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In Conversation with Grandmaster Ashley, on Naked Chess & Ladies Knight March 5, 2016

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I talk with Grandmaster Maurice Ashley about my piece, “Naked Chess”, installed at the World Chess Hall of Fame for Ladies Knight: A Female Perspective on Chess.

Saint Louis to Jerusalem & a New Role at Stars April 24, 2014

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I have a new role at PokerStars, as their Mind Sports Ambassador, to help promote the connections between chess and poker leading up to the PokerStars Isle of Man International this Fall.

My first official tournament representing PokerStars was the World Series of Poker circuit Main event in Saint Louis (which I did not win). I played in that immediately after a two-week stint giving lectures at the Saint Louis Chess Club and the World Chess Hall of Fame. Brian Jerauld at the Chess Club wrote this sweet piece on my visit and the connections between chess, poker and PokerStars support of chess, including nine years of PokerStars sponsorship of the US Chess League.

Right after Saint Louis, I traveled to Israel, where I am now, playing on the Pokerstars client for the first time since PCA. As lucky as I feel lately, I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret when playing a limited number of Sundays here. As I soak up so much playing just a few tables at a time, I realize how much stronger a poker player I’d be now if not for Black Friday. Part of me knows it’s futile to predict such things. Maybe I wouldn’t have taken up Open Face Chinese Poker in that case, for which I now do videos on Run It Once. Or maybe I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people, leading to a lot of the opportunities I have now. I certainly wouldn’t have played as much live poker, and I better appreciate some of the specific skills required in that arena.

And yet it still pains my ego to know that I’d understand the game better if not for Black Friday. In the future, I need to schedule more trips to grind online, and focus less on the excitement of live stops. That being said, see you all in Vegas :)

On a positive note, I’ve done a lot of other fun interviews on chess, poker and making both games more popular.

1. I was on one of my favorite poker authors, Jared Tendler’s podcast. We talked about the “Mental Game” in both chess and poker, why Magnus Carlsen has a mental game coach and whether there is tilt in chess.

2. Another podcast I love: Thinking Poker. We talk about everything from Open Face Chinese and why I decided to do training videos on the game, to what little I remember about Comparative Literature.

3. Some questions you just can’t prepare for. In this fun interview with a popular Spanish YouTube chess channel, they asked me if I’d rather play Strip Chess with Magnus Carlsen or Chess Boxing with (the infamous) Borislav Ivanov!

4. I was recently on the Twoplustwo pokercast. The hosts Michael and Adam have such great chemistry. They also just interviewed the first two-time EPT Champion, PokerStars Pro Vicky Coren. It’s exciting that a woman and an accomplished writer is the first to achieve this milestone. I’ve played with Coren a few times and her humor and charm comes out in person just as on the page.

5. I really enjoyed doing this two part interview with Poker News Daily from a few months ago- they did a flattering amount of research into my career.

6. Also a while back, me, Katie Stone & Katie Dozier were interviewed on the Full Tilt Poker blog and by Lee Davy on women in poker.

I was reminded of the last two pieces when reading this controversial piece, quoting Selbst, Stone, Danielle Moon-Anderson, Kara Scott and several other female pros.

Around 80% of the time I have a better time at the tables, because I get more attention as one of few women in the game. 20% of the time my experience may be particularly negative because I’m female. This polarization can apply to a woman’s image at the table- play a hand poorly, you’re probably a whale, pull off a well-timed and calculated bluff, you may be the next Vanessa Selbst.

So overall, it’s a net positive for me, but as a writer, I can’t help but highlight the hilarious examples of poor behavior (as I explain in this Bluff video). Things like this just aren’t quite as funny:


as this

The more involved I become in the poker culture the less my own experiences are relevant to women starting out. More people recognize me at the table and tend to be nicer to me as a result. Poker is a global game, and picking up the game may present very different challenges for women in other situations and countries.

The comment plug in isn’t working here so hit me up on twitter or email. I’ve also been far more active on instagram lately, especially because Jerusalem provides such a photogenic backdrop for sunsets, food porn and selfies.

A Perfect Trip, A Queen Within & Philly on Chess November 10, 2013

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Last time I updated you here, I was on my way to Vegas for a panel at G2E, the largest gaming conference in the World, and Rosarito, Mexico for WCOOP, the World Championship of Online Poker.



It was one of my favorite trips in a while, as I got to play online, catch up with close friends and enjoy all the perks of a legit vacation, from clubbing at Hakkasan in Vegas to a wine tour in Mexico.



I wrote more about Mexico in my piece, “Vegas to Rosarito: Goodbye Kitty”, where I concluded, “I could get used to this quiet resort town, now a bit louder with the big personalities of so many young poker players. I was so relaxed that I could see things more clearly and felt more sympathetic and less judgmental.”

Next I went to my second home Saint Louis, the capital of chess in the US.



The spectacular “A Queen Within” show opened last month at the World Chess Hall of Fame.
The fantastical installation above featuring designs by Hideki Seo represents the “Explorer”, one of nine archetypes of the queen explored (!) in the show. Photos don’t do it justice so see it in person.




I was auctioned off at the Queen’s Gala (lessons with me that is!), and I promoted the idea of “Queen Power” in chess through girls simuls and lectures.





I was also in a panel discussion on fashion, art and chess, along with “A Queen Within” curator, Sofia K. Hedman and several other brainy fashionistas.






I stayed on to give lectures at the club, all archived on YouTube. I did a series on previous Carlsen-Anand games in honor of the World Championship as well as my favorite, a lecture on problems and beauty in chess.

Now I’m back in Philadelphia and excited to play my first live poker since August at the Borgata. I’m also pumped for the Carlsen-Anand World Chess Championship. We just filmed this video of Philly predicting the outcome.

I’m working on some technical problems with blog post comments, so until then, hit me up on twitter!

Fantasyland: Three Nights in Vegas, Four Days in Mexico September 22, 2013

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Our latest PokerFairyTale video stars Katie Stone, founder of the Grindettes and Melissa Burr, high stakes mixed game and Open Face player.

When you get to fantasyland in Open Face Poker (find the rules to OFC here), you get to see all your cards (or see into the future), so we posted two versions, one in which the visuals are backwards and the other in which the sound is backwards.

The first thing I tried to work out in Open Face is the math behind risking fouls for fantasyland. In simplified terms, if two lucky things have to happen for you to go to Fantasyland, it’s often worth it. Three lucky things is too much. Daniel and I made these videos partly because we feel the role of luck in determining your success is understated, especially in fields outside poker. And often you can make a series of well-calculated risks without reward. The rich get richer and in Open Face, those running well tend to play better (especially in Fantasyland, ofc) than those who are buried. Malcolm Gladwell popularized this idea of “The Matthew Effect” in Outliers.

The video contrasts the perceived glamour of live poker, which can be more of a grind (represented here by the founding Grindette who relocated to Mexico to play online), than sitting in any living room or hotel to play a beloved game. Two and a half years after Black Friday, I still feel a gaping hole that PokerStars used to fill. Bovada is profitable but not the same.

After this summer, I unabashedly call Las Vegas one of my favorite places. I return for the biggest gaming conference in the World, G2E. I’m on a panel with One Drop champion Antonio Esfandiari, November-niner Jay Farber, Parx ambassador Matt Glantz and moderator Marco Valerio. We’ll talk about online and live poker from a players’ perspective.

In a beautiful twist of timing, I’ll head to Mexico for the final weekend of the World Championship of Online Poker (Hello again PokerStars!). Three nights in Vegas, four days in Mexico, very much on purpose.

Hotels From Brooklyn Castle to the PCA December 27, 2012

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Many of my memories of being a female gameplayer are set in hotels. I remember sleeping on rock hard beds in Yerevan, Armenia while staying up late solving chess and life with Irina Krush (now reigning US women’s chess champion) to trekking through Rajasthan with another US Women’s champion, Anna Hahn; to more recently, discussing tournament strategy with Katie Dozier while ordering in room service brunch before this year’s WSOP. But it’s not easy- there are so few women in chess and poker that pairing up and sharing expenses can be challenging, especially since so many women in these worlds have boyfriends or husbands that also play and don’t need roomates.

This may seem minor, but can make traveling expensive, lonely and in some places, even dangerous. Having a single room can be wonderful, allowing for privacy and maximum zzzzz’s. And that’s a luxury I often enjoy now, but it’s not always possible.

I hosted a Q+A for the critically acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Castle last month at the Ritz in Philadelphia and was struck by a storyline featuring Rochelle Ballantyne, who aspires to be the first African-American master in the history of chess (she’s about 120 points away). When I lived in Brooklyn, I worked with Rochelle at IS 318, the junior high school championship team that the movie focuses on. After graduating from IS 318, Rochelle wanted to go to the State Championships, but didn’t have any girls to room with, because so few compete in tournaments- she ended up rooming with the vivacious and supportive Latisha Williams, mother of chess champion Justus Williams (one of the stars of Extreme “X Chess” Championships.)

In this frame, Latisha explains to Rochelle that if she wants to become a master, she’ll have to fully commit herself to the goal. While closing in on the title, Rochelle plans to attend Stanford University next fall (on scholarship!), and I’m so happy for her.

Women in fields like chess and poker may get more attention and opportunities but things like hotels are why it’s so much more complicated than “It’s better (or worse) to be a woman in chess (or poker.)” It’s harder in some ways and easier in others.

I’ve mostly had a great time traveling around the world and sleeping in a wide variety of lodgments from a bizarre hostel in the suburbs of Prague, to a palatial suite in
Udaipur to the historic Chase Hotel, which hosts the US Chess Championship players in Saint Louis. I like overtly feminine design that counteract the default masculine vibe I associate with most hotels. The Chelsea in AC is one of my favorites- we shot part of Cin II there.

In less than two weeks, I’m headed to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. I inquired back in November to a few friends about chopping a room, but no one, including the Grindettes, were planning to attend. A few weeks ago, I found a great deal on CheapCaribbean and Jamie Kerstetter changed her mind, so we are headed to the Bahamas, together. What luck!

Find out more about my PCA schedule hereand follow me on twitter for more on my adventures.

My Lesson with Phiona Mutesi, “Queen of Katwe” December 13, 2012

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Ugandan chessplayer Phiona Mutesi came to Philadelphia as part of a media tour for “Queen of Katwe”, a new book by Tim Crothers which details Phiona’s path from Ugandan slums to chess championships. Watch a gorgeous ESPN video clip on Phiona.

Phiona was the guest of honor at the first 9 Queens Academy of the season on December 1st. After the inspiring session, I gave Phiona a chess lesson and showed her, her coach Robert Katende, and Rodney and Jan of Sports Outreach a little of Philadelphia. Phiona and Robert were particularly impressed upon seeing an elaborate wedding party in Rittenhouse Square.

Catch a glimpse of the lesson below and read more on Chess Life Online.

Raven, the Newest Poker Fairy Tale (Plus my Dad’s Scary Voice) October 16, 2012

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The Raven is the newest project on Poker Fairy Tale with author and letter-writer Samara O’ Shea and Daniel Meirom, the best eye in the business (in my unbiased opinion of course!).

The Raven from Poker Fairy Tale on Vimeo.

The excerpt from our interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s supernatural poem about a man in mourning plays on voyeurism, feminism and how social media enables the descent into modern madness. @Edgar_Allan_Poe himself tweeted as we unveiled the piece, “You cannot be fully dead if you still receive email.”

A day after we posted it, I got the following voicemail from my dad, with a rendition of his own.

It made me understand that classic poems like the Raven, much like chess, has cross-generational power. I read this poem in high school, so did my dad, and I think (?) children still do. And yes, my dad is available for voiceover hire. He’d be perfect for Haunted House gigs.

A Mash-up of Dworkin & Fifty Shades (Free Pussy Riot) August 21, 2012

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I awoke on Friday, August 17th to a photo of the greatest chess player in history, Garry Kasparov, restrained by three police outside the Pussy Riot trial in Moscow (Photo by Olaf Koens). Pussy Riot, a punk rock feminist band, were given two years for singing an anti-Putin song inside a church. I was surprised by how angry the verdict and the images and video of Kasparov made me feel. It made a lot of people feel that way. Kasparov was released later that day, but is being charged for “biting” an officer, which Kasparov vehemently denies.

When I was a kid first reading about Kasparov, I was inspired by his moves and life but irked by chauvinistic explanations for women’s relative lack of success in the chess world: “A women’s train of thought can be broken more easily by extraneous events, such as a baby crying upstairs.” When I met him in 2005, he was already turning a corner–he told me that to promote chess in America, it was critical to address the feminist concern over segregated women’s tournaments. And now, he fights heroically alongside a feminist group with a common goal to unseat Putin.

Poster by artist Molly Crabapple

In Vice Magazine, Pussy Riot sited radical feminist and vocal anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) as an influence. They channel Dworkin in explaining their name: “A female sex organ, which is supposed to be receiving and shapeless, suddenly starts a radical rebellion against the cultural order.”

Dworkin is too often reduced as the obese feminist in overalls who thought that all sex was rape. Though I don’t believe any serious reader of her work could come to that conclusion, I don’t align myself with Dworkin’s anti-porn stance. If anything, I’m more enamored than ever of beautiful female surfaces from photography to fashion, like the work and erotic portraiture of “MissKacieMarie.” I worked with Kacie on several projects, including X Chess and Cinderella. My own vanity is evident in my aggressive promotion of only the most flattering photographs of myself. As I joked on twitter, I ask myself often: “At what point does a vain American woman stop trying to look hot, and just try to look rich?” Also see my earlier post on poker, art and the passage of time.

Beyond “pro-sex” and “anti-sex”, I’m entranced by Dworkin’s writing and feel a compulsion to share it with you guys. So after re-reading Dworkin’s artful book Intercourse, I did a literary mash-up of it with the poorly written but hot best-seller, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James.

Dworkin is the most masterfully rhythmic writer I’ve ever read–that rhythm is seductive, and sexy, even if she challenges sex itself. In contrast, the trite writing and simplistic character sketches in Fifty Shades of Grey make some of the pornographic scenes cartoonish, like a strip club with flourescent lighting and no music or alcohol.

Fifty Shades in italics, Dworkin in bold italics

Sometimes the skin comes off in sex. The people merge, skinless. The body loses its boundaries. We are each in these separate bodies; and then, with someone and not with someone else, the skin dissolves altogether; and what touches is unspeakably, grotesquely visceral, not inside language or conceptualization, not inside time; raw, blood and fat and muscle and bone, unmediated by form or formal limits.

“There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain, Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. Again, it comes down to trust….Do you trust me, Ana?”

“My heart was open to you,” says a man obsessively in love in the Face of Another by Kobo Abe, “quite as if the front of it had been sliced away.” This skinless sex is a fever, but fever is too small. It is obsession, but obsession is too psychological. It becomes life, and as such, it is a state of being, a metaphysical reality for those in it, for whom no one else exists. It ends when the skin comes back into being as a boundary.

His skin is so smooth and velvety….and hard….hmmm, what a delicious combination. “Stop Ana, stop. I don’t want to come.” I sit up…..My inner goddess looks like someone snatched her ice cream.

Inside a person, sexual desire-or need or compulsion is sometimes experienced as a stigma, as if it marks the person, as if it can be seen; a great aura emanating from inside; an interior play of light and shadow, vitality and death, wanting and being used up; an identifying mark that is indelible; a badge of desire or experience; a sign that differentiates the individual carrying it, both attracting and repelling others, in the end isolating the marked one, who is destroyed by the intensity and ultimate hopelessness of a sexual calling.

My inner goddess frowns at me. You can do this, she coaxes—play this sex god at his own game….picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bit my lip. Then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it.

Am I saying that I know more than men about fucking? Yes, I am. Not just different: more and better, deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user.


“Christian. You use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair”…He raises his eyebrows surprised and I see he’s considering my words.

Sexual Intercourse is not intrinsically banal, though pop culture magazine like Esquire and Cosmopolitan would suggest that it is. It is intense, often desperate. The internal landscape is violent upheaval, a wild and ultimately cruel disregard of human individuality, a brazen, high-strung wanting that is absolute and imperishable, not attached to personality, no respecter of boundaries; ending not in sexual climax but in a human tragedy of failed relationships, vengeful bitterness in an aftermath of sexual heat, personality corroded by too much endurance of undesired, habitual intercourse, conflict, a wearing away of vitality in the numbness finally of habit or compulsion or the loneliness of separation.


I don’t even know how to categorize him. If I do this thing…..will he be my boyfriend?…The truth is I don’t think he will.

Having an interior life of wanting, needing, gives fucking human meaning in a human context. Being stigmatized by sex is being marked by its meaning in a human life of loneliness and imperfection, where some pain is indelible.

I did follow my heart, and I have a sore ass and an anguished, broken spirit to show for it.

In Amerika, there is the nearly universal conviction or so it appears- that sex (fucking) is good and that liking it is right: morally right; a sign of human health; nearly a standard for citizenship.

But I’m not sure I have the stomach to be his submissive—deep down, it’s the canes and whips that put me off.

In fucking, one’s insides are on the line; and the fragile and unique intimacy of going for broke makes communion possible, in human reach—not transcendental and otherworldy, but an experience in flesh and love.


“You are not buying me a car.”
He glowers at me, his jaw tense.
“We’ll see,” he says tightly.

And crossing on that high and rotting and shaking bridge to identity, with whatever degree or quality of fear or courage is the ordeal that makes empathy possible: not a false sympathy of abstract self-indulgence, a liberal condescension, but a way of seeing others for what they are by seeing what their own lives have cost them.

Photoshoot: Jamie & Jen Buried in Aces August 17, 2012

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If you’re a female and you play poker, at some point in your career you have to find a deck of oversize cards and do absurd things with them. In this case, Jamie Kerstetter and I were captured by Daniel Meirom playing with a silver deck, a pink deck, oversize 8×11 and 4×6 decks we used to shoot Goldilocks, a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure deck, and an “invisible deck” I picked up at the World Chess Hall of Fame.

In related news, Rachel Kranz wrote a piece on the Grindettes for Poker Pro Magazine.She writes about the changing image of women in poker, furthered by female success at this year’s WSOP.

Katie Stone is quoted in the article on the sub-forum on twoplustwo that she started, “That’s What She Said” (TWSS),

There have been so many women who have posted in our forum, who say, ‘I’ve been lurking for years, reading for years, but I’ve never dared…writing anything because I would just get trashed or get trolled.’ She hopes that the experience of posting in a women’s forum may help women become more comfortable with posting in open forums, just as the experience of playing in a women’s tournament may help women become more comfortable playing in open events.

Read the full article (pdf) here.

The World Series of Poker, The Clock & Goldilocks August 8, 2012

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I. The Clock
On the plane to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, I chatted with a businessman in his 50s. He was en route to Reno for a vacation and told me that “Well, at least you’re not going to Vegas in the summer, so the weather won’t be so terrible.” I said, “Really, it’s not so hot in June?” He: “What? It’s June already? I thought it was April.”

Usually clockwatching is antithetical to art and passion—aren’t you supposed to lose yourself and forget what minute it is, or even what month it is and how old you are?

Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” is a 24-hour collage of film, composed of clips representing each minute in the day. Although you are hyper-aware of time, Marclay’s installation inspires fresh questions like, “What is your favorite (or least favorite) hour of the day?” My answer, and presumably the best time to see “The Clock” is Magic hour, the flattering period before sunset or after sunrise when everything glows in warm, shadowless light. Alas, I saw “The Clock” in the harsh afternoon of 1 to 2 PM, which included a melody of “you’re late” clips (no one seems to arrive on time from lunch). At least this hour featured the famous When Harry Met Sally scene.

The simplicity of “The Clock” entranced me. Imposing such an artificial structure is a gimmick if done poorly but brilliant if well-executed, reminding me of two of my own projects:

1.“The ABC diet”, when I ate alphabetically for 26 days. On the first day, I ate only foods that began with A, such as asparagus and avocado up to ziti and zucchini on the final day. I wanted to show the pretentiousness of most fad diets, which tend to work simply because they restrict calories. In this way, the ABC diet can be effective as any diet that doesn’t let you eat pizza or bacon 25 out of 26 days. Indeed, I lost seven pounds.

2. A two part series I edited for Chess Life Online on the best move ever played on each square of the chess board (and a second part on the best composed moves on each square). Central squares and key attacking points like d4 and f7 present so many options compared to a less trodden square, such as b1. Similarly, the intensity of “The Clock” peaked at the top of the hour with a frenzy of tightly edited clips.

II. Goldilocks

In an NYU class on literary journalism, one of my most memorable professors lectured on a beautifully written piece on aging surfers, when he mused, “Isn’t the point of any subculture to freeze time?” [I must have been foaming at the mouth as he continued, because later that day, a popular blonde girl admonished me, “I think you get a little TOO excited in that class.”]

Though I can’t help but think of the passage of time as a curse, it’s also a privilege. Birthdays remind us that each year is an accomplishment of sorts. You didn’t do something dumb enough to kill yourself! In an 18th century precursor to the popular Milton Bradley game “Life”, the object of the game was to reach death first.

Our re-telling of Goldilocks is about aging during a card game. An early version of Goldilocks starred an older woman trespassing. But as the tale aged, the woman became a young girl.

Goldilocks from Poker Fairy Tale on Vimeo.

III. WSOP

The World Series of Poker is sometimes called “adult summer camp.” Like camp, it feels at once endless and transient. Endless because of the number of interactions, new people you meet and hours spent grinding 20 big blinds pre-ante. But when it’s over it feels momentary, since the experience is divorced from reality. A week later, the people I sent dozens of hand history and gossip texts were buried on my phone. I soon forgot about my daily routine of rubbing my face with too much moisturizer and eye-shadow, before layering up for hours of grinding in Amazon, a large conference room cold enough to hang meat.


These girls, including Alexa, the “poker prodigy” go to the WSOP instead of sleepaway camp

Sometimes I wanted to freeze time during a hand. Thinking for the wrong amount of time can give so much away. A lot of players spend a lot of time on easy decisions (known as Hollywooding when it’s a strong hand) to balance out the cases when they really need to think. Going too far with this conflicts with setting a quick pace to maximize hands per/hour.

Less than an hour after my elimination from the Main Event, I booked my flight home. They call it “the worst day” of a poker player’s year. If this is true, it’s a good year. A few days later back in Philadelphia, I started grinding and doing well on Bovada, one of the few sites open to US players since Black Friday. It was funny to run like god in tourneys with prize pools equivalent to the buy-ins I’d played in Vegas. But more importantly, I was feeling confident and excited again.

I didn’t think I’d be up for live poker so soon, but I’ve already played a couple of WPT Parx prelims and am psyched for the Main.

And the WSOP feels like a year ago. Getting knocked out of the Main Event feels more recent. It happened between the hours 1 and 2 PM.