Hoda Mazloomian is an artist, art therapist and published author with a passion for chess. He has travelled the world and now resides in Shenzhen, China. It is here that he runs a chess improvement club where people of all abilities meet in friendship to help each other enhance their chess skills.
As part of our "Chess Around The World" project, Mindful Chess (MC) spoke with Hoda to learn more about his philosophy and the impact that his Chess Improvement Club has had on his life as an expat in Shenzhen.
MC: Please briefly tell us a bit about yourself and what chess means to you.
I would describe myself as a citizen of the world. I tend to see the world as humanity’s common homeland. Granted, we need time for this understanding to become universal. I have lived in and visited many countries and I think travel broadens your perspective and is quite possibly an antidote to prejudice.
Career-wise, I would describe myself as an artist, art therapist and art teacher. I am also a published writer. My hobbies are photography and, of course, international chess.
MC: You currently run a “Chess Improvement Club” in the city of Shenzhen. Has playing chess had an impact on your experience living in and adapting to life in China?
I am the kind of person who takes initiative. I had a vision of a chess club where improvement rather than current strength and status is emphasised. I intended to create a club where everyone, regardless of age, sex or economic status, is treated with equal respect and dignity. There was no such club in Shenzhen so two years ago, my best friend and I created one. It has been thriving ever since.
I think it has helped bring the expats together in friendship with our hosts, the Chinese players. I have known some of the players for years and even though we may not be able to have long conversations, we enjoy each other's company playing chess and truly regard each other as friends. It is wonderful to see people from the age of six to seventy playing together in harmony.
MC: In addition to being a great chess player, you are a talented artist. Do you see chess and art as mutually exclusive or is there an overlap for you?
Well, you are very kind! I am a mid-level player in the large scheme of things but aspire to be better every day. I have improved my play noticeably in the last few years. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. There are many parallels between chess and life. Bobby Fischer famously went so far as to say "Chess is life!".
There is definitely an art and performance aspect to chess that was not lost on the great French artist and master chess player, Marcel Duchamp. He made sculptures and paintings inspired by chess and designed a chess set. Chess combines sculpture, movement and an honest expression drawn from the depths of our personalities which reflect the way we live our individual lives. I cannot think of a higher kind of art.
MC: Do you believe that chess is inherently mindful?
To become a great chess player, you must learn to master your emotions and focus your mind. In this way, improvement in chess is possible if you are becoming more and more mindful. Knowledge can be gained, but without mindfulness, great chess tragedies occur from mindless blunders. And so, chess invites us to be mindful and shows us that there is no other pathway to greatness.
MC: You once told me that chess helped you believe that “anything is possible”. Could you explain what you mean by this?
Recently, a young homeless African immigrant in the USA became the chess champion in his age group. With chess, all you need is a board to get started. Additionally, advances in technology means that more and more people of all strata of society have access to a vast collection of chess knowledge that was once reserved for those who could afford it. In this way, chess has become a great equalizer. Great minds that may have once been trapped in poverty can shine as resplendent as their privileged counterparts.
MC: What advice would you give to our young chess players starting out?
The first advice I would give young children and their parents is to combine learning systematically with playing. Left to the kids, there will be a lot of play with no formal training which would make it difficult for them to improve.
The second advice I have is to become resilient. This is to have the humility to know that there are others as committed or more committed to the game and that you cannot win all your games. It is important to have a learner's attitude, to analyse both your wins and losses and see what kind of mistakes you make and what type of opportunities you are prone to miss. There are a host of computer engines that can be used to see simple mistakes and blunders. However, computers can do six million calculations per second and often their analysis is far beyond most, except a few elite players at the highest levels. And so, it is much better to analyse the games with a coach so that you can see on a human level how improvement is possible.
If you are reading this from China or want to know more about Hoda and his Chess Improvement Club in Shenzhen, you can get in touch with him via WeChat.