An interview by Aliki Spyropoulou
September 2002 Halkidiki - Greece

 

You are at the top of the world rankings. How is it for a woman chess player to participate at the top?
Well, I think people have already got used to me. The fact that I am a woman is not playing such an important role any more. I have been playing chess more than 20 years, I have made a lot of good results and my colleagues are accepting me. Of course it is very good to be at the top. Here also at Halkidiki, I played very well, I made good results. It is a nice feeling to win.

Do you have any difficulties to face?
Not because I am a woman. My colleagues accept me now. Years ago, when I was still a young girl, I had more problems. It was much more difficult at that time, because it was not normal for a girl or a woman to play at such a high level. They did not really respect me, they were angry when they lost and it took many years until they accepted me as a strong grandmaster.

How has occupation with chess contributed to your life?
Of course it gave me a lot, chess made me who I am. Because I started playing when I was five years old and I was traveling a lot, I met all kinds of different people, I know a lot of different cultures and that is why I became the person I am. This is basically my life style, that’s why I am open. That’s what it gave me, it made me an independent person.

What are the positive and negative aspects of this occupation?
Among the positive are that I am traveling a lot, I go around the world, I do not have a boss. I am the boss of myself, I do not have to wake up early to go to work. Of course, to compete successfully is a great feeling. The difficult thing is that you do not have a family, you are always on the road traveling, like a circus -you are never at home. Also, although I am traveling a lot, I do not see too much. For example, I came here for seven days and seven days I was playing chess. I did not have time to go to the beach even once. These are negative aspects and most of all that it is not a stable job. It is not certain that I will be able to make a living next year or in two years. It is always unstable, you always have to perform, to play well, to get invitations.

 


... …women are  different than men, but they are not worse!
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Do you think that as a woman you are different from men chess players?
Generally I believe that women are capable to achieve the same results as men. Probably women are different than men but they are not worse!

What are the reasons in your opinion that women’s chess is not at the same level with men’s?
First of all, in the total number of chessplayers only five percent are women, so obviously there are fewer possibilities for them. Another problem is that very few women take chess seriously as a profession and that’s why they don't become stronger. There is also the traditional belief that women play at a lower level and as a result they keep their goals at a much lower level. For example, the women’s champion today is number 150 in the world. So, women set their goals to reach some level and when maybe they reach that they do not aim for greater goals, to become absolutely best, to spend many hours working on it. They have different terms and they set their goals at a lower level. Another problem is the traditional opinion that chess is a men's sport and there are very few women who compete. Also to live this lifestyle is hard for a girl or for a woman, to travel all the time alone when you are young or when you are older. It is not nice, it is a lifestyle more suited to a man.

In what ways is it possible to reduce these differences?
Generally, I think that only time can solve this problem. I know more and more women who are going to play chess, so I believe that it is a matter of time.

 

... It was a great feeling to beat Kasparov…!
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What should be done at national and international level in order to expand the participation of women in chess?
It is always a problem that the public believes chess is a men's sport, so parents do not encourage girls to play chess and choose it as a profession. For boys it is normal to go to tournaments and play chess, for girls it is somehow considered strange or more difficult. Basically, if the parents' mind does not change, there are not going to be more girls who will continue to play chess. There are a lot of girls playing chess until a certain age, sometimes at least the same number as young boys, but later on somehow they turn to different areas.
As women are improving and becoming as good as men, it is not necessary to keep women’s chess separate, because "women’s" chess is a lower level and of course when you play with stronger opposition you improve faster and better than when you play against low category persons. One of the basic ideas therefore is not to separate women’s from men’s competitions. But also it is very difficult to encourage people who do not wish to be encouraged, who do not wish to compete. Because I know a lot of women who say that it is impossible to play so well, it is better to play in women’s tournaments…etc. They accept somehow that they are playing worse. There are a lot of factors that create this situation, the behavior of women themselves, the parents, the federations etc.

Recently you beat Kasparov in the rapid match "Russia against Rest Of The World". How did you feel about that?
Of course, I felt great! They were important games and it was a great feeling to beat him. But it was rapid games, so it is not exactly the feeling I would have if we were playing in a classical game. Still, it was a great feeling.

What was the happiest moment in your chess career?
It is very difficult to say… I have had a lot of nice moments in my career. Like the first time I played in the Hungarian National Team in 1988, where I won the gold medal in the Women’s Olympiad when only 12 years old… I made the best score in that Olympiad, 12½ out of 13 games. I beat B.Spassky in 1993 in a match 5½-4½, I beat A.Karpov 5-3 in a rapid match, I beat G.Kasparov now… I have a lot of great moments for myself.

Would you like to send a message to women?
Well, if you want to play chess take it seriously!