How did it come to be that a game played mostly by men for nearly two thousand years evolve to have a woman as its most powerful piece? Without knowing if I’d ever get an answer, it was this question that sparked this episode. It got me thinking about the evolution of the game, and if the stereotypes we hold today about chess and chess players have any validity at all. I wanted to get a behind the scenes look into the world of the most popular game of all time and to see if what Simon Williams once said is true, that
“The beauty of chess is it can be whatever you want it to be. It transcends language, age, race, religion, politics, gender, and socioeconomic background. Whatever your circumstances, anyone can enjoy a good fight to the death over the chess board.”
Given that such transcendence is exactly what we at The Nasiona are about, I thought this would be a good way to start our podcast venture. In order to better understand the game and the world of chess, I sought out help from one of the best chess minds I know, John Donaldson.
Like many chess players from his generation, John Donaldson became fascinated with the game while following the Fischer- Spassky World Championship match played in the summer of 1972.
Thereafter he began to take chess seriously and is now an International Master, only one norm away from the Grandmaster title.
During the past 35 years, Donaldson has been a chess professional working as a writer, journalist, coach, and historian of the game as well as playing. He has served as the US team captain twenty-one times, which included first-place finishes in the 1993 World Team Championship and the 2016 Chess Olympiad.
He is also the author of over 30 books on all aspects of chess with an emphasis on the history of the game and individual players. Among his best-known works are biographies on Akiva Rubinstein and Bobby Fischer.
Donaldson served as Director of the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club of San Francisco, the nation’s oldest, for twenty years. He now works as a consultant for the World Chess Hall of Fame and is the Secretary for the Samford Fellowship, which is awarded annually to the top chess prospect in the United States.
We sat down in mid-December of 2018 at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Room in San Francisco a few weeks after he had retired as Director. He spoke of his favorite memories and, as Bobby Fischer’s biographer, Donaldson gave me several interesting anecdotes about Fischer I had never heard of. He also helped me answer the following questions: Is chess a sport, art, or a science? What is the role of computers in the game? How much do privilege and belief play into improvement? How has who plays chess today changed over the decades?
Take a listen.
The Nasiona Podcast shares stories that explore the spectrum of human experience and glimpse into foreign worlds. We focus on stories based on facts, truth-seeking, human concerns, real events, and real people, with a personal touch. From liminal lives to the marginalized, and everything in between, we believe that the subjective can offer its own reality and reveal truths some facts can’t discover. Hosted, edited, and produced by Julián Esteban Torres López.
Our theme song is “Into the West,” courtesy of Tan Vampires.
You can also find our podcast episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.
Julián Esteban Torres López is a Colombian-born journalist, researcher, writer, and editor. Before founding The Nasiona, he ran several cultural and arts organizations, edited journals and books, was a social justice and public history researcher, wrote a column for Colombia Reports, taught university courses, and managed a history museum. He’s a Pushcart Prize nominee and 1st place winner of the Rudy Dusek Essay Prize in Philosophy of Art. He has authored several books, including Marx’s Humanism and Its Limits, which was BookAuthority’s Best New Socialism Book of 2018, and Reporting on Colombia: Essays on Colombia’s History, Culture, Peoples, and Armed Conflict (forthcoming, 2019).
Go here to inquire about his editing services.
Featured image: Photograph by Randy Fath on Unsplash.