Recently the Imperial College chess team arrived back from BUCA. After multiple rounds, Imperial managed to dominate the entire tournament. It was a great weekend of fun and exciting chess games. However, throughout the event, one thing particularly struck me. Of a group of more than a 70 people, I could have counted the number of women at this entire event on two hands, maybe even one. Yet on average, men and women are distributed fairly evenly throughout the globe. The ratio of the two genders is close to 1:1. Why was it something like 15 to one at this tournament? After I got home I did my own research into this and found some really astounding facts: no woman has ever been world champion; there are only 30 women who are full Grandmasters (when there are actually 1,192 GMs); and and and. The list goes on and on. Women are woefully underrepresented in this famous game. Why is chess considered such a mans sport?
Let us first get all the rubbish out of the way: it does not require any dexterity, strength or speed – only your own brain power. Men and women are not different in any way if we just measure them by their intelligence. Therefore, there should be no reason why as many women as men shouldn’t compete at all levels.
Throughout the early stages of chess, e.g. the middle ages, chess was played by women and men alike. However, somewhat inexplicably, as time progressed this ancient game was more and more dominated by men. Furthermore in the 19th and 20th centuries, roughly 5% of tournament players have been of the fairer sex. In addition, and this is what I find the strangest, FIDE (the world chess organisation) introduced specific woman’s titles. So, for example, you have a normal GM, which is highest attainable title in chess, and then you have a Woman Grandmaster. Not only do we have a distinct title, but to add insult to injury, the requirements for attaining one are much easier. It is as if FIDE is saying that, yes women can be GMs, but they need to be separate and mean less than a normal GM.
This attitude that men and women need to be judged differently in this sport is the crux of the problem. Yes, I agree that in some sports it makes sense to have different competitions, ranking etc. but why in chess?
Another aspect that I believe hinders women into getting chess as much as men is the the general perception of chess players. Since chess is the ultimate logical sport, men are seen as the best gender as they are, oh, so much more logical, just like in the STEM subjects. I mean honestly, if I asked you on the fly right now, to name five women who were a great chess players, you would stumble a bit (hopefully you could name five chess players though!). This ‘public opinion’ has also lead to less encouragement by parents, sponsors and clubs to try and get women to actually try playing chess. As an avid chess player, I think it is quite sad that such a significant part of the population does not get as much support to try playing chess. The wealth of talent that probably goes wasted is a crime. I believe that there isn’t a more equal game, where two human beings, independent of gender, age or origin can play a fair game, so why not let all have a go at it?