November 14, 2010

Behind every great man, there is even a greater woman!

The wives of Kmoch, Flohr and Alekhine
I continue today to write down the thoughts that crossed my head while reading the "Chessplayer's Widow"(see the post from 6th November). The story was in short, about the difficult life a woman has to face when her partner is a chess player. Besides him being distracted almost all the time by his job: playing chess, chessplayers often travel for tournaments and thus, leaving their wives behind. Home alone, maybe with children to raise, looking always after entire house, many of them working as well...who said that a Wife's life is an easy task?! And some might argue that being married with a chess player, definitely doesn't help much. These have been said, I can quote now that: "Behind every great man, there is even a greater woman!" or, we can apply it to our case: 'behind every strong Grandmaster, there is a wise and patient woman'. Of course, in both cases, love must be involved:)
The origins of today's title are not completely narrowed down. It is known that it has been adopted as a feminist slogan. The origins are uncertain, but it's certainly much older than the Women's Movement of the 1960s/70s, which spawned other such slogans. For example, "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle".
The use of the phrase received a boost in 1985 with the release of The Eurythmics' song - Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves:
Now, there was a time,
when they used to say,
that behind ev'ry great man,
there had to be a great woman.
But oh, in these times of change,
you know that it's no longer true.
So we're comin' out of the kitchen,
'cause there's something we forgot to say to you.
We say, Sisters are doin' it for themselves.
It's long been said that behind every successful man is a strong woman, although it is not a pre-requisite for career success, the world’s most successful men have often had a woman behind them driving them to succeed through love and ambition.

I also discovered a great article on Dana Mackenzie's chess blog:
What do Wilhelm Steinitz, Emmanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, and Vishwanathan Anand all have in common?
The obvious answer is that they were all world chess champions. The not-so-obvious answer is that they were all married at some point in their lives! That’s right, not a single recognized "classical" world champion has been a lifelong bachelor.

Obviously the one who came closest was Fischer; he got married in 2004, although some might say it was a marriage of convenience.

A few champions married more than once; Alekhine was married four times, Kasparov is up to three times so far. Some of them married only after becoming world champion: Lasker, Capablanca, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, and Kramnik. But the others all married before becoming champion, which goes to show that you can balance marriage and life at the top of the chess world.
A more difficult question is whether getting married actually helped any of these champions. 
Grandmasters wives: Sofia and Aruna,
patiently waiting for their husbands.
Arguably, another player who has been helped by matrimony is our current world champion, Vishy Anand. I found some articles online that describe his wife, Aruna, as being extremely supportive of his career, and she in fact handles a lot of the negotiating over terms for matches — thereby freeing him to concentrate on his chess.
Aruna and Anand got married in 1996. Of course, if you have a more cynical outlook, you can say that he was already number 2 in the world by then, and so the main thing he needed was for Kasparov to get out of the way. But that would, I think, not give enough credit to the steadying, calming, and grounding effect that a happy marriage can have on you.

So, where lies the truth?! I heard many times people saying:"Oh, he lost, but it is clear why: he just cannot play when his wife/girlfriend is around!". But I have also heard:"What a beautiful game today! It's absolutely obvious that his girlfriend/wife inspired him!". Sometimes I hear them both referring the same person!

We, chess players, like scientific people, always tend and want to think in logic terms. To be able to say: this has caused that, cause and effect. But in this case, to generalize that if you want to become a World Champion, you should get married, is of course, exagerated. 

I would actually love that the above state to be always true. I am a woman, I am married, I am even married to a Grandmaster! Which means I would like to take credit for my husband's results, always good for my ego:) But again, there are so many different other factors involved, life is so simple and yet, so complicated, that we cannot say for sure: women do help men to have better chess results. It's nearly impossible to anihilate all the other influences like: hours of work, talent, chess understanding, character, personality, luck and so on.

And back to the start of this article...are really the chessplayers' wives lonely creatures that we should feel sorry for?!
Like anywhere else, in life, other domains, there are cases and cases, people are different, otherwise it would be extremely boring. 

So I ask you: don't you think that a woman also loves the attention she gets through her husband? That she loves having an intelligent, powerfull man next to her (intelligence definitely leads to power)? That this chess life, full with loses and grumpy faces, is also full with excitement, travels and rewards?

One thing is clear: we need researches, not assumptions. If only human mind would be a bit more simple...


  1. Interesting piece, considering the highly 'logic-driven' chess-world, which is contrary to the total irrational world of love!

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