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Self reflection

Queen takes Crown – Interview with Diana Mirza

First published in Cinders issue four

Sixteen year old Diana Mirza recently won the World Schools Under-17 Chess Championship.She is Ireland’s first ever world chess champion and has filled Cinders in on openings, tactics, non stop practice, and how it’s never too late to get into chess.

When did you start playing chess? 

I started playing when I was five years old, my Dad runs chess classes after school so I used to be around it all of the time. I began playing in competitions when I was nine when I started to improve. As I got better, the more I liked doing it. I suppose it’s like anything, when you discover you’re good at it then you’ll want to stay doing it.

Do you play with a club? 

I do, I play for Adare in the Munster League. There is also a UK team who invite me to play with them sometimes but I can only play with them occasionally because of the expenses of travelling to London.

How much practice do you have to do to get to your level? 

It is a lot of work. I have to practice a little every day, and it’s not just moving pieces around the board! There’s a huge amount of theory that you have to learn, like you have to learn your openings (opening moves in chess have to be learned, there are thousands of different ones that can be used and are memorized by players). Although I don’t learn as much of the theory as I should- I can be a bit lazy about it! That’s the difficult thing about chess, you have to be self disciplined. I have a coach who does skype lessons with me, but he’s a bit more of a mentor, it’s up to me to keep going, to keep practising.

Do you use books to study and learn?

There are lots of books and I have used some of them but mostly now everything is computerised. I do practice games online. When it comes to preparing for specific opponents you can look up their game play. There’s a huge database in chess. Each player in a tournament has their game moves recorded. So with that you can look up their game play, the openings they like to use and get a sense of their style. It can be really helpful. It goes into helping you prepare for your opponent, it’s a great asset to have. Although sometimes it can work against you if you’re playing someone who hasn’t played many tournament matches. It means that they have less recorded matches and it isn’t as easy to gauge their style. They can catch you by surprise. During the tournament there was a Sri Lankan girl I was drawn against who hadn’t many tournament ranked matches – so there wasn’t a lot of information I was able to take from her match play. But she had lots of information on the way I played! So I had to think about how to get around that. So I memorized a new opening so I might throw her off – and it worked!

There’s a lot of preparation that goes in even when you’re not on the table so if you can force someone into being thrown off by a new opening, something they weren’t expecting then you have an advantage. You just play the board you have.

How far ahead can you memorise in a game of chess? 

Really the only thing you can have memorised before you go into a match is your openings and they’re 10 – at most 15 moves in length. You memorise openings and then you memorize responses to openings, so you have to figure out how to evade your opponent’s opening as well. If you don’t recognise an opening, if you’re not prepared for it then that can cost you. A game can be won because of preparation. That happened to me against the Sri Lankan girl I mentioned earlier. Because she didn’t recognise the opening it led to her losing the match. I won that one in 18 moves – an hour and a half – I know that sounds like a fair bit but trust me, in chess it’s nothing!

How did you feel headed into that last round of the competition, of the league? 

Well, in the last round I was just half a point ahead of the other players, so I was nervous. There were also other players playing their final  rounds all around me. I knew that if I won my round, I had the title. There were two players playing next to me though, Kazakhstan vs Azerbaijan, depending on which of them won, I would have to win or draw my match. As it turned out, all I needed was the draw. It’s not that I didn’t want to win, but sometimes if you try to force a win, you can get caught and end up losing. That happened to me in a round against a Russian girl , I was drawing with her but I was really determined to win, I tried to force it and ended up losing, so I didn’t want to do that in the final round.

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That must be massive pressure? 

It can feel like a huge amount of pressure when you’re playing in a tournament like that. It can feel like a lot of pressure afterwards too, you keep thinking about the moves you should have made and the mistakes that you could have changed. The rounds are also very long. Games can last up to five hours. I tend to have very long matches as well. My games against Moldova and Sri Lanka I was the last person to finish. You have to keep your concentration for a long time as well.

How do you train for that kind of pressure? 

Chess players exercise a lot, it’s important to keep up with it because you need stamina to keep concentrating for that long. I play basketball and some other sports. When I’m playing chess stamina is key, in a single turn you have to plan what they can do, what I can do back, analyse positions, counter attacks. It’s a lot to think about – it’s why chess is so slow! Sometimes that can be what trips up a player in a game – they get into time trouble – that can lead you to miscalculate a variation. It can also be a way to put off your opponent – if you move fast – then they have to move fast. That’s happened to me before, I’ve gotten into time trouble with opposing players and once you’re in trouble, it can lead you to make mistakes. Because of that it’s really important to have the right mindset.

For our readers, who are interested, do you think it’s ever too late to get into chess? 

No, you’re never too old to get into chess! That’s the great thing about it, you’re never too old to start. It’s not like with other sports where age is a factor, chess is something you can begin at any age. I think the current world champion only started when he was 18! And he went on to become world champion! My Dad just played in an all ages tournament. If tournaments is something that you’re interested in, then there are tournaments for every different level. The tournament that I won was the School Championship Under 17 Girls.

What are some of the challenges for you as a chess player? 

Well, because of a lack of funding for chess in Ireland I often have to pick and choose the tournaments that I attend – they’re almost all outside of Ireland, so travel is required. It has gotten better in recent years but there is still a lack of funding for the Irish Chess Federation. This can cause there to be a lot of wasted talent as people give up playing because they can’t make it to tournaments. It would be great if there was more support. For example in Romania, where the world championships were held, chess is huge. The top three national champions each year get funding from the federation to go to chess camps. There’s a lot of emphasis in Romania on chess because they want to produce good players. One of my best friends from chess is Romanian so I see the difference between how it is treated there and in Ireland.

Do you have a favourite chess player? 

I used to say Bobby Fischer, even though he is dead now, he was a genius, an amazing player, just watching him play is fantastic. I don’t really have a current favourite.

Does chess help you much with school?

It does and it doesn’t, it’s helpful for maths for quick calculation but it doesn’t give me a hack for a specific class. I did have a teacher who mentioned that it would be very helpful if I went into politics! Because you have to think tactically, a few moves ahead!

What are the best things you’ve gotten out of playing chess? 

Oh, there’s so many things! I love the travelling, the opportunity to go to so many different places around the world, I’ve also made so many friends through chess.  I love the game too, there’s so much that can happen in one game. There’s so much that can go on, you need imagination and so many tactics! There’s also chess puzzles that I just get lost in, some variations of the game that are so exciting. Myself and my friends play online games and we joke about variations and puzzles all of the time. Most of my best friends are from chess. It’s just great.

Do you have a favourite opening? 

I do actually, the French Opening with the King’s Indian attack is my favourite. It’s not the best opening but I play it well and I just know what it will do. I’m not really a theory player, I like plans and ideas, it makes you a bit more adaptable. But theory is very important, it’s always better to know it – I can just be lazy sometimes! I think it’s important to learn both really.

Do you think there will be many more people interested in playing chess in Ireland after your win?

None of my Irish friends are chess players but my dad runs a chess school and I train two kids myself. I really want there to be more chess out there in the world! I think it’s underdeveloped here in Ireland and I would love it to be more popular!

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Feminism Forwards – An interview with Rosita Sweetman

First published in Cinders issue three

We had the pleasure of speaking with author, writer and feminist Rosita Sweetman. Author of Father’s Come First – which we reviewed in issue two of Cinders – Rosita gave us her impression of feminism today, how it has changed since Ireland of the 70s.

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What with the strides that the feminist movement has taken in recent years for privileged women of the developed world, it can be easy to forget how much more change is needed – but also how recently in Ireland that women’s power was os much less and so reliant on the men in their lives. But that is the world that Rosita Sweetman’s Father’s Come First is set in. Rosita wrote the small but powerful novel when she was living in East Africa and thinking of home.

The book is the coming of age story of Lizzie while she tries to figure out how to fit in, how best to be a woman and live up to the expectations that are put on her by her family, her teachers and society. It’s a very different world from the one we have now. Rosita see’s some changes as extremely positive, “Isn’t it brilliant that more young people are more willing to say that they are feminists,” she said. She saw this through the reaction from people after the book was rereleased.

“It was one of the things that  has been  a really nice surprise after Lilliput republished it, was that young people really got it. I thought it was going to seem really weird to young people but it did seem to have some relevance for them so that was really interesting.”

Rosita pointed out that feminist energy is returning among young people,  young women care about being seen as feminist in a way they haven’t since the 60s and 70s. “I felt really strongly that the feminist energy which has been dormant is really coming up again. More strongly even than before  because there are so many more young educated women dying to have a voice. I feel it’s a really optimistic time to be a woman. We know so much more.”

“I felt really strongly that the feminist energy which has been dormant is really coming up again.

I asked her does she still think that, given the outcome of the US election? “Even with Trump  look at the Women’s March – it was fantastic. The Trump win and everything is pretty horrendous and the big business that he’s pushing around him but what’s amazing is seeing how many passionately real feminists there are in America, people who really care about values for a good long time – there’s Trump trashing around but there are hundreds of thousands of people saying ‘not in our name’ that’s up lifting at the same time.”

“I look at my daughter Chupi now and I think wow- a daughter  of the revolution! She’s got her own business, is thriving, you know there was never any question for her that she would make her own way,” she continued.

It can be very easy to forget just how recent it is that attitude for women. While reading the book I really identified with Lizzie and  with her perspective as a young women  but the struggles that she was going through that were a product of the time – her whole reliance on men that felt like something I hadn’t experienced. Rosita agreed, “It was just the reality, the guys had all of the money it was a totally skewed equality and relations. The women movement’s has certainly opened up relations but there’s still a long way to go.”

It was just the reality, the guys had all of the money it was a totally skewed equality and relations.

And while double standards still exist for many women, particularly those who are in less privileged positions, Rosita smells the winds of change.

“Double standards will exist until the end of time! I think it’s loads better, so much of the hypocrisy has gone , there are pebblestones in it but we are growing up as a nation slowly. Look at the marriage equality referendum, I think the eighth amendment is going to be repealed, it’s on its way it’s not going to go back now.”

She sees that as coming from an improvement in attitudes from young people today.

“I look at the openness and clarity of your generation and my children’s generation and it’s just so different. Positively so. It’s centuries ahead of most people in power. I suppose every generation is a new generation and a new reality.”

This is interesting as I pointed out to Rosita that most young women, myself included, who identify themselves as feminists now, wouldn’t have always done so – everyone had their own journey to becoming one. It took time and learning for our attitudes to become inclusive.

“The book I’m working on at the moment for Lilliput is called ‘Feminism Backwards’ and its about exactly that, the journey towards becoming a feminist. It’s a development of consciousness. It’s sort of like becoming politically aware.”

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That balance is central to Rosita’s beliefs, the balance between these two energies, between any two energies. “I think that it’s the core of the world it’s yin-yang, it’s the balancing opposing energies that are equal, male-female, whatever you call them, that is where the balance is. It’s absolutely necessary for both powers to be equal to have the right things to happen. One of the things with the alt-right I feel is it’s just so male. All of these guys just look so desperately male – it;s not the way that we’re  meant to live – we’re meant to live mixed up! All ages, all sexes, all groups, we’re not meant to hive off of a particular energy, then it just goes mad!”

I think that it’s the core of the world it’s yin-yang, it’s the balancing opposing energies that are equal, male-female, whatever you call them, that is where the balance is.

The way forward she believes is acknowledging that feminism and female energy go hand in hand. We can’t help but completely agree with her. “I think feminism it’s right there at the core of our own female energy, and moving forward it’s about taking cognisance of that fact.”

Photos of the Women’s March by Roya Ann Miller and Jerry Kiesewatter.

16 things I wish to tell my 16 year old self

First published in issue one of Cinders magazine

I wrote this piece on my 26th birthday, thinking about all of the things I would tell my 16 year old self if I could.

I then performed the piece at the Cinders magazine official launch on December 16, 2016.

You can view my performance here, kindly filmed by McDonnellHouse Productions.

Continue reading “16 things I wish to tell my 16 year old self”

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