been playing for ages and I make a stupid mistake where I throw it all away in one move, I get annoyed." She practises regularly, doing chess puzzles, learning theory and improving her tactics. Lloyd says: "Dad and I test new things with her. She normally beats us, but she can learn something new, and it's easier playing a person than a computer." Lloyd still enjoys playing, but stopped competing seriously in the last three years in order to concentrate on his school work. He helps organise tournaments and coaches younger players. "It's great helping them to surpass my own standard," he says. Owen tends to prefer practising with his band. Jeremy and Brenda emphasise that they are anything but pushy "chess parents". "We've always said to Rhian it's up to her. We've said that to all three of them. Owen does play but it's not a passion." Here are Rhian’s results from Turin: Hughes Rhian 0 SCO Rp:1703 Rd. SNo Name Rtg FED Rp Pts. Res. Bo. 1 138 WGM Igla Bella 2288 ISR 2238 6,5 w 0 3 2 411 Stolarczyk Anna 2036 POL 1670 2,5 w 0 3 3 419 Arosemena Bethania 0 PAN 1548 3,5 s 1 3 4 376 WFM Franco Beatriz 2048 COL 2053 2,5 w ½ 3 6 364 Mokgacha Keitumetse 0 BOT 1778 5,0 w 0 3 8 71 WFM Zepeda Cortez Sonia Guadalupe 2036 ESA 1985 3,5 s 0 3 11 143 Chierici Marianna 1922 ITA 2022 7,0 s 0 3

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blast from the Past – Soviet Chess Intrigues

This is a new column by Larry Evans at the Sun Sentinel (online) – all I can say is WOW. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It's your move Posted June 17 2007 The Vladimirov flap: The first edition of Gary Kasparov's book Child of Change (1987) appeared in England, exposing some of the nasty tricks by FIDE and Soviet chess officials to deprive him of a shot at the title held by his nemesis. His main target was FIDE President Florencio Campomanes, who is mentioned 197 times in 242 pages. The book was panned in the prestigious Dutch magazine New in Chess by Tim Krabbe, who attacked Kasparov as an egomaniac and wondered, "how a person can drown so naively in his own ego?" Kasparov was taken to task for his "shabby" firing of his longtime aide GM Evgeny Vladimirov, who was suspected of being a mole after some secret opening analysis missing from a safe was found in his room. Krabbe denounced the charge: "In 1986 when he was three points ahead in the third match against [Anatoli] Karpov, Kasparov lost that whole lead in three games. How can such a thing happen? Without any proof, as Kasparov himself admits, the reputation of a colleague is murdered. I really hope Campomanes has not let himself be intimidated by the champion to the extent where he will not at least symbolically suspend Kasparov one day for this." GM Raymond Keene, chess columnist for The London Times, was appalled: "I certainly hope that Krabbe's suggestion was a joke. It leaves a very bad taste in the mouth in the current climate of assault on freedom of speech by FIDE." The American magazine Inside Chess, now defunct, renewed its attack on Kasparov. "It is difficult for this reader to buy the picture painted of Karpov as the epitome of all that is regressive and evil in Soviet life or the equally unlikely portrait of Kasparov as the avatar of progress and light ... Chapter 13, entitled "Knives in the Back," contains Kasparov's version of the ridiculous Vladimirov affair which cost the world champion much credibility and respect throughout the chess world." Kasparov was derided for blaming some of his losses on a spy in his camp. Yet did he not have a right to dismiss an aide he no longer trusted, which happens routinely in the business world? When I mentioned these charges in an interview with Kasparov, he said: "I realize that I have been criticized for banishing Vladimirov from my camp. Many people in the West find it difficult to believe that he passed analysis to Karpov's camp during the third match. But the world saw me change my entire opening repertoire except for the Gruenfeld Defense in the next match. I had to discard old luggage because Karpov knew everything about my opening preparation. I admit that I cannot prove my case beyond all doubt. But I have one question: `What was Vladimirov doing at Karpov's training camp in Odessa before our fourth match in 1987?'" Larry Evans is a five-time U.S. chess champion and nationally syndicated chess writer. Write to him at P.O. Box 1182, Reno, NV 89504.

The Copper Scroll - Treasure Map

The Case of the Copper Scroll SUMMER 2007 TOPICS: Arts, Music, Alumni, Diversity--> By Christine Cole They only survived because they were buried, intentionally, beneath the driest soil on earth. Since they were found-almost 2,000 years after they were hidden-they have been sensationalized, fought over and blamed for conspiracies. They contain clues about a past unknown, and one of DU's own is part of a select group of scholars who study these mysterious relics, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Of these scrolls, there is one in particular that catches attention, as it is said to lead the way to a fortune worth $1 billion. It is known as the Copper Scroll. For the past several years, DU Assistant Professor Alison Schofield has been translating these relics, looking for new meanings and clues into a hidden past and possible treasure. But she does more than just study antique texts. As an undergraduate student at the University of Utah in 1996, she went on her first archaeological dig-an excavation of an Iron-Age city in Bethsaida, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. "During the dig, I realized that to understand the modern Middle East situation, one must delve deeper into its rich ancient history," Schofield says. Since knowing modern Hebrew and Arabic wasn't enough, she upped the number of her foreign languages to 13. Given the region she was focusing on, she also studied religion. "In studying the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, I was excavating the origins of Judaism and Christianity," Schofield says. In 2002 she received an MA in Hebrew Bible/northwest Semitic philology from Johns Hopkins University, where she studied with P. Kyle McCarter, a Copper Scroll expert. She completed her PhD in 2005 at the University of Notre Dame, focusing her research on the Hebrew Bible and early Judaism. Today Schofield holds a joint appointment with the Center for Judaic Studies and the religious studies department at the University of Denver. For the last two years she's been the University's Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism expert. And during this time, she has continued her research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Copper Scroll. "There has always been mystery surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls. They've been sensationalized, as in The Da Vinci Code," she says. The first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in 11 caves near Qumran, near the north shore of the Dead Sea. "It took nearly 50 years to publish these scrolls," she says. During this time, questions started swirling and conspiracy theories started to form, including those related to whether the scrolls contained damaging information about Judaism or Christianity. Schofield says there is no evidence that information from the scrolls has ever been suppressed. But, because an original team of seven scholars monopolized the scrolls for decades, it wasn't until the 1990s that many of the translations were completed. Thanks to a Hebrew University researcher who made the scrolls available to scholars around the world, more text was translated in nine years than in the previous decades of work combined. After studying the scrolls herself, Schofield-one of only a few scholars who approach them from a Judaic perspective-was intrigued by the scrolls and what they say. "They are the most important manuscripts found in Biblical archaeology," says Schofield, noting that the scrolls include biblical texts 1,000 years earlier than any previously existing copies of the Bible. "The scrolls show us that the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity are more fluid," as their Jewish authors speak of theological concepts of redemption, repentance and baptism-type rituals in water before their Christian counterparts, she says. "The importance of studying the Dead Sea Scrolls is that through working with them one learns much more about the particular group associated with the scrolls but also about Judaism in general during the last century B.C.E [before the common era] and the first century C.E. [common era]," says theology professor James VanderKam, who advised Schofield at the University of Notre Dame. "Learning more about Judaism at that time is important for several reasons," VanderKam says. "One, it is wonderful to be able to learn more about Judaism at a crucial time in its history and to see what issues were important to the writers and how they interpreted the scriptures. Two, for Christians, learning about Judaism at that time is important because it provides valuable information for understanding Jesus and the other New Testament individuals in their Jewish context. Three, by studying the copies of scriptural books found among the scrolls, one can examine the development of the text of the books that would become parts of the Bible." "We have very few texts surviving from this time," Schofield adds. "The scrolls illuminate the Bible; they are the greatest window into biblical text ever. They also illuminate a Judaism of the time that most people don't know existed." During the time the scrolls were supposedly written, 200 B.C.E to 68 C.E., there were numerous sects of Jews. Schofield notes that most people are familiar with the Pharisees (today's Rabbinic Jews are their descendents), but it was likely a group known as the Essenes who wrote the scrolls. Most manuscripts of the time-including the Dead Sea Scrolls-were written on skins and papyrus and didn't last. But the Dead Sea Scrolls survived the ravages of time because the Essenes buried them in the arid caves near the Dead Sea. What would make a population go to this extreme? The Essenes fled into the desert because of corruption within the Temple of Jerusalem, and they created a holy community on the shore of the Dead Sea, Schofield explains. Given the destruction that was about to take place in Jerusalem, the Essenes prepared for the destruction that was also likely to come their way. While most of the other scrolls were copied during the century prior to the destruction, the Copper Scroll was one of the last, written in 68 C.E., two years before the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. Given the timing, the Copper Scroll probably refers to treasures the Essenes buried before the Romans came, Schofield says. Yes-buried treasure. Schofield counts herself among the school of scholars who believe that the Copper Scroll details the whereabouts of a real treasure of gold, silver and bronze-hidden in 63 hoards-that today would be worth $1 billion. "From a scholar's perspective, the real treasure is the window it gives us to otherwise unknown aspects of Judaism," says Schofield, who was featured in a recent History Channel episode about the scroll. The 800 Dead Sea Scroll fragments can be divided generally into three main categories, she says, noting that the scrolls pick up where the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament end, right after the Book of Daniel. One third of the scrolls are copies of the Bible; one third are the Essenes' theological texts, such as the "Community Rule"; and one third are copies the Essenes made of Jewish literature of the time-basically "the items that didn't make it into anyone's Bible," she says. The content of the Copper Scroll doesn't fit into any of the three categories. Nor does anything else about it. While the other scrolls were written on skins and papyrus, the Copper Scroll was actually written on more valuable and durable copper, signifying its importance. The Copper Scroll also was written in the vernacular Hebrew of the day, while the other scrolls were written in a liturgical, biblical Hebrew, Schofield explains. Once scholars began translating it, it not only gave clues about buried treasures but also gave them insight into the time that it was written. "The primary drive for me is the anomalies," Schofield says. The Essene priests used general names and place names when giving clues to the treasures' whereabouts, so there is no definitive way to determine where the map starts, Schofield says. One must have knowledge of the landscape and geography of the time, and even then, no one really knows where it begins. Although Schofield believes the Copper Scroll is a real treasure map, she doesn't know whether or not the treasure still exists. It's possible that the Essenes moved it at a later date or that it was found by another group years later. Although some scholars believe that the treasure is too great to be real, Schofield and others disagree. "First, it's written on an expensive medium-it's valuable. Second, it's not written in a fairytale fashion; it doesn't sound like fiction," she says. "It's boring, very dry, almost in a bookkeeping style." The person who transcribed it likely was illiterate, she says, noting that the transcriber confused letters throughout the scroll. The author or authors would have used an illiterate scribe because they didn't want him to know what he was transcribing, Schofield explains. Although the scroll has been completely translated, as have most of the Dead Sea Scrolls, new computer technology and digital photographs allow scholars to review and revise particularly difficult passages and words, Schofield explains. Working with themes she sees in the scrolls, Schofield is writing an upcoming book, Community and Identity in the Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Synthesis. She also is starting another book, Wilderness as Place and Experience in the Hebrew Tradition, about the concept of wilderness and the desert in early Judaism, both literally and symbolically. "The scrolls are tangible pieces of evidence about a group that saw the desert as a sacred place," as the wilderness is symbolic and very holy, Schofield says. Some of the questions she is still investigating are why the Essenes felt compelled to go into the desert, and why they hid the treasure. Schofield also is interested in understanding the role the Copper Scroll may have played in maintaining the Essenes' identity in the face of extinction. And, Schofield says, another important mystery remains: The Essenes seem to have broken away from the Jerusalem temple. If that's the case, how did they gain access to its treasure? In December 2006, Schofield conducted an archaeological survey in the Judean wilderness near the site where the scrolls were found. But, she says emphatically, she's not part of the "treasure-seeking wacko camp." It's likely the desert is still hiding many other undiscovered items and that with one find, she says, "all the theories built on the scrolls could be wiped out." Or maybe, just maybe, the Copper Scroll treasures will be found. *************************************************************************** You can find more information about the Copper Scroll here.
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