Rank & File

(Vol. X, #4 : July-August 1987)



by Wendy Starbuck

Maya Chiburdanidze's first visit to the United States, and her surprise (! to Harold Bogner) one-week stay in Los Angeles was a special bonus for those who attended the 1987 Memorial Day Classic.

Ms. Chiburdanidze, who began playing chess when she was eight years old, has been a premier woman chess player since 1978. She is one of only two women in the world who hold a "men's" Grandmaster title. Her games and photographs (usually expressionless) appear in U.S. publications occasionally, and in recent months it has been widely reported that she may retire from her world championship throne in favor of pursuing a medical career. Probably the well-informed chess player is familiar with her attacking style of play, but beyond these fragments of information, little is published about this unique lady.

Then suddenly, the mysterious champion arrives in Los Angeles and we discover that she is a real flesh and blood person with a face that is full of expression. So, who is Maya?

For one thing, Maya is not particularly impressed with "women's" chess. In a recent interview appearing in "New in Chess" she stated, "I am convinced that a time will come when there will be no distinctions made between men's and women's chess any longer."

In the same interview, she disclosed that she likes reading and writing, music, swimming and is a fan of the ballet. She intended to marry once, but added, "fortunately it fell through."

Five-time U.S. women's champ Diane Savereide has known Maya for several years, and escorted her and her trainer GM Eduard Gufeld to Disneyland on their first full day in L.A. Diane knows Maya as playful and enthusiastic __ nicknaming the good-natured Gufeld "Guffy" (Goofy), and shooting an entire roll of film in "Pirates of the Caribbean." Diane also knows Maya to be a serious competitor. Gwen Roberts, who became Maya's housemother during her stay, came to know Maya as a genuine devotee to chess, with an interest in American television and fashions, but, above all, as a very warm and affectionate young woman.

On the final day of her stay, I escorted Maya to the L.A. Zoo. Eduard was his usual fun-loving self, calling out to the bears, "Hey Comrade!" And Maya, who feeds the portly Gufeld his straight lines, responding on the bears' behalf with "Hello Guffy!"

We toured the zoo for several hours, but one memory stands out and completes my impression of Maya. That is, from time to time Maya and I walked together, occasionally bumping in to each other (the way you did when you were a kid) - making friends. It was very simple and natural, because Maya doesn't suffer from inflated self-importance. She makes it easy to forget that she is a national treasure of the Soviet Union.

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