As I wrote a few days ago, the United States claimed victory in a Chess Olympiad for the first time since 1976. Shortly thereafter, World Champion Magnus Carlsen posted a sarcastic tweet in which he openly wondered if Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana were still for sale. Because I am a huge baseball fan and have often wondered about the merits of a free agency system in professional chess, I took the tweet at face value and dismissed it as nothing more than a sarcastic way of Magnus congratulating the US team. Unfortunately, in most cases, in chess not everything is as it seems.
Grandmaster Susan Polgar took exception with claims of “hired help” on the United States Chess Team.
I commend Susan for addressing the claims because although she took some subsequent heat on Twitter for her comment, the assertions about hired help were not limited to Magnus Carlsen. The New York Times, which seems to pride itself on being at the forefront of racial and social divides in America, boldly proclaimed that the United States team won with the help of imported talent.
What is lost on me is the almost relentless focus by the media on the ethic origins of the players on this team and participants in countless other activities including books, music, and movies for that matter. Does it make a difference that Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana are recent additions to the United States Chess Federation dossier? The article mentions that it is unusual for players to change federations, but is it any more unusual for a person to change their citizenship? Wesley So trained under Susan Polgar at Webster University and was integral to their team before dropping out of school to pursue chess full-time. Fabiano Caruana has played for the Italian Chess Federation for years, but is actually an American citizen who was born and raised in Florida.
A Nation of Immigrants
What gets lost in these arguments and what I think really got Susan Polgar’s blood boiling seems to be that the media forgets that 99.9% of the people who live in the United States of America are the product of immigration. My family is of German descent, but does that disqualify me from representing the United States in an official capacity? Of course not, just as switching from the Philippines to US Chess does not disqualify Wesley So from representing the United States at the Baku Olympiad.
Ultimately, these are the things that make America such a unique place. America is a country where people from all backgrounds, of every ethnicity, and of all life experiences can stand on a podium and wear a gold medal as a representative of their country. These men were not hired help or imported talent. Instead, they represent the very core of what America stands for. Asserting anything else devalues that.