Sunday, November 4, 2007

Interview With Me by Ray Cheng*

* author of the fabulous Winning Chess Exercises

So in the comments to my last interview, Ray Cheng posted the questions below for me to answer. It's after midnight, so chances are good I will regret this in the morning, but for the faithful late night readers, here goes:

1. What is it that you enjoy most about chess? Is it the excitement of competing in tournaments; the thrill of winning; the aesthetic pleasure of seeing a well played game or a great move; opportunities for friendship and travel; making insecure male players feel even more inadequate?

Lots of reasons… it’s the only thing I don’t get bored with… it’s the only time I feel truly relaxed -- of course sometimes it’s nerve wracking—but when you are sitting there, you have lots of time, you lose yourself in some problem to solve, that makes me very happy. It’s the only time I don’t feel like there is something else I ought to be doing instead… I have a lot of friends in the chess world, and I like having friendships with people that are based around a shared interest… I admire people who are passionate about something as pure as chess.

2. If you didn't have a career in chess (including teaching, journalism, and playing for the Knights), what would you be doing instead? Assume you had another lifetime to start anew.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mathematician. It’s hard for me to imagine a life other than the one that happened to me…. I guess I’m not much of a people person, although I’m learning to be one, but in the meantime, this weakness rules out a lot of careers….

3. How long have you hated puppies? What sort of music do you enjoy? Dislike? What are your "desert island" CD selections?

Are those questions really grouped? The anonymous person who said I hated puppies was really Greg Shahade. He was just mocking the guy who posts the nasty stuff on my blog. I’m very boring about music—I like a few things and listen to them over and over. Currently:
Interpol, Our Love to Admire;
Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days;
Tori Amos, Scarlet’s Walk;
Leonard Cohen, Greatest Hits;
Blonde Redhead, 23.
Also, without specific albums: Magnetic Fields, Massive Attack, Buddha Bar CDs, Suzanne Vega, Sinead O’Connor, Wilco. Music I dislike: a lot of stuff. My boyfriend sets his player to random and it drives me crazy.

4. A quantized entropy fluxoid has disrupted the fabric of the space-time continuum. Do you (a) reverse the polarity of the positronic wave matrix; (b) wrap your head in a damp towel and down a gin and tonic; (c) other (specify). Suppose you have 24 hours of free time - what would you do for amusement?

Um…. this question reminds me of a conversation I had with the random-music-playing boyfriend when we first started dating. We were at some tournament, were walking down this wide tree-lined street towards the art musuem in Philly, for some reason we never got there, but I was telling him about a dream I had where I felt really watched, and I said to him something like “how much time do you think about other people, and how often do you wonder if they think about you?” (it was more specific, honestly, but I don’t want to get into the details) and he replied, “I don’t think about things like that; I think about things like the fabric of time.” Looking back now, it seems like a fairly uncharacteristic remark by him, but at the time it really struck me. I thought, “wow, I feel like such a girl right now.” And then I thought, "maybe I should be more serious and less vain."

If I had 24 hours of free time? I love studying chess. I like running, but only if I can watch my favorite tv shows at the same time. I love the feeling of running, but it really bores me also. I love sleeping. I like wandering around New York. I like just sitting around, doing nothing. Mostly I’m happy when I’m either totally interested in something or hanging out with one of the 4 or 5 people I really really like.

5. What is your favorite TV show? Favorite movies? Favorite breakfast cereal?

TV: 24, La Femme Nikita, Law and Order: SVU, Twin Peaks, Daily Show and Colbert Report except I don't have cable.
Movies: English Patient, Clue, Closer, but there are lots of great movies.
Breakfast Cereal: Raisin Bran for serious mornings, Golden Grahams for silly mornings and very late nights

6. If you could invite any 3 characters (real or fictional, living or once living, historical or hysterical) to play a round of golf with you, which course would you play? Oh, and who would these 3 characters be?

Could it be minigolf?
The narrator from any Murakami novel.
The narrator from Absurdistan.
Greg Shahade

7. Have you ever killed another human being? What about with your bare hands? What sports do you enjoy doing? What sports do you enjoy watching?

No no no. I’m frustrated but I’m not violent.
I like running. I don’t understand sports. I’m not coordinated and I don't play well with others.
I don’t like watching sports, except for the USCL. And then only sometimes.

8. (a) Lightsaber vs. phaser. (b) Spiderman vs. Batman. (c) Kramnik vs. Anand. (d) Ginger vs. Mary Ann.

None of the above. I admire certain chessplayers for their chess alone, but neither Anand nor Kramnik do it for me. The other questions…. I’m not very pop-culture literate…. I was on a different planet when I was a kid, so I missed out on a lot of things like comics, video games, sports, old tv shows

9. What is the most hilarious or embarrassing or frightening moment you have ever experienced? What is the strangest, or most exotic, or most memorable thing you have ever eaten?

Oh, I can’t manage this…. My brain saves itself by erasing the most unpleasant memories….I try to find life funny. I believe that being happy is a conscious choice, and I try to look at everything with humor and enjoyment…. I try to get enough sleep, eat unprocessed food, be around positive people, find things funny, skip the stupid stuff, forget/ignore the bad stuff…. I’m still not great at it, but I have friends to remind me.

10. Tell us more about the hole in your leg. Is it a fashion accessory? Political statement? Medical emergency? If you could magically change your physical appearance to that of some well-known celebrity, who would that be?

Wow, well, Greg broke the news… the truth is that I have a tiny hole in the back of one knee…. I can stick a pin in about an inch ... no, that's a lie ... half an inch without feeling anything…. but it’s not visible, not like a deformity or anything… more a curiosity… I’ve always wondered what it was, but I haven’t looked at it for 5 or 6 years now so maybe it’s gone by now, maybe I imagined it….

I wouldn’t change my appearance at all…. appearances are a huge trick society plays on us… totally random, meaningless, but everyone worships the idea, even smart, conscious people …. I discovered this when I shaved my head for the first time….people treated me completely differently. It turned out to be one of the best things I could have done for myself, in the sense of the development of my character... for the first time in my life I had to actually be interesting and funny.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the commercial plug, and thanks for being a good sport with my goofy questions. Interesting answers - some very deep, some unexpected (what?! Golden Grahams on silly mornings??!). I had figured out the hating-puppies thing, and was just playing along. The hole-in-the-leg thing, however, totally surprised me: I had assumed it was a put-on from the start. I can't totally accept that you aren't a people person; in my experience, people who really aren't people people aren't aware of it. Want to trade jobs? In real life, I'm a mathematician (or was, until I went into the defense industry). Extra credit for any reader who can source the towel/gin and tonic reference. A gold star for anyone who can name the journalist who once caused a stir by asking "Have you ever killed anyone?" during a prime time TV interview.


Anonymous said...

The towel+g&t is from Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Universe. Hey, that Lizzie "really knows where her towel is," means she's like totally together. No idea who asked have you ever killed anyone, but since your in the defense industry, have *you* killed anyone? Phaser beats light saber, Spiderman-Batman is a draw, Anand to beat Kramnik (I hope), and Ginger hotter than MaryAnn.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Dr. Ray Cheng who taught at U. of Louisville?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

I am the Dr. Cheng who taught at U of L. Sorry, all grades are final.


Anonymous said...

Ray, your book practical chess endings is the greatest endgame book i have read! You are a great chess author, the best ive seen! Keep up the good work!

p.s.(a suggestion, if you write another book, mabye you could mention the uscl?)

Anonymous said...

Dear Vishank,

Thanks so much for your kindness. Truly, I'm overwhelmed by the unexpected success of my book. I've already bought a shiny new toupee for my appearance on Oprah, and my agent is shopping the screenplay version of PCE to various studios. We're going to get Matt Damon to portray the younger me. There will be chase scenes, laser blasts, and of course, gratuitous T&A.

But seriously, I didn't write "Practical Chess Endings." You must be thinking of someone else.


Anonymous said...

Regarding shaving one's head. Almost always a good thing. I did it while at university 'cause of too much dandruff (stress?). At first, I didn't recognize myself. Later, it was fun to watch how people who knew me reacted to my shaved head. (The wife reacted badly. Later, she became the "ex" wife. Lesson: You can tell if your marriage will be a success based upon how your spouse reacts to your shaved head...maybe.)

Anyhow, this is a good blog. Keep it up. Congrats on your work as a chess teacher (the best and purest art/sport/science in the whole wide world).