Chess is gendered?

I have no idea. It could well be my personal bias. It’s a distraction from my main point that given equal opportunity, women have thrived at what was a male dominated profession. I was privileged to witness it.

I agree that there’s no need to gender-separate chess. Using classical music as a similar example, it isn’t gendered - women and men compete together in the Van Cliburn, Chopin, Leschetitzky, etc., with no need for segregation since no one has a physical advantage. (Well, maybe Russian pianists and their huge hands, but I digress)

Yes, but having more men at the ends of the bell curve does not mean it is all men at the ends of the bell curve. Even if the majority at the bottom of the curve are men there are still some women there. But at the very top of the chess bell curve there are NO women. None at all. And that is weird. So you have to ask what other factors are at work.

IF there was a truly level playing field in chess and women had equal opportunity to learn, get coaching, and play competitively then your argument might hold water but we KNOW that is not the case. No one gets to the elite level of chess without help of some sort and we know women do not have the same access to that sort of assistance whether it’s coaching, opportunities to play, or support from friends/family/society.

Chess and its dual tournaments are the equivalent of baseball 100 years ago with the “baseball leagues” and the “Negro leagues”. Black players had a separate league not because they were inherently less able but because of bias baked into the “real” system that denied the black players the opportunities the white players had (black plays could, in theory, join white teams and some did try to play in the minor leagues but they were subject to abuse when they tried. Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in the Majors, was subjected to abuse as well, including from some of his own team mates). Major league baseball is about 15-20% players of African descent (it varies from year to year with people entering and leaving the league) but any particular black player could perform at the highest level and some have now that many barriers to their entry have been removed. There are not many black players but there are some.

Everyone saying “but women can’t play chess at the highest level!” is pointing to the current results of the current system which is known to be biased against women from the start and throws obstacles into the way of any women who wants to excel in chess. We also know this starts early, when the ages of the children involved are in the single digits. We know that women have less access to coaching at all levels. That’s just two of the multiple factors we know about. The system is not fair, the playing field is not level. Until it is, all this talk about “but none of the top X number of players are women!” is not a valid argument against women being good chess players. It’s like someone in 1950 arguing that black men couldn’t be good business owners because there were no black CEO’s in the Fortune 500 while ignoring how weighted the system was against black businessmen. (For the record - the 2020 Fortune 500 listed only 5 Black CEO’s. But there were some, despite continuing bias in the US business world. Also for the record, there were 30 women on that list as well.)

If chess required lifting 100 pound weights or being good at sprinting then the dominance of men might be something inherent because that’s the sort of thing biology has baked into the human race. But chess doesn’t require that. To say that men are inherently better at chess (proven by the results of a system heavily biased against women’s participation from the earliest levels) is to decree that women are intellectually inferior. The same sort of arguments that, for centuries, were used to hold women down. “Oh, we can’t have women professors in universities - there aren’t any now so clearly women can’t perform at that level of intellect” - that was an argument used a century ago. Marie Curie won not one but two Nobel Prizes and discovered not one but two elements on the periodic table but that still wasn’t good enough to win her a seat at the French Academy of Sciences. Women just weren’t good enough to achieve at the highest levels of science, everyone “knew” that.

We now know that to be untrue - women most certainly can achieve at the highest levels of science given an opportunity to do so. The Nobel Prize list is still dominated by men, but women also appear on it in all categories.

So… why does chess have absolutely no women in the top 100 players, and apparently has NEVER had that? A century ago the argument would have been “women aren’t smart enough” but these days we have smart women popping up everywhere… except chess. Why is that? Because, unlike sports where the highest ranking men are always faster and stronger than women in all physical sports without exception, there are women show up in all these other intellectual endeavors everywhere. Not a lot, but there are some and they’re getting more prevalent. The smartest women clearly, based on awards and achievements, are the equals of the smartest men - except in chess. Which makes no sense.

So there is something else going on there.

And maybe it gives comfort to some people to think there is a small corner of the human world where men are inherently superior to women even if it requires a bias against women starting in childhood to maintain… but I do believe they are fooling themselves.

'Tis true.

For decades (centuries) women and minorities did not get jobs in orchestras. They just didn’t win auditions. Until “blind” auditions came in, where the prospective player did the audition behind a curtain, with ONLY the sound of their playing offered for judgement. All of a sudden, women and minorities started getting those jobs. Because there very much was bias in the auditions system before when judges could see who was playing, even if the judges weren’t aware of it. This is why orchestras are no longer solely male players.

I haven’t heard anyone saying that in this thread. I’ve heard that they don’t in any great numbers but that is a different thing altogether.

The system may not be fair, the opportunities may not be equal and you are right that until we can state with some confidence that they are we can draw few conclusions about the likelihood of females occupying more of the top slots.

However, a word of caution. If you don’t want to accept the answer then don’t run the experiment. This applies in all areas of life.
You could level up the opportunity and remove all the barriers and still not have a woman in the top 20 players. Now you either then concede that yes, there is some inherent male/female factor at play or you see the unequal outcome as evidence that opportunities may still not be equal. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts on that.

One strong indicator of the true picture would be to find a country or countries that have purposefully moved to full equality and opportunity for all chess players and see what effect, if any, that has had on females in the top echelons.

It’s not proven that it would remain like that for the indefinite, but as things currently are (and probably will remain for a while), it is highly likely that a desegregated top-level chess tournament would have its top ranks filled by men, and you’d have to go quite a bit down the ladder until you get to the first woman. As mentioned above, I don’t claim to know why this is the case, so I’m not disagreeing with your view that it is due to an unlevel playing field rather than some alleged inherent disparity between the genders. My entire point is that as things stand now, top-level chess is dominated by men, and that’s why it is kept gendered.

I don’t know if the observation is true or not, but if true, there is a reasonable explanation.

If it is true that women engineers are, on average, better than male engineers, it could be because the women engineers have to perform better in order to break through whatever glass ceilings remain. A form of occupational evolution if you like.

The opposite could also be an explanation if it happened that women engineers were, on average, worse than men. That could be explained by relaxed hiring standards in order to try and create a more inclusive workforce.

Neither of these scenarios imply that either sex is inherently better or worse at anything, all it really means is that there is so much going on socially that it is not really possible to draw any conclusions either way.

I’ll reiterate my earlier point that there are way more female bridge players than female chess players - because bridge is a social game and chess is not.

Also I think that chess appeals to autistic personalities because

  • there’s no social interaction during play
  • chess has clear rules and is pure logic

If this is true, then even after the game finishes, autistic chess players are going to struggle to hold conversations (except about chess!) and this will not appeal to women.

I totally agree that all the existing barriers to pursuing high level chess means that we can’t conclude anything about inherent differences in men and women when it comes to chess ability, but you’re wrong that a wider bell curve for men than women wouldn’t mean there wasn’t a level where it was improbable to find women.

Again, I’m not saying chess ability has such a distribution, but there definitely exists normal distributions that, if they applied to women’s and men’s chess abilities would make it plausible that out of the millions of chess players out there only the a sprinkling of women would break the top few hundred and only one a century would break the top ten.

Considering the plain evidence of discouraging environments for women in the pipeline leading to the top it is unlikely that is the explanation, but the lack of women at the top isn’t by itself statistically weird.

You greatly overestimate how relevant autism is to the discussion of chess ability, and “women are more social” and “women aren’t into logic” are both prejudices with the same cultural biases influencing what the gendered distribution is in the present day.

As has been discussed earlier, there are almost no top-ranked female bridge players – even though at a recreational level there are more women than men.

How does that fit into your theory?

One thing about music is that both genders are generally interested in playing music, so that may lead to a more even field. I’m not sure I would say the same thing about chess. I learned chess back from playing with my friends along with stuff like checkers and board games. My friend group were boys and we played chess to pass the time and have fun. Do girls play chess when they’re hanging around with their girl friend group? I get the sense that they don’t really play chess with each other as kids. That has nothing to do with gender gatekeeping or inequal access to coaching and chess resources. It’s not like any adults were guiding us boys into playing chess. We played the games we liked playing, and chess was one of those games we liked.

And also I get the sense there is a gender chess divide in prison. Prisoners often play chess to pass the time. From the sense I get from watching prison documentaries, men prisoners play chess much more often than women. I would assume that most of the prisoners are playing chess to pass the time and they pick it up while in prison. I don’t think it’s chess experts cultivating chess players. So in these gender separated areas where both groups can choose if they want to play chess or do something else, it looks like men are more likely to pick chess and women pick something else.

Do you think your choices of activities had nothing to do with how those activities were perceived in society as a whole? Do you think you would still have chosen that activity if you lived in a time or place where chess was seen as a thing women did?

Not at that time. I really had no idea about chess rankings, their gender of ranked players, or anything like that back when I was 11-years-old playing board games. We played chess because checkers got too boring. It was just one of the many games we played that were in the game cabinet, like backgammon, Monopoly, Life, etc. I’m not sure I thought of any of those games as being gendered. There weren’t chess parks or cafes where I grew up or anything that would have shaped my opinion of chess as a male or female game (or pretty much any of the board games we played, for that matter). But certainly there could have been that impression from movies and such where chess was shown, as I’m sure it was pretty much just men being shown playing.

When this effect occurs, you’d expect it to be at the very start of integration, when only a few members of the underprivileged demographic have broken through. It’s no coincidence that Jackie Robinson was a really great baseball player, or that the Tuskegee Airmen were really great pilots, because they couldn’t have gotten there without being great.

But if you have a situation where half of all engineers are women, and the female engineers are on average more competent than their male counterparts, that can’t be the whole explanation: If only the very best women were managing to become engineers, you’d expect to see much fewer of them (unless the pool of women capable of becoming engineers were much larger to begin with than it was for men, which would also be an indicator of female engineering superiority).

There had to have been at least some adult guidance-- You had to learn the game from somewhere, didn’t you? And it may be that you weren’t aware of any gender bias in that guidance, and it may even be that the adults weren’t aware of it, either, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t exist: Unconscious bias is quite common, as evidenced by the earlier example of blind and non-blind orchestra auditions.

It doesn’t even specifically have to be observation of chess. What were the norms for girl and boy activities at the time and place? How did advertising for toys and games for boys and girls differ? I don’t know your age, but school still isn’t gender neutral in encouraging using your brain, so girls could shy away from spending their play time playing board games. And that is if we take your observation of one group of boys at one time and extrapolate a gender difference from it.

And to briefly get back to the prison example. People in prison are adults with broadly the same learned gender biases as others.

I am confident that being autistic helps considerably with both learning and playing chess.

However I apologise for suggesting women are not into logic. (Careless of me.)

Nevertheless there is a massive difference in the proportion of women who play chess compared to the proportion that play bridge. Since both games require analysis, concentration and acquiring a fund of knowledge about the game - surely it’s reasonable to say that the sociability of bridge attracts women.

My theory is that bridge appeals far more to women than chess does.
I only came in to counter the OP statement that chess is gendered. It’s not - there are Open, women’s, juniors and veterans events.

Perhaps you missed the information above that it’s only in English-speaking and (I think) European countries that more women than men play bridge.

In India, Pakistan, China, and the Far East in general, bridge is overwhelmingly a men’s game at all levels.

That’s a clear indication that cultural factors predominate, not sociability or intellect.

“Women’s events” means chess is, at least in part, gendered.