Letter to San Francisco Chronicle

Sam Sloan
2550 Webster Street
San Francisco CA 94115
Tel: (415) 673-0762
FAX: (415) 929-7500

March 9, 1995

To the Editor San Francisco Chronicle

Dear Editor,

I am deeply dismayed and discouraged by the negative journalism displayed in the article appearing in your February 22, 1995 edition, page A17, entitled "Too Much Light at Chess Tourney" by Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Reporter.

The recently concluded Pan-Pacific International Chess Tournament was the strongest and most prestigious international chess tournament ever held in the United States, with the exceptions of New York 1924 and Los Angeles 1966. There were many remarkable and newsworthy things about this tournament, none of which were mentioned by your staff reporter. Indeed, the Sing Tao Daily News (the local Chinese language newspaper) did a much more thorough job of reporting on this chess event.

Every word of your reporter's article was of a negative nature and tended to denigrate chess and chess players. To make matters worse, this one article was the only significant mention of this chess event in your newspaper during the entire two weeks of play, with the exception of a brief report of the final results. Instead of focusing on the good features of this event, your reporter emphasized the negative bickering which goes on at every sporting competition.

Much of your article was devoted to the complaints by one of the players concerning the lighting. (Every chess player will recognize the name of this player, as he is notorious for making such complaints.) After that, you report "for the next six hours [the players] snatched up small pieces of wood and shuttled them a few inches back and forth." What about grown men trying to hit a ball with a bat? Do you cast the sport of baseball in such negative terms?

Most of the rest of your article is devoted to a non-existent dispute over the chess clocks and to the fact that the contestants "fidgeted, chomped gum, twirled locks of hair, kicked at their chair legs, strolled to the lavatories, yawned or performed other idiosyncrasies so dear to their fans."

Instead of your personal attacks on the players and the organizers, you could have mentioned the following remarkable facts about this chess tournament:

This tournament was directed by a 91-year-old man, International Chess Master George Koltanowski, who was by no means a mere figurehead but was in full control of the tournament. I have never seen a man of his age who can do the things which George Koltanowski does. One would think that since Mr. Koltanowski is your long time chess columnist, this alone would cause your favorable mention of him.

The Woman's World Chess Champion, Xie Jun of China, made her first visit ever to the United States in order to compete in this tournament. In fact, Xie Jun has rarely been out of China since winning the world title four years ago. Because of this, plus the fact that Xie Jun qualified to play the match for the world title in a tournament held in China plus played the match itself (in which she defeated World Champion Maya Chiburdanidze of Georgia, U.S.S.R.) in China, there have been detractors who have refused to believe that Xie Jun won the title in anything other than a fluke. However, those who observed her play here quickly realized that Xie Jun is far stronger at chess than any of the women against whom she competed in order to win the world championship. (However, Xie Jun, 25, is no longer as strong as 18-year-old Judit Polgar of Hungary, who is now officially ranked as the number 15 player in the world among men.)

Many tournament organizers in Europe have tried to secure the attendance of Xie Jun at chess events there, without success. Xie Jun is a national figure in China, who earns income by endorsing products on Chinese National Television. Why did Xie Jun come to San Francisco to compete, when she did not go to Europe (except occasionally to complete as a member of a Chinese national team)? Was it for political reasons, or did Xie Jun simply want to see America, or perhaps the Chinese-American community had something to do with bringing her here? These were questions which could have been asked and answered by your reporter.

It is difficult to understand why the Chinese have not put their world champion, Xie Jun, on the international circuit of chess tournaments. For example, the lower rated (but vastly more beautiful) Sophia Polgar of Hungary barely has a chance to take a deep breath between chess events. Sophia arrived in San Francisco after only a one day layover from tournaments in Budapest and Bermuda. As soon as the San Francisco event was concluded, Sophia was on her way to the airport with her trainer and second (an American chess master) for a flight to Europe for her next chess event. Yet, Xie Jun and her trainer, Ye Jiang Chuan, a grandmaster with an international rating of 2575 (higher than all but four of the players in this event), remained in San Francisco for another four days after the event was concluded, before returning to China.

Your reported further denigrated the chess players by reporting that some of them received "a mere $500 for their two weeks of hard work". It is true that the bottom prizes were $500. However, the players also got free room and board at the Holiday Inn for themselves and their second for two weeks, plus a round trip airplane ticket (at considerable expense because Xie Jun came from Beijing, China and Sophia Polgar came from Hungary) plus some of the players received an appearance fee. It has been rumored that Xie Jun received an appearance fee of $8,000, but the organizers have been mum about this. It has also been rumored that the total cost for running this tournament was $75,000. Again, no comment from the organizers.

Your article mentions "one time whiz kid Joshua Waitzkin". Waitzkin is still only 17 years old. He gets a lot of flack about the fact that he is still not quite as good as Bobby Fischer, even though his life is the subject of the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer". However, Waitzkin was here in San Francisco, not because of the movie, but because he is the United States Junior Chess Champion and is also the highest rated 17 year old chess player in the United States. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Waitzkin is that a person who is the subject of a movie is also a real person.

Finally, the fact that this youth dominated event was won by Victor Korchnoi, a man in his mid-60s, should be a boon to the geriatric set.

I have been told that the reason for the negative tone of Steve Rubenstein's article is that he always writes negative articles. However, I doubt if this is really true, because if you dared to publish such a negative article about the players for the 49'ers or the Giants, your reporter would not live long to tell about it. The easiest and cheapest kind of journalism is that which attacks or denigrates people. It is this sort of reporting here which makes it very difficult to bring major chess events to San Francisco.

Very Truly Yours,

Sam Sloan

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com