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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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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”

Book Review Corner: The Space Between by Meg Grehan

First published in Cinders volume issue three

Spoken word novels are a new trend in YA literature. We saw it with last year’s highly successful One by Sarah Crossan and Meg Grehan’s The Space Between uses the same format. And it uses it so very well. 33972290

Once you are a few pages into The Space Between it’s difficult to imagine the book being written in anything but verse – it’s the absolutely perfect format to tell Beth’s story.

The Space Between is a beautiful examination of how mental health disorders can pin someone inside their own mind and then how through small but significant battles they can work their way out and live with them.

Beth is not okay. She has made a decision to remain within her house for a year. She is falling in on herself and only going further down when she meets Mouse. Mouse is friendly and kind and fluffy and warm.

Continue reading “Book Review Corner: The Space Between by Meg Grehan”

Favourite fictional feminists: part two

Jane Villeneuva

Jane is the protagonist of the CW’s fantastic Jane the Virgin, a single mother, who is incredibly devoted to her family. The series kicks off with her being ‘accidentally, artificially inseminated’ leading to her unexpected pregnancy. Jane is a wonderful character to watch, optimistic and brave but grounded – she never becomes annoying. Jane is of course supported by a host of strong, brilliant women from her headstrong mother Xiomara, to her level=headed, forthright grandmother Alba. Jane’s decision to remain a virgin at the beginning of the series is unconventional, but she consistently uses her agency to make the decision for herself. She never judges other characters for their sex lives and makes her own decisions about her own. Jane faces multiple obstacles in her life but remains the strong, kind, forthright character we all love.

Continue reading “Favourite fictional feminists: part two”

Why Gilmore Girls is a modern adaptation of Little Women

First published in Cinders magazine issue two.

Little Women is the first ‘grown up’ movie I can ever remember watching and it truly stuck with me. More than 15 years later and it can still make me cry. But that first viewing was like opening a door to a world I never knew existed.

I couldn’t remember ever watching a story that had so many female characters, all of whom had distinct personalities that complemented one another and challenged one another. It is a story filled with women who know what they want in life, who have passion and tempers and fights, mostly with each other.

Continue reading “Why Gilmore Girls is a modern adaptation of Little Women”

Drawn that Way – Our favourite comic heroines

First published in issue one of Cinders Magazine

We in Cinders love a good comic. Here are some of the best comic books and graphic novels with kick-ass, difficult, fabulous, brave female characters. 

Ms Marvel

The petite Ms Marvel may look small – but don’t say that to her face – she might just ‘embiggen’ herself to settle a score with you! Marvel’s newest female superhero, Kamala Khan is also its first Muslim superhero which was why she made headlines when the first issues hit the shelves last year. That isn’t why she’s stuck around though. The tough, super-human-obsessed fangirl is both badass and endearing with fantastic storylines. Her defence of New Jersey is a great contrast to most superhero’s dedication to New York and gives Ms Marvel her own territory. With a varied cast of friends and family Ms Marvel is a fully realised world that gives a unique perspective on the superhero lifestyle. She has all of the problems of a teenage girl in a conservative household who also has to get out and save the world a few times a week. The artwork in each issue is unique and beautifully realised, particularly the work of Adrian Alphona, who uses a great watercolour style to bring Kamala’s world to life. Every issue is written by G. (Gwendolyn) Willow Wilson whose conversational style and excitement is palpable on every page and carries the story forward.

Continue reading “Drawn that Way – Our favourite comic heroines”

Worlds Collide: When Rainbow met Leigh

This article was first published in issue one of Cinders magazine.

Two fantastic YA worlds collided when authors Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo came together for a fantastic author event in Dublin in October. Méabh McDonnell was delighted to be in the audience for the event, where she was able to bring us the low down on everything that the two authors had to say about writing, diversity and how to write the perfect kiss.

Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo are two of the biggest names in YA literature right now. If you haven’t heard of them, you need to race out to your nearest library and demand everything they’ve ever written. You won’t be sorry.

I was lucky enough to attend their recent World’s Collide event in Dublin and literally fangirl all over both of them!

The event was originally born out of NY Times bestselling author, Leigh Bardugo’s launch tour for her new novel Crooked Kingdom, the hotly anticipated sequel to Six of Crows, where she – as Dave O’Callaghan, chief children’s buyer for Easons, Dublin put it – wanted to bring a friend.

And what a friend she brought – Rainbow Rowell, author of the heart-soaring (and heart breaking) Eleanor and Park and the wonderful Fangirl to name but a few of her fantastic novels. The two friends came together in a tour that went from London to Dublin, to Edinburgh to Manchester to read, meet and discuss each of their weird and wonderful approaches to writing, the story behind Rainbow’s name, how to write the best love scenes and overcoming writers block. The evening began with the two ladies swanning onto the stage,  explaining how they met, and how Leigh wasn’t expecting to like Rainbow as much as she did.

Continue reading “Worlds Collide: When Rainbow met Leigh”

Fire up those friendships

First published as ‘Happy Galentines Day Ladies’ in issue two of Cinders Magazine.

Cinders editor, Méabh McDonnell, explains her take on ‘Galentine’s day’ and the importance of celebrating female friendships and being seen as a woman in today’s society. 

“February 14th, Valentines day is about romance, but February 13th, Galentine’s Day, is about celebrating lady friends.” Those were the words of the great Leslie Knope, America’s most optimistic government worker and protagonist of the late, great, Parks and Recreation. I think that Galentine’s Day is a day to take note of the positive female relationships in your life and let those women know just how much they mean to you.

I truly believe that Galentine’s Day is something that we need.

We need a day to celebrate the other women in our lives, whether they are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our best friends, our cousins or our nieces; because we all have some positive female relationships in our lives and it feels so good to celebrate those.

How many of us have said, or thought, the words ‘I don’t really get along with other girls.’ or ‘I’m not really a girls-girl’ or the queen-bee of them all: ‘I’m not like other girls’. I’m willing to bet most of us have. I know I have. And it begs only one response: ‘What’s wrong with “other girls”?’

Continue reading “Fire up those friendships”

Woohoo! Issue three out today!

Welcome To Cinders Issue Three! We hope you enjoy our issue inspired by that addiction of all Ravenclaws at heart – learning and reading. We also delve into Beauty and the Beast, the best studying tips, the psychological explanation of schizophrenia and much, much more!

You’ll be queuing up for new books all month long!

Click here to download the third issue of Cinders Magazine: Bookworms for free!

Or you can read it here online thanks to issuu.com: //e.issuu.com/embed.html#27012103/47379876

Happy reading!

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