Women who kick (pawn) butt

by admin on January 28, 2010

Okay, it’s a little bit off topic, but I have to mention something I saw on TV this weekend. Last weekend, a bowler named Kelly Kulick won the Professional Bowlers’ Association Tournament of Champions, which made her the first woman ever to win a “men’s” professional bowling tournament. She didn’t just win, she dominated. Against a 12-time male champion, Chris Barnes, she won 265-195. (In bowling, 300 is a perfect score. A score of 265 is much closer to perfect than it looks — Kulick threw strikes on 10 out of 12 balls, missing only on the fifth one and the last one.)

I am not a bowling fan at all — I had watched it maybe a couple of times before this, usually for just a few minutes. I understand how the scoring system works, but I know nothing about oil patterns or strategies or anything. One time earlier this fall I had watched two women bowling during the advertisement breaks of a football game on another channel, and I commented to my wife that the women bowlers (well, some of them anyway) had shapely butts. She reminded me of this un-politically correct comment on Sunday, and I replied, “I’d rather watch a woman who kicks butt than a woman with a nice butt!”

Anyway, I was fascinated by this event for several reasons. First, bowling is kind of a niche sport, just like chess. But this turned out to be the second most watched broadcast of a bowling match in the last ten years. Kulick’s triumph put bowling on the radar screen of ESPN and other sports channels. One moral I drew from this was that if a woman won a major U.S. chess tournament, it would be a fantastic thing not just for women, but for chess.

Second, if a woman can win a men’s bowling tournament, then certainly a woman  should be able to win a chess tournament. Women have a physical disadvantage in bowling — they don’t roll the ball as hard. However, it seems to be the nature of the sport that they can compensate by rolling more accurately. In chess, there is no physical disadvantage to overcome at all… only a cultural prejudice.

Third, Kelly Kulick’s triumph would not have become a big media story if the event had not been televised on ESPN, the biggest cable sports network. Admittedly it was just a half-hour program, and probably sort of a throw-away for them because football games were going on at the same time, so most sports fans would have been watching other channels. Nevertheless, it was on television.

Who is going to take up the battle to get chess on ESPN? I am convinced that it could be done. Poker is a big hit on ESPN. You just need someone to explain to the audience what is going on. During the poker tournaments they have computer graphics on the TV screen showing the cards each player has and their likelihood of winning. The players themselves don’t know this information, so as a viewer you actually have a sort of god’s eye view of the action. You could do the same thing with a chess game — show the computer evaluation of the position as the game is going on. Computers are kind of like gods, too, these days.

Once we get chess on TV, who is going to complete this picture by becoming the first woman to win a major tournament? Anna Zatonskih? Irina Krush? Abby Marshall? (Maybe you could argue that she already did it, by winning the Denker Tournament of High School Champions.) Someone else we don’t know about yet?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Krooskos January 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I’ve been thinking about chess on tv lately as well, and was wondering if blitz play would spark some interest. I’ve been watching some uTube videos of games lately; however, I think it would prove more viewer friendly to display the board in bird’s eye view in the corner of the screen with the moves shown in real time, so the game would be more exciting and easier to follow.


Andres D. Hortillosa January 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Hi Dana,
My apologies for not giving you the credit for suggesting the title of my recently released book. I have totally forgotten that it was you who suggested the title in one of your postings here.

I wish to send you a copy of the book as a token of gratitude. Please email me a mailing address where you want the book sent.

Best regards,
Andres D. Hortillosa
Improving Player


Howard Goldowsky February 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm

If my memory serves correctly, a Kasparov v. Fritz match was on ESPN2, and I think that a few games of Kasparov-Anand was on ESPN, back in 1995. My guess is that it didn’t work out well in the ratings department (otherwise we would have seen more). Money talks.

I know nothing about bowling, but I’m not so sure throwing the ball harder gives any bowler an advantage. Isn’t it about ball placement? If this assumption is correct, then male bowlers should have no advantage over females. On the other hand, women are still handicapped when it comes to chess skill, whether it be for social or physiological reasons.


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