Nazi Paikidze (22, Irkutsk, Russia) has faced many challenges on her way to the top, but the current World Chess Champion is fighting the biggest battle of her career right now: she’s standing up for women rights. The Word Chess Federation recently announced that the World Women Chess Championship 2017 will take place in Tehran (Iran), which would force all women to wear the mandatory hijab (a veil traditionally worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family, which usually covers the head and chest).
The Islamic Republic of Iran forces women, even non-muslims, to follow a strict dress-code so it’s outtrageous that an all female competition will be celebrated in such place. Nazi refuses to bow down to discrimination and sexism and has decided to boycott FIDE’s decision; she’s ready to miss miss the most important championship of her life if that’s what it takes.
Sign the petition “Stop Women’s Oppression at the World Chess Championship by Challenging FIDE’s Decision” here.
I started playing chess at the very early age of 5. By the time I turned 9, I was already competing at international championships and had the direction of great coaching. I think this early start and strong fundamental background gave me a big advantage.
General success comes as the result of a summation of smaller successes. Like other things in life, when you haven’t yet achieved your next goal, it is all you can think about. But, once you have achieved it, the feeling is fleeting and you are already thinking of next way to achieve greater success.
You’ve mentioned how in Georgia every family owns one chess set and knows how to play; would you encourage other countries to take up this tradition?
Chess is a traditional game in Georgian culture and that helped to instill the love of the game within me. It would be truly amazing if chess was as important a tradition in other countries too. I believe that the game can teach us many valuable ideas that are useful in life – patience, perseverance, and thinking ahead to name a few.
As I said before, chess is a traditional game loved and respected by many in Georgia. After I learned how to play, I simply could not stop. At that point in my life, any free time I had was spent playing chess (both with an opponent and by myself). I found the game fascinating and I still do; it amazes me that you can study chess all your life and still never finish learning.
Is part of your strategy to change your playing style or do you stick by it?
I like change. I believe that in trying new strategies, a player can look at things from a different perspective and increase their knowledge of chess in general. Additionally, It also makes it much tougher for opponents to prepare against you, if you play different styles of chess. That’s why I like to mix it up.
I have had many tough tournaments. Truthfully, I cannot think of any easy tournaments, but I imagine that only tougher ones will follow.
Competing: I love it and hate it. I love the thrill of competition and I feel confident playing in new competitions from my past successes. However, the amount of stress endured during the games, can make make it easy to dislike competitions. In addition to the ‘results-oriented’ nature of tournaments, there is the need for complete concentration for hours at a time. If the smallest mistake is made, the entire result of the game or tournament can be changed. I firmly believe that health should be a top priority and amount of stress that chess players feel is definitely not ideal.
Do you listen to music while you practice? What’s on your playlist?
I can’t listen to music while I practice. I need full, 100% concentration and I find music distracting. I try to train in a very quiet, cozy setting.
I train very hard during the weeks preceding a championship and then I take a break for last few days, right before the competition, to relax. I read a book, or take a short vacation. I like playing with a clear and peaceful state of mind.
Is there any opening that you never use?
There are many openings I have never played in competition. I am always working to expand my opening repertoire, but I need to learn and understand an opening before using it in a competitive setting. I don’t think there is an opening that I would never play.
By nature of the rules, the queen is the most versatile chess piece. But my personal favorite are pawns.
Which one has been your most bitter defeat and how did you overcome it?
During the final round of the Russian Women’s Championship in 2010, I lost against Vera Nebolsina. Up to that point, I had played the tournament fantastically and defeated 4 olympic champions. I needed a win against the lowest seed (by rating) to secure first place, or a draw to share second. At the time, I was 16 and didn’t handle the stress of the situation well. I lost with the white pieces in 25 moves and ended up on the 4th place. I was so devastated that I took a break from chess for three months. I overcame the loss by analyzing my mistakes and ultimately learning from them.
Would you like to play against Deep Blue?
In general, I don’t like playing against computers, especially today when they have become much stronger than any human player. I think it is unnatural to compete with a computer, although in some ways they are perfect for training.
Do you believe chess championships shall mix genders, since it’s a matter of intellect rather than physical strength?
Absolutely, and it is mixed in the chess world. There is no “men’s” championship; it is a world championship and anyone who qualifies can play, male or female. The same goes for any open tournament, both men and women compete together. The existence of separate “women only” tournaments is simply to promote chess for girls, as the ratio of male-to-female players is about 30 to 1.
You’re recently started a petition against the hijab imposition in the next World Chess Championship in Tehran. It’s actually incredible that FIDE believed that they could get away with it, without anyone complaining and standing up for their freedom. Did it come as a surprise to you that the FIDE chose this city to hold a women championship?
Initially, FIDE’s decision came as a complete shock to me. However, the bigger surprise came afterward, when no other players protested the decision.
Is there a big chess tradition in Iran or are FIDE’s reasons merely money oriented?
Women’s chess in Iran seems to be growing and their national team is quite strong. It should be noted that at the time of FIDE’s decision, there were no other bids made for the Women’s World Championship – I think this factored into the decision. Chess and especially women’s chess has always had to work hard for sponsors and this time was no different.
I believe that postponing the championship was a better choice, given that other option was hosting it in a country where women are severely discriminated and treated as second class citizens. My objective in taking this stance is to protect the players and integrity of the event. Outside pressures should not compromise these principles under and circumstances.
Do you think your move and decision could help spark the debate on women rights in Iran?
It didn’t take me long to make my decision; it was obvious to me that it was the right thing to do. I did not think this situation would attract so much attention, but now that it has, I believe it has already started debates on women’s rights in Iran. I am happy if I have helped in some way.
What message would you like to give to FIDE and our readers?
I would like to ask FIDE: to always put the needs of their players first and foremost. After all, FIDE’s motto says: “Genus una sumus” (we are one people).I believe that this idea is ingrained in the spirit of chess and the notion of international tournaments.I would like to ask the readers: to act in accordance with their own moral compass and principles, even against adversity.
My biggest piece of advice to upcoming players is to simply enjoy the game. Nothing can replace the experiences and friends that come along with a life of chess; remember to love and appreciate every part of it along the way. Learning and mastering the game is also a beautiful an endless endeavor. Even when things get tough, each loss or mistake is an opportunity to improve and
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