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Dana Reizniece-Ozolale: “Chess is very useful for politics”

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Latvian chess grandmaster Dana Reizniece-Ozolale (Kuldīga, Latvia, 40 years old) was very successful with chess pieces and squares, but she left the path that would lead her to becoming a professional player to do other things. She was also very successful in these other things: she first became Minister of Economics in her country and later Minister of Finance. Now she changes her plan again and goes the opposite way, from politics to chess, to become the CEO of the International Chess Federation (FIDE).

FIDE acts as an umbrella for the rest of the national federations: its mission is to promote chess all over the world, to help less developed countries financially, to organize events, tournaments, lessons in schools or training for young people; besides worrying about social problems, to which chess can contribute a lot. He visited Spain for the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. He says this game, which pushes the limits of the human brain, makes him feel part of a global community.

Questions. how did you start

Answer. In my small town we had a very powerful physical education school, part of the Soviet system, which had an important network of music, art and physical education schools. It gave all children the opportunity to develop their talent, no matter where they lived, in a city or in the capital. I had this opportunity.

P He left chess for other things, like politics.

R It was probably the hardest decision of my life. By the time I graduated from high school, I started thinking about whether I wanted to be a professional player or pursue a different path. In the end I chose the latter, my country was in turmoil, my family had no money to support me, I was interested in many other things and the chess goddess Caissa is very jealous: she must devote herself 100% to be of you . Of course, if you do, it will reward you. But that goes for everything in life: if you want to be successful at something, it won’t be easy. In any case, I studied, started my career in business and ended up in politics.

P And what happened?

R After ten years in politics, as an MP and as a minister, I needed a refresher and it was inviting to return to the world of chess, maybe not as a player because I don’t have much time to play now, but as a manager. I love this world, these people.

P In other words, you went the opposite way.

R Something like that. Also, it’s very rare that people leave politics voluntarily… it’s normal for politics itself to shut you out!

Chess develops useful skills in politics, such as B. getting into someone’s head and predicting their next move

Dana Reizniece-Ozolale

P Is chess useful in a ministry?

R Of course. For example, the ability to get inside other people’s minds and try to predict their next move is very useful. Decision making, situation analysis, intuition, all in limited time. In politics, you often have to make decisions in a short space of time, taking many variables into account.

P Interesting.

R But probably the most important thing that chess taught me is to remember that you’re not the only one in this game: you can have your plans and intentions, but you have to consider your opponent.

P What is the social aspect of chess?

Chess for Refugees, which trains hundreds of children in the camps, not only serves to kill time, but also teaches them important skills: reasoning, respect for the opponent, understanding of causes and consequences, social skills… Ah, we also have a chess championship for prisoners, in which 40 teams from 31 countries take part.

P When prisoners play chess, they are less likely to relapse…

R Yes, there is research in this direction. Chess may have an impact, or it may be that those who start playing chess are the least likely to relapse.

P What else?

P Chess for people with disabilities, for example our program for children with autism spectrum disorders. Inequality is growing in the world, it is the task of international organizations to reduce it, to offer education and skills so that children have a future, that is why we promote chess in schools too. Chess can be used as a tool in many disciplines, in language, in mathematics, in history, it is transversal. The fact that it is a game can be very helpful in teaching.

P Any more concrete benefit in this competitive world?

R The labor market is changing very quickly, we don’t know what professions there will be in ten years, so it’s difficult to know how to raise children. For today’s professions you don’t have to teach, but cross-sectional skills. Chess teaches that life is not sprintbut a marathon. Develops emotional intelligence: teaches to accept setbacks and defeats.

P We have video games, audiovisual platforms, social networks, a thousand distractions. Can we focus on chess? Does it attract new generations?

R Yes, we’ve seen the number of registered pro players increase significantly over the last four years, but the number of players amateur It went off like a rocket. The restriction helped and the requests to play online. Oh and the series Queen’s move. The important thing isn’t quantity, it’s quality, but it takes critical mass to produce good players.

P What do you think of the series?

R It’s a beautiful story, but not everything is true. When someone consumes that much alcohol and drugs, it is impossible for them to be a champion. Other things yes, like this imaginary world: Before my games, I also close my eyes and talk to my characters.

Image of the Candidates Tournament organized by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) at the Palacio de Santoña in Madrid. Steve Bonhage / FIDE

P Is it a macho world?

R It’s still a man’s world. There are only 10% professional players, women have a harder time getting to the top. There is some research on this subject. For me, the reason is that there are not many female players, so there are fewer chances of success: In many places, chess is not considered suitable for girls. That’s why we want to promote the game in schools on an equal footing. I also think women are less competitive, we’re not that interested in getting fame at any cost.

P Computers have long been better than humans. Are people outraged?

R Chess is about the limits and capabilities of the brain. So if we use two computers to play, what fun? We make mistakes, and beauty in chess is the daughter of mistakes. It can be viewed as a measure of our imperfection. According to this rule of three there would be no 100 meter races because the cars drive faster. We compete with other minds.

P For you, chess also has to do with the feeling of belonging to a community.

R Humans are social beings, we need to feel we belong to something bigger, that gives us a sense of security. Politics is very unstable: one day you are a minister and the next you are in opposition or out of the game. This uncertainty often results in important decisions not being made because some are unpopular and do not cast votes. But being part of the big chess family gave me security: I knew that if politics failed, I would always have a place to go back to. Chess is like McDonald’s: you know there’s one everywhere. You never feel like a stranger.

P What is the impact of the Ukraine war?

R Just like the other sports. The federation took action from the start: we canceled Russian sponsors, including the events in that country, and we don’t accept Russian teams unless they have explicitly opposed the invasion. Although we understand that the personal cost of this decision can often be high. It’s a shame, because Russia is a major power in this area. But your government abuses human rights. Chess means accepting the rules of the game, and Putin does not accept those of the international community.

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