Saturday, December 30, 2017

IM Dorsa Derakhshani Speaks Out on Treatment of Iranian Female Chessplayers by Iran Federation

IM Dorsa Derakhshani (USA 2306) (also holds WGM title) wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Times.  Derakhshani left her family behind in Iran to go to college (St. Louis University) in St. Louis, Missouri USA, home of GM Susan Polgar's Webster University chess program and the billionaire backed Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis and World Chess Museum (the Chess Club and the Museum are located across the street from each other in an uptown section of St. Louis).

Why I Left Iran to Play Chess in America

Dorsa Derakhshani, December 29, 2017

Right now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the World Chess Championships are underway. But some world champions are noticeably absent: The Israeli players were blocked from participating when Saudi Arabia denied them visas.

Chess — a game that I have loved since I first sat down at a board — is pure. It doesn’t care about gender, ethnicity, nationality, status or politics. But too often the countries, organizations and people who enforce the rules in the world of chess are anything but.

This is a subject I know something about.

I was the second-highest-ranked player for girls under 18 in the world in 2016. I am the second-highest-ranked female chess player in Iranian history. And yet my passion for the game has taken me thousands of miles away from my home in Tehran to seek citizenship here in the United States.

From 2011 until 2015 I played for the Iranian national team. I had to follow the official Iranian dress code, which requires women to cover their hair in public. I understood that being a member of the team meant that I was an official representative of the country, so I never broke the rules. But I chafed under them.

By 2015, when I was 17 years old, it was clear to me that other things mattered more to the federation than talent. Just one example: I had won the Asian championship three times in a row when I arrived at the tournament in India in 2014. I was favored to win, given my record. Yet federation officials weren’t focused on my game, but on my clothing. On the very first day of the tournament, they told me my jeans were too tight. I told them I would not participate in the round unless they stopped scolding me.

In the end, I played and won that tournament in India. But time and time again, those in charge of the Iranian national team showed that they cared more about the scarf covering my hair than the brain under it.

Since choosing to leave the team and play chess with no strings attached, I’ve never taken a penny from the Iranian government. My parents pay for all of my expenses, including travel to tournaments. One benefit of flying solo is that I dress the way I want to. I like my outfits to reflect my mood for that day and I don’t like to dress to please others. I no longer cover my hair, including at tournaments.

To me, the choice to stop covering felt morally right, and I never felt a shred of guilt about my decision.

In 2016, I lived in Spain and played under the auspices of various European clubs. Never once did I cover my hair. Never once did I compromise my principles or my pride.

And yet, in February 2017, the Iranian chess federation announced it was barring me from playing in Iran for not wearing a hijab at a competition in Gibraltar the month before. It also barred my younger brother, who had played an Israeli player at that same competition.

The barring was baffling, since I’d already left the national team. But it sent a clear message: Independent thinkers aren’t welcome.

This September, I officially joined the United States Chess Federation and started school at St. Louis University. I write this from Columbus, Ohio, where my college team is competing in a tournament. My parents remain in Tehran.

I miss my family every second of every day, and the pain of not knowing when I’ll see them next never goes away. But their belief in me is the reason I had the strength to make this choice.

My mom was the one who taught me to read when I was only a year old. She put all her time and energy into me and my brother. She and my father taught us by example to be open minded and curious.

From a young age, I was fiercely competitive and I loved solving puzzles and reading people. My parents signed me up for chess classes when I was 6 and it immediately became an obsession. The game was a perfect fit.

My parents have always been my champions and I never wanted to leave home and live without them. But under the circumstances, they decided it was the wise decision to make — not just for my chess career, but for me as a person.

For years, they watched me struggle trying to be myself in Iran. I grew up in a society in which being exceptional, correcting your elders and generally being a smart aleck is shunned. One thing that I love about living in an open society is that I can talk straight. I never follow a script. My human interactions are just that: human. And I am free of fear of being punished for saying the wrong thing. At last, my heart and mind work in unison.

The last time I felt this kind of stability was at my high school in Tehran. The school was a haven for me, a place where I could express myself and the teachers fully respected the students. I have craved to be in a similar environment and, finally, I have found it. What’s more, I managed to join the U.S. federation in a matter of weeks — a rarity and something I remain deeply grateful for.

Unlike on the Iranian team, I am now surrounded by people who respect me as a player and don’t care or notice what I look like. Unlike on the Iranian team, where the officials could ignore a player’s earned right to play a tournament and replace that player with someone they preferred, here the rules are consistent and fair.

In this sense, America at its best reflects the best values of chess. Chess doesn’t care how old you are or what you wear. It doesn’t care about what gender you are, or how much money you have. It is blind to all of that. It cares only about merit.

That’s why I’m applying for United States citizenship and why I hope to someday represent this country in the Olympics. And it’s why barring people from the game based on their ethnicity, religion or clothing is so wrong.

Anna Muzychuk Refuses to Play in Corrupted 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Saudi Arabia

A few international chess stars stand up for what is right.  I wish more of them had the guts to stand up against this kind of thing and give FIDE and countries like Saudi Arabia the permanent middle finger.

From The Washington Post

Chess champion refuses to defend titles in Saudi Arabia to protest treatment of women

Des Bieler, December 28, 2017

A Ukrainian chess champion is prepared to lose her two world titles rather than defend them in a tournament held in Saudi Arabia. Anna Muzychuk said she would skip the lucrative event to protest the treatment of women in that country.

Muzychuk, 27, is the reigning women’s world champion in both rapid and blitz chess. In a recent Facebook post, she said she “decided not to go to Saudi Arabia” because she did not want “to play by someone’s rules,” including being made to “wear [an] abaya,” the loosefitting garment the country usually requires women to cover themselves with while in public.

Muzychuk also said she was opposed to being “accompanied getting outside,” and to being made to feel like “a secondary creature."

By skipping the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, which began Tuesday in Riyadh and end Saturday, Muzychuk said she was aware that not only was she set to “lose two World Champion titles — one by one,” but also to pass up an opportunity to “earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined.” The $2 million prize fund for the championships, which have been named for Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was declared by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to be “almost 350% more than the previous event."

The federation also said that the dress code for the event would entail “dark blue or black formal trouser suits, with high necked white blouses” for women. “There will be no need to wear a hijab or abaya during the games, this will be a first for any sporting event in Saudi Arabia,” FIDE announced in November.

Nevertheless, neither Muzychuk nor her younger sister Mariya, a former world champion in her own right, are competing at the championships. “I am really happy that we share this point of view,” Muzychuk said on Facebook.

The Riyadh tournament has also created headlines for the absence of chess players from Israel, who were denied visas. Saudi officials have said that they cannot issue the visas because their kingdom has no diplomatic ties with Israel, while the chess federation in the latter country is seeking financial compensation.

“There needs to be a clear separation between sports and politics,” said Lior Aizenberg, a spokesman for the Israeli Chess Federation. “We want our players to play in all competitions. What is going on in the Arab world does not interest us."

Hikaru Nakamura, the U.S.’s top-ranked rapid and blitz chess player, is also skipping the event. “To organize a chess tournament in a country where basic human rights aren’t valued is horrible,” Nakamura said in a November tweet. “Chess is a game where all different sorts of people can come together, not a game in which people are divided because of their religion or country of origin."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is leading an effort, called Vision 2030, to modernize aspects of his society, and in September the government announced that women will be allowed to drive, starting in mid-2018. However, women in Saudi Arabia still need the permission of male guardians to marry, get divorced, attain employment, travel or have elective surgery (per CNN), and mixing with men in public places is still largely forbidden.

“As to whether it was right or wrong, there will certainly be people who will support me and people who will condemn me,” Muzychuk told Reuters of her decision to boycott the tournament. “But I took this decision and I am responsible for it."

Counting Down to the New Year, Winter UGH and Winter Ahhhhhh!

Hola darlings!  Goddesschess hopes you all will have a wonderful celebration for New Year's Eve and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2018. 

We are SO cold here, it is horrid.  The Polar Vortex has returned with a vengeance.  UGH!  Even worse, I can't find any forecast that said when this may disappear, if only for a few days.  The entire Midwest all the way east and even engulfing Washington, D.C. are under this Weather Horror Show!  I lived through the dreadful killer Polar Vortex of winter 2012-2013, walking 9 blocks day and night five days a week through feet of snow to and from the bus stop, and I swore NEVER AGAIN.

Ha ha ha, joke's on moi.  I'm no longer trekking to and from the bus stop to go to work, but I still need to go to the supermarket and for my blood draws.  It actually got up to a balmy 9 degrees F yesterday morning as I went to the lab for a blood draw.  I looked like I weighed 300 pounds I was so wrapped up underneath my fuchia down hooded coat.  It takes me 15 minutes just to bundle up!  Then the snow came yesterday evening.  And the winds.  I wasn't expecting this wind.  Windchills today are about 30 below zero F, and we are under a winter windchill advisory. 

Despite the frightful weather (...oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful...) I will have my fireplace going over the next few days to snuggle up close to with a good book (received one for Christmas from Isis in Las Vegas) and tomorrow night I'll see if I can stay awake long enough to make it to midnight, LOL!

I saw this beautiful photo at The Washington Post today, wintery though it is.  It is so evocative of the Goddess to me, complete with black birds :)  Deer (and birds) are associated with various goddesses, of course, and horns of a variety of. animals including deer, have been worn and utilized as symbols of power perhaps as far back as man first appeared on Earth.  For instance, Siberian cave paintings dating back as far as 70,000 years ago show thousands of years of images of deer, sometimes associated with the spirit world. 

This photo was taken on December 28, 2017 in Richmond Park in London.  Originally established as a royal hunting preserve, yet today there are approximately 650 red deer and fallow deer along with multiple species of birds who reside inside its protected boundaries.  How incredibly beautiful!  I especially got a kick out of the hitchhiking black bird, LOL!  Thanks, WaPo, for publishing it this week.
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