Sunday, August 16, 2009

missing the point

I have to object to Steve Goldberg's recent article in the Examiner about the recent All Girls US Chess School.

The most intriguing player from the U.S. Chess School
August 16, 12:34 AM · Steve Goldberg - Chess Examiner

Of course, every one of the players from the 10th session of the
U.S. Chess School is very talented and brings something special to the table.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis Executive Director Tony Rich commented, "Each of the young ladies in this all-girl edition of the chess school is probably stronger than everyone else in the building" (except for the instructors).
With the caveat that time didn't allow this reporter to get to know all the participants, the player that may be the most intriguing isn't a girl at all.
He's nine-year-old Jonathan Chiang, brother of participant Sarah Chiang. Jonathan was one of the players at an earlier session of the U.S. Chess School and is a remarkable child.
At one point, IM Greg Shahade presented a "White to move and win" problem to Jonathan. After about thirty seconds thought, he looked up at Greg and said, "It's pretty easy," as he found the initial move to the problem. Greg responded, "No it's not!" as he watched Jonathan contend with various stalemating options that Black had available. In short order, though, Jonathan indeed found the correct path to seal the victory.
This is one to keep an eye on for the future.

Before I start, let me say that Jonathan is an immensely talented, hilarious, hugely likeable child, and this is nothing against him. Also, Steve is a nice guy and I usually like his stuff, but this article seems to really miss a number of important points.

One of the big reasons to have a girls-only class is that typically boys treat questions in the classroom like a competitive game, trying to be the first to answer, rather than to really think about the question and try to get the answer right. This has the effect of silencing the "slower" (in fact, just more thoughtful) girls, and of creating the (totally false) impression that the boys are smarter. Jonathan was almost always the first to think he had the answer but was usually wrong, to the extent that Kaidanov and Greg would both good naturedly tease him when he raised his hand. He's even impatient and wrong in the example Steve gives. Singling this behavior out for praise seems misguided and unhelpful to everyone involved:

It hurts Jonathan, since it praises and thereby reinforces his worst habit, carelessness / overconfidence /overquickness.

It hurts the girls, by taking away from them one of the few opportunities for public recognition. Why not write about Abby Marshall, the first female to ever win the Denker? Isn't that more impressive than getting an answer wrong in 30 seconds?? Or write about Rochelle and Darrian, who gave an incredible number of correct, thoughtful, imaginative answers? Or write about thirteen year old Megan Lee, who won the Under 18 section of Girls Nationals and tied for first (with Abby) in the US Chess School blitz tournament?

It hurts the general public and the chess community, by reinforcing the idea that boys (even when they are much lower rated) are more talented than girls at chess.

update: Arne Moll of Chess Vibes writes about the issue


Glenn Baumann said...

but jonathan is my bff

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Ms. Vicary. out of no where the artical just randomly starts talking about Jonathan who I am guessing wasn't even part of that U.S. chess school for girls and I think it's just really stupid. I laughed.

Anonymous said...

I guess Steve Goldberg tried to find an unusual angle to the story, to make it more interesting. This is quite common in chess reporting. Usually the different angle is either very young players, very old players or female players which are either beautiful or strong or both.

The article also shows, how misleading pictures can be.

Like the picture in the middle.

From reading the article it appears that the girls are trying very hard to understand something, while the little boy is laughing because he's already two steps ahead of them.

However, after reading the posting here it rather seems like the boy simply has lost concentration.

Amanda Mateer said...


Elizabeth, I read that with my parents when I got home today, and they found it outrageous. So did I. That's such an insane misrepresentation of what went on all week/what it was all about.


Anonymous said...

You are right about why this type of praise can be actually bad for the child and for the whole process.

In the eagerness to develop new chess players, it might be worth considering how accurate this sort of praise actually is.

Do the top 9 year old players actually end up being top players as adults or teenagers?
This over-hyping of very young players is already the norm in sports such as basketball, tennis and gymnastics to the point that someone who is described as being a "good" and "with promise" is considered a patzer or a hack.

For everyday reporters, you can forgive their desire to create an interesting theme to a chess story. But for someone who covers chess especially junior chess regularly, one would expect more restraint and care.

Anonymous said...

I can't even figure out what kind of site "" is supposed to be. It looks like some kind of second-rate content aggregator, not an actual publication.

Glenn Baumann said...

jonathan is also a ladies man

Rihel said...

That is shockingly bad.

Anonymous said...

I'm mildly shocked he wrote that.... It seems completely demeaning to all the exceptional girls at the school.

Steve Goldberg seems to have taken a very shallow assessment of the environment and failed to comprehend it accurately. It's unfortunate that someone with that mindset would be in such a position as to be "enlightening" the masses.

Steve Goldberg said...

Readers who are familiar with my Scholastic Chess column at ChessCafe know that I strive to present the many positive stories in the world of chess, at a time when there is a lot of the opposite. I interview interesting and high-achieving players, and try to offer material of interest to young aspiring chess players and their families.

My style is not confrontational or sensational. Undoubtedly, that would yield higher readership, but it's not me.

For the past week, I've enjoyed the opportunity to sit in on brief portions of the all-girls U.S. Chess School session held in St. Louis. I'm very impressed with what Greg Shahade has put together, providing top-level instruction to the nation's most promising young players, at no charge to the players. For this session, the primary instructor was GM Gregory Kaidanov, assisted by IM Shahade and WFM Elizabeth Vicary. These are three very talented and dedicated trainers, and I've been presenting portions of their impressive training in this Chess Examiner site.

I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by commentary from Elizabeth Vicary, who took great exception to one article I wrote, about a young observer at the U.S. Chess School session, Jonathan Chiang.

I am offended myself by some comments here and would urge interested readers to read my response at

Steve Goldberg

Malcolm Tredinnick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Malcolm Tredinnick said...

Well done, Elizabeth. It's important to call this stuff out, even when it comes from otherwise credible sources. Mistakes happen, but they should be corrected. Doesn't seem to have happened this time, unfortunately.

As for Steve's comment...

Elizabeth questioned the post for very valid reasons, and you take four paragraphs to plug another column of yours. Very, very disappointing.

And then there's the non-apology apology: "I'm sorry she felt that way", rather than "I'm sorry my writing was confusing and did a disservice to an under-represented portion of the community."

As you repeatedly mention, you do a lot of reporting of scholastic chess in the US, so it's unfortunate that you don't acknowledge the educational harm done by providing positive reinforcement to the bad habit of Jonathan's that the coaches were trying to eliminate. Maybe you rushed to press the first time and hadn't thought of it that way initially, but to not even recognise the error the second time around ... well. :(

Anonymous said...

"It hurts the general public and the chess community, by reinforcing the idea that boys (even when they are much lower rated) are more talented than girls at chess."
Vicary I know how sensitive you are about this sort of crap but this comment of yorus directly contradicts the whole notion of having a school for girls only. Does not having a separate school in itself not imply that girls are somehow inferior less talented or something of that nature. How come you didnt throw a big fit saying that whoever came up with the concept of having an all girls school was obviously implying that girls are less talented than boys.

CaseMoney said...

No, Anon, that was not implied.

Daniel Pomerleano said...

Is Steve Goldberg a big chess journalist? I am definitely out of touch, but his column here seems so upbeat and yet banal. Elizabeth can vent as she wishes but it just doesn't seem like a big deal. I remember Fabiano or Marc Arnold as being like that as young kids and they changed. I think real chess players are much more impressed by deep insights into positions than blitzing off. I think the only thing Goldberg showed is a slight lack of chess class. But I mean that's not his thing--- he's not exactly Lev Pshakis or Greg Kaidanov. Congrats to Abby Marshall from my home state of VA for winning the Denker and everyone else at the camp for being so talented. Of course Greg Shahade is the man.

Anonymous said...

I support Elizabeth in her struggle to promote women playing chess. Statistically the only reason there are more men top players is because they vastly outnumber the women.

Chess has the unique position to be the first truly international competition where men and women can compete with complete equality.

The only way that is going to happen is if many more women play chess.

Providing a girls only chess training event is not a sign of any inferiority on the part of the ladies. They do have the Denker Champion among them.

Rather it is a skillful use of the understanding that females culturally or otherwise use diferent communication and learning styles than males.

Elizabeth has every right to speak her mind on this. She is a woman, an excellent chess player, and an involved teacher. She knows what she is talking about.

Men should not tell women to get over sexism. Whites should not tell others to get over racism. The rich should not tell the poor to get over classism.

-an old white duffer guy

Anonymous said...

You folks are making a mountain out of a molehill. Ms. Vicary's complaint is valid but after Mr. Goldberg's response and clarification, the issue can be considered settled as it is not fair to take one article by him in isolation.


Anonymous said...

Agree with kapalik

Liquid Egg Product said...

No one's hit on the real point. The most intriguing player at an all-girls event was male.

So Mr. Goldberg didn't imply that girls are untalented, but rather that they're uninteresting.

(And to why girls are considered uninteresting to male-dominated chess requires some research. I hypothesize it's because they haven't grown boobs yet.)

Anonymous said...

I'm still unconvinced that is even a real publication. Does it have editors?

Anonymous said...

Ah. hunch confirmed:

"In practice, I can’t say any of the articles I’ve skimmed so far would make me come back for more. The writing isn’t horrible, but it is amateurish in a way that is not endearing. Maybe that is because the site is designed to look like an authoritative news site. And you end up reading an article that would never have been linked to if it were on a solitary blog."

katar said...

Mr. Goldberg, you are WAY TOO SENSITIVE if something like this is saddening and offensive and feels like a "raking over the coals" meriting a full-scale rebuttal with enumerated bullet points. a "journalist" (using that term loosely) who thinks the only noteworthy aspect of an all-girls chess school is the fact that a boy participated is, yes, "MISSING THE POINT." you missed the point. just admit it and move on. next please. how about some Greg Shahade -related gossip?

julius g said...

Who can forget when he observed Yury Shulman's conference with the idea of promoting chess among children in wheelchairs. Lets pull up that article from 07.

"The Emperor Penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica. The male and female are similar in plumage and size, reaching 122 cm (48 in) in height and weighing anywhere from 22 to 37 kg (48 to 82 lb). Like all penguins, it is flightless, with a streamlined body and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine lifestyle. Fish form the bulk of its diet, which can include crustaceans, such as krill, and cephalopods, such as squid. In hunting, the species can remain submerged up to 18 minutes, diving to a depth of 535 m (1,755 ft). It has several adaptations to facilitate this, including an unusually structured haemoglobin to allow it to function at low oxygen levels, solid bones to reduce barotrauma, and the ability to reduce its metabolism and shut down non-essential organ functions."

Ridiculous Steve, ridiculous I say.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth read my comment to Mr. Goldberg. His article is extremely short sighted and totally disregards the girls worth ethic and dedication to chess. Abby just won the Denker as the first female in history and if that is not intriguing I do not know what is ( no losses and one draw).
Thank you for being a constant and realist in the chess life of all players.
I generally do not publish comments on blogs, but as a chess mother of a girl who works hard and as I witnessed Abby's wins at the Denker with all the pressure upon her shoulders I had to speak out on their behalf.
Hopefully, Mr. Goldberg in his wisdom ( I actually had an opportunity to speak with him and did express an appreciation of the girls chess skills and is a nice guy) will write an appropriate article covering the GIRLS and their skills at the first US Chess School all Girls Chess Camp!

Anonymous said...

Please note that the article in question is one article in a series of close to a dozen written by Mr. Goldberg, with all of the others focusing heavily on the girls.

Braden Bournival said...

Elizabeth, I agree with you that it was stupid for Steve to bring that up in his article. This should be about the girls in the school, and nothing else.

But that being said, if you go on, you'll see pictures/women mentioned in almost every article for no good apparent reason. It's pretty ridiculous when some 2000 female gets 10x more media coverage than some 2500 male.

It's funny that you got really upset over this, but when some random woman (sometimes you) pops up in a chess article somewhere for no reason, it's absolutely fine.

I understand that you were involved with this, so you feel kinda slighted over it.. But let's be real here, women have 10x more opportunities and 10x more news coverage than men. If this little kid who was not part of the US Chess school happened to be female instead of male, I AM SURE you wouldn't have had a problem with it.

Braden Bournival said...

Elizabeth, I agree with you that it was stupid for Steve to bring that up in his article. This should be about the girls in the school, and nothing else.

But that being said, if you go on, you'll see pictures/women mentioned in almost every article for no good apparent reason. It's pretty ridiculous when some 2000 female gets 10x more media coverage than some 2500 male.

It's funny that you got really upset over this, but when some random woman (sometimes you) pops up in a chess article somewhere for no reason, it's absolutely fine.

I understand that you were involved with this, so you feel kinda slighted over it.. But let's be real here, women have 10x more opportunities and 10x more news coverage than men. If this little kid who was not part of the US Chess school happened to be female instead of male, I AM SURE you wouldn't have had a problem with it.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Honestly, I was not trying to rake Steve over any coals with this post. I had emailed him my objections before I wrote it, but he decided not to make any changes. I also mentioned liking his previous articles ("Also, Steve is a nice guy and I usually like his stuff, but this article seems to really miss a number of important points.") But I think when people are adults and publish articles, that it's fair enough to disagree, as long as you explain why in a straightforward way.

Brad--I think there's an important difference between having your photo in a CLO article and having your chess talent singled out for praise. The idea that people are more interested in looking at pictures of women rather than men was not invented by Jenn. I agree that one happens to me all the time (although honestly, I never asked for that and I don't especially like it), but the other has never happened (and that's fine, I don't deserve it, my point is just that they are not even close to the same thing).

I also think it's inaccurate to say *I* feel slighted. I feel the girls were slighted.

But thanks for all the comments, everyone! I'm in Thailand and having a great time.

Naisortep said...

One final point, recent research suggests that it can be harmful to praise a child for their talent. It makes them quit more easily when faced with a challenge. It is more effective to praise a child for their effort. IM Josh Waitzkin discusses this in his book 'The Art of Learning'. It is discussed in NY magazine here:

Anonymous said...

Why was there a boy at an all-girl edition of the chess school, anyway? This was the question unanswered by Goldberg's article.

Greg Shahade said...

He was not actually part of the program. He was the brother of Sarah Chiang, and so while he was able to sit in on the classes and observe, he was not usually an active participant (with some exceptions).

The problem referenced in the article is one that I showed him while the girls were playing speed chess for the cameras.

- Greg

Bionic Lime said...

I'm glad you clarified that Jonathan wasn't an active participant in all the classes, Greg. It would have seemed to defeat the whole purpose of the school, which seemed to be to give talented girls a chance to get top-level instruction in a "safe" classroom environment (safe isn't the right word, but I can't think of a better one right now).

I thought Goldberg's article was inappropriate, but his "clarification" was classless. His body of work on scholastic chess is consistently high-quality, so these two articles are a rare, but huge, swing-and-miss.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I like how Greg is on top of things while I'm away. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree that labeling Jonathan perhaps the most intriguing participant at the chess school was a poor choice of words on Steve's part and in his follow-up piece he has admitted as such. But as others have pointed out, he had just posted a series of articles about the school and the fact that it was the first all-girls session. I suspect he was just looking for a fresh angle and he latched onto Jonathan.

Still, I think Steve deserves a break and the benefit of a doubt based on his track record. Elizabeth wonders--why not write about Denker winner Abby Marshall? Well, the answer is he did in several Examiner pieces preceding the articles on the chess school. Furthermore, as readers of his scholastic chess column at can attest, Abby has been featured in many of his past columns. And he intends to devote his next column to Abby's win at the Denker. So one can hardly accuse Steve of slighting Abby--in fact, I'm beginning to wonder if people are getting tired of reading about her in his column. Fortunately for any readers suffering from Abby fatigue, her scholastic chess career is just about over so the problem should go away soon.

Steve is a good guy and, as a chess writer, he has consistently covered strong female scholastic players. One short throwaway article about someone's little brother does not change that in the slightest.


Anonymous said...

There is a reaction to this post on

Anonymous said...

sorry Elizabeth, although i admit you have some point here, in my eyes going after poor Steve like he is some sexist pig or something is a blatant overreaction/oversensitivity. i will paste here a comment i made in the examiner yesterday, hoping for some feedback (maybe i am a sexist myself and i pretend to myself not to be one?):

"if girls were nearly as good as boys are, they would get MORE attention than boys everywhere and no one would complain. As things are now, girls and women attract already way MORE publicity than they deserve.
simple example: all of us know a lot about every woman rated 2450+, seen photos, read interviews etc. Have you ever thought how many male 2600+ GMs are out there that you don't even know their existence?

a personal example: if i was a girl (keeping same rating), i would be an established well-known professional in my country. but alas, i am a man and i am only good enough to win regional tournaments and be considered a decent amateur...

would i be wrong to campaign against unfair female privileges over men in chess?"

Anonymous said...

Aww, you're a feminist. Thats adorable.

ATH2044 said...

I'll keep this short because I know how busy everyone is & how difficult it is to read blog posts.
First, I lost the link (much to the relief of some), but somewhere in the examiner article or one of its side links or another "U.S. chess school for girls" article was a link that said something like, "more pictures from Elizabeth Vicary over here". It turns out that link brings you to a photo album of something like 192 more pictures from the event! THAT'S the way I like to see event pictures, not just the same four or five that everyone else has. Kudos Elizabeth for taking them & for posting them.
Second, (& I fully expect to catch hell from someone on this one) a quick stop on the USCF rating list shows Johnathan Chiang has played in 513 events in 51 months. That's averaging more than ten tournaments per month, & probably over 2,000 rated games which is more than most players do in their entire life!
I'm not suggesting that playing lots of games will get you to an international title, but especially for new players, it's very important to get lots of practice. The other aspect of this is because of his age, he's obviously not driving himself to these tournaments (I know, lots of scholastic events, but still.), which means he has a very strong logistic support network behind him. Those other kids his age who can't get to events will likely find things other than chess to do instead & as a result develop (their chess potential) much more slowly. I suppose the author might have been somewhat less "intrigued" by Johnathan had he looked at his history. I was not at the U.S. chess school for girls, but there's clearly at least a roomful of "intriguing" talent there including the (somewhat) well known competitors & lots of others practically no one has heard of (yet). My inclination though is that the people who made the U.S. chess school for girls possible & continue to do so are notably intriguing. & yes, that includes Greg Shahade, Elizabeth Vicary, etc. but everyone already knows they're way too intriguing to fit into an (It took immense restraint to avoid hot linking that.) article.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

thanks, ATH, and I'm super impressed by your restraint.