Chess is gendered?

I just read an article about international chess sponsorships in The Guardian. They report that some female grand masters are offended that women’ tournaments are sponsored by a breast augmentation company. Why are chess tournaments separated by gender? Did I misunderstand something? [Fide sparks anger with ‘gross’ breast enlargement sponsor for women’s chess Fide sparks anger with ‘gross’ breast enlargement sponsor for women’s chess | Chess | The Guardian](Fide sparks anger with ‘gross’ breast enlargement sponsor for women’s chess Fide sparks anger with ‘gross’ breast enlargement sponsor for women’s chess | Chess | The Guardian)

They’re separated because the top players are overwhelmingly men and you want women to have a chance to win things. Pretty much the same reason as every other sport.

Now, I think chess is a lot more likely than, say, basketball to combine in the future when the genders are more equal.

Sorry, this doesn’t make any sense to me. Players are separated in most sports because of the physical differences between men and women. Most women are not physically able to compete with, for example, NBA players. Physical differences allow men to run faster than women in track events. And so on. They aren’t separated because the “top players are overwhelmingly men.” That doesn’t even make sense.

Are you saying Serena Williams is not a “top player”? Or Diana Taurasi? And so on. Of course they are - they’re top players in their sports. To say otherwise is just being willful.

To answer the OP, there’s no reason that I’m aware of that women can’t compete with men on a level playing field (or a level board, if you like) in chess. (I guess that doesn’t really answer your question except to say that I don’t think you misunderstood anything; I think chess is a holdover from previous generations in how it approaches gender.)

This does seem surprising.
Checking the FIDE web site, there are divisions for open, women, junior, and girls. Open and junior are mixed. So women only is a separate stream from the open.
The highest ranked woman in the world ranks 83rd. So in a head to head contest there is little doubt that women would have a hard time making to the top end of any competition. Thus, there seems to be some value in a women’s only stream.

This does quickly get us into arguments about intrinsic superiority between the sexes. And all the usual arguments come to the fore. Opportunity and entrenched patriarchy on one side, the sheer geeky and borderline obsessive/Asbergers like traits that come with those that are particularly successful at some pursuits, and the curious male linkage of those traits. Hard to say, the best chess players I have known were both male and perfectly normal. But at the pointy end of most pursuits, things usually get a bit strange.

I’m sure there is scope for a huge amount of continuing argument. Given there is a separate advocacy group within FIDE for women in chess, and there doesn’t seem to be any issue within the chess playing community about such a spilt, one gets the feeling that we are way late in the game asking these questions.

The most likely reason women don’t feature at the top of the chess tables would be that there aren’t as many playing competitively. Which just shifts the question down a level. Why aren’t women generally interested in playing chess?

I think this is the answer. Similarly, it wasn’t long ago that it was very rare to see a female magician. These days it is much more common, but I would think that the vast majority of the top magicians in the world today are still male.

(I know magic is not a competition, I am speaking subjectively)


My experience as a very, very amateur chess player (my family played chess back before the days of the internet and color TV. I started very early) is that there is a LOT of sexism in the endeavor. Girls are not encouraged. Chess clubs in school are overwhelmingly male. Role models in chess are male. Competitiveness is not encouraged in girls the way it is in boys. And so on.

There’s a part of North Avenue beach in Chicago (or at least there was - haven’t been there in 30 years) where you could go to play chess. I went there a few times. Since I would often wait quite a bit of time before finding a partner willing to play I couldn’t help but notice that a boy/young man/any man approaching was welcomed, invited to play, encouraged to learn if he said he didn’t know, and could easily find a partner or switch to a new one. Me - I was asked who I was looking for, and often had to wait 15-20 minutes before someone reluctantly paired up with me.

That doesn’t keep all girls from playing chess, but honestly, that’s a lot of obstacles put in the way of doing something. The message was pretty clear: we don’t take your interest seriously and we don’t really want you here.

Wasn’t the first time I tried a mostly-male endeavor, but my interest in chess wasn’t sufficient for me to work to overcome the obstacles dumped in my path. I’m sure this same experience has often been repeated for women interested in chess.

Even if a girl/woman IS excellent at chess, obstacles at finding partners to play against, venues in which to compete, and so forth is handicapping.

I play chess very badly but enthusiastically. I introduced chess to my daughter at preschool age. We started going to a chess club in the library. Ages 5-11. At ages 5-7 there were some girls, maybe 20%. By age 8 or so, my daughter was the only girl every single week.

She then joined the chess club in middle school. Not only was she the only girl, she was the only girl they’ve had in years. She’s stopped playing chess except as a Father’s Day treat she will play me.

At Russian School of Mathematics there were quite a few girls in the chess class. It didn’t hurt that the director of the school was a woman who taught the chess class. Incidentally the only female chess teacher, coach or club organizer I have ever met in real life.

It’s a weird social phenomenon. There are plenty of girls on Math Team and Robotics Team which were totally male dominated when my sister was in high school thirty years ago, but Chess Club is as single gendered than the football team.

Ugh! I’m watching a female chess streamer right now taking on a random challenger over the Internet (on and even though the username is LetsBeest (which isn’t gendered to me) the streamer is referring to the opponent as he/him/his.

If the female chess player is not taking offense then don’t worry about it.

I get “misgendered” on line all the time, have ever since I first ventured on line. People mistaking me for a man has enabled me to do things on line without being harassed, belittled, or worse. Unlike someone trans gender, it’s not traumatic for me, indeed, I often find it amusing. Again, that’s for me - it IS very much a problem for some other people.

Women competing on-line in a manner which de-emphasizes their gender may in fact help level the playing field.

Or the opponent is being a dick. That’s possible, too. Sure, it’s rude and inconsiderate, but that’s on him. Maybe you can point that out to him after he loses to the woman.

It’s the same in Bridge. At the highest levels there are separate women’s tournaments as well as open tournaments. Very few of the top bridge players in the world are women.

I’ve often heard it said that the style of play is different in women’s tournaments. i.e. a woman holding the same cards would play them differently in a women’s or open tournament, because of different expectations about how others will play.

They are, and they often win women’s tennis competitions, but they wouldn’t stand much of a chance of winning major tournaments if tennis weren’t gendered - they’d still deserve the designation as top-level players, of course, but the major tournaments they’d compete in would be won by men.

If you desegregated competitive chess, it would be the same picture. Search FIDE ratings (which are non-gendered), amd you’ll see that the highest-ranked active woman currently is Hou Yifan, at #83 worldwide. The highest rank ever achieved by any woman was Judit Polgar, at #8. I don’t claim to have an explanation for why this is the case, but it is; and as a result, it makes sense to hold separate tournaments for men and women, to avoid a situation where the tournament is desegregated on paper but the top spots are, in practice, all taken up by men (which would be unfair and frustrating to the women players, and in particular the top ones, I believe).

Which is all @Snarky_Kong was saying, so there’s really no need for indignation.

I play bridge too (a lot better than I play chess actually) and at the recreational level the majority of players are women in the US at least.

In chess the male domination starts at elementary school level.

However in some other countries (e.g. China & India) I think bridge is as male dominated as chess at pretty much every level.

Certainly I have met top level bridge players and to say that misogynist dismissal of female bridge players is pretty common might be an understatement. The stereotype seems to be that women are not aggressive enough for competition scoring. They are too afraid of the big negative score to take advantage of big upside opportunities.

In this case the female streamer is ASSUMING that their gender-unknown opponent is male.

By the way my daughter presents as male in online games. Even using a voice filter to make her voice deeper. I know exactly what you mean.

This seems key to me. To reach the top echelons of chess, one must start early and stick with it. Positions, offense and defense, all of it, takes years to internalize. A woman coming to the game later in life, or without the same level of early support, will be playing catch-up, years behind her competition. When you read about women who are successful in the field, they almost invariably had a parent or other mentor who took their interest seriously and developed their knowledge and skills at a very young age. This to me is sufficient to explain basically all of the discrepancy.

Basically my daughter could beat almost anyone at the club under age 8. Because whatever I taught her was sufficient at that level. After that, getting almost zero interest from the coach was both a progress and an interest killer.

We’d read chess books and watch online instruction videos, but going to a place physically where it was clear her presence wasn’t appreciated was not encouraging.

I’m also going out on a limb and saying that most of the boys who are really into chess seem to have some kind of social skills issues. They say assholish things to and about girls and are not pulled up by parents or coaches because they are or are assumed to have some kind of ASD issue. Pull that during math class, math team, robotics team or even co-ed soccer and the teacher/coach will squash you pretty soon. But I’m chess it’s somehow the price we pay for brilliance.

It does make me wonder whether any serious, or at least semi-serious, players make use of the Internet Chess Server, Internet Bridge Server, Internet Go Server. Where one should be able to find some anonymous games, at least at beginning skill levels.

I have to say that sounds very patronising.

What is unfair about being placed according to your demonstrated ability? Why is it frustrating for the women? Were they cheated? made to play black? given heavier peices? Why would finishing first in a lower quality field be “better” than finishing 8th against the very best in the world?

Certainly Judit Polgar seems to be no fan of women only tournaments or segragation in general, nor apparently is the current top woman chess player.

I see no compelling reason why chess tournaments should be gendered. I see every reason why equal opportunity and encouragement should be given but why on earth should we expect “equality of outcome”? either in chess or any other endeavour.

It may well be that males have interests and aptitudes that are different from females on average. I’d go so far as to say that it would be astonishing if that weren’t the case and if that is the case then any attempt at forcing equity is doomed to failure.

I use to play at Play people at your skill level from all over the world. The drawback for me was the timing. It’s only fair, but if I need a two minute break (phone call or whatever), I need a two minute break. You can adjust the time limits, or even have no time limit I think. I find playing against real people that I don’t know online very stressful.

Anyway, I learned to play at 9 and became interested again about 10 years ago. I would play ‘computer’ chess.

I taught my Wife about 2.5 years ago. She loves the game. Understand that she is competitive, she’s an IronMan (did a number of full races). But we aren’t that competitive, we often take moves back or let the other person know that they made a blunder.

We play 2 to 5 games a week, and while she has gotten very good, I win about 70% of the time. I think I have an ‘edge’ because I’m a GIS programmer. Everything about my job is very spatial. While tactics are most important in chess (IMHO) it is very spatial as well (IMHO).

We also play Cribbage. We both learned that a few years ago. She wins that about 70% of the time. My wife is a real estate appraiser, which is numbers, numbers, numbers (with quite a bit of opinion involved as well). Cribbage is a numbers game.

I have no stake in this, I was simply reporting what I think the majority opinion among strong female players would be on desegregation. If FIDE decides to desegregate, and the women players support that, then I wouldn’t see any reason not to do it. I simply don’t think the majority of strong women players would support it (the very strongest, perhaps, but, I think, not the still-strong-but-not-quite-top-of-the-world levels). I might be wrong, of course, I haven’t done a survey among chess players (have you?). Frankly, I don’t think that attitude is patronising at all.