Women in Chess
By Zahir Ahmadov
The Honorary President of FIDE Florencio Campomones said in the opening ceremony of the 2nd International Women’s Chess Championship in Baku that he hoped that this tournament would have an impact on the development of women’s chess in the future. But what is the problem with women’s chess? Do ladies perform worse than men because men do not support them much in terms of organizing tournaments? Or is it something innate that women play poorer than men?
Male chess players visiting the women's tournament in Baku: GM Vladislav Tkachiev, GM Teimour Radjabov, two chess fans, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's friend and second, GM Rasul Ibrahimov and Mamedyarov himself.
With these thoughts in my mind I visited the venue of the 2nd International Women’s Chess Championship to ask the opinion of contesting female players themselves. I came before the start of round seven and while watching the games on big projectors in the hall chatted a bit with GM Rauf Mamedov, who is a really quite a hilarious personality.
“Women can never play like men simply because they are women. It is something innate. Have you ever seen women doing any better than men at anything?” Rauf said half seriously and half jokingly.
“Well, what about Judit? She is one of the best 20 in the world,” I asked.
“She is just an exception.”
“Don’t you think that such exceptions might emerge in the future and we may have at least three or four ladies in top ten,” I asked.
“No. I do not think so. That will never happen,” Azerbaijan’s young male talent said resolutely.
I turned to another well-known GM who was sitting next to us and watching the games. I am not giving his name, as he wished to remain anonymous.
“What do you think about the moves? Do you find them inferior?” I asked him.
“No, why? Some moves are great,” he said.
“Which part of the game do female players play worse than men – the opening, the middlegame or the endgame?”
“I think they fail in endgames,” he replied.
“What about openings? I heard female players have also problems in memorizing lots of moves,” I asked.
“I think they play the opening better than us,” he said and smiled.
Finally, the first game to finish was Katya Lahno vs Nargiz Umudova, which Lahno won. I decided to interview Kateryna Lahno, to which she kindly agreed.
Z.A. How many hours do you prepare for chess every day?
K.L. It depends, but mostly I spend for chess five to six hours every day.
Z.A. Why do you think men play better than women?
K.L. I think men’s techniques are better than women’s?
Z.A. Well, but what is the reason for that?
K.L. The reason is different emotional tunings of the two genders. Women are more emotional than men, which is why they fail when it comes to nerves. Moreover, women are more nervous about different things. Most men would think that these are very tiny problems in life.
Z.A. Then what makes Judit different to other girls, who cannot make it to 2600 or over?
K.L. I think Judit started playing in her early ages. Moreover, she works hard on chess. This makes her different from others.
Z.A. What do you think about the future of women in chess? Do you think time will come when women will play just as strong as men?
K.L. That will probably happen sometime in the future, but I think that the number of strong female players will always be less than strong male players.
Lela Javakhishvili seemed to agree with the notion that men are better because they are stronger. But first I asked how much time she spends to chess every day.
L.J. When preparing for special events or tournaments I spend seven hours on chess every day, but on normal days my preparation does not exceed four hours.
Z.A. Why do you think women perform poorer than men in chess?
L.J. I think it is linked with their physical power?
Z.A. Physical power? But chess is about thinking?
L.J. Right, but female players become exhausted more quickly than men because they are weaker. That is why they may fail by the end of the game. Physical power may be decisive in many games. Take any game you want. For instance, in tennis women can never compete with men…
Z.A. You well might be right. However, there might be other reasons. Do you think that women perform poorer than men because historically they had more distractions than men, like chores at home? Even today, in our cultures women cannot spare time for chess like men, because they have lots of work at home. Is this the case with you?
L.J. No, I do not think that that is the reason. I do not have a brother to compare but I think even if I had one I still would find more time than him to devote to chess. Actually, it is my mother and sister who do the housework, not me. Therefore, I can find sufficient time for chess every day.
Z.A. Then what do you think about the future of women’s chess? Do you think women will be able to play like men?
L.J. I really don’t know. It is too difficult to answer.
Firuza Velikhanli won her second consecutive game against one of the leaders of the tournament, V. Cymilte, so I was sure that she would answer my tedious questions about the genders.
Z.A. Do you spend much time on chess?
F.V. Actually, I have spent no time on chess recently. To be more precise, I have not spent sufficient time on chess for the past year. I gave birth to my third child a month ago, so I did not have time to prepare. But I simply could not turn down the offer to take part at this tournament.
Z.A. May I ask you why men play better than women?
F.V. This has already been proved that women can play like men…
Z.A. How? Women can hardly make it to 2600, while only Judit is over 2700. The difference between her and her closest female follower is 135 points? Yet even Judit is not in top ten today…
F.V. Well, first I should say that Judit is a phenomenal lady. Second, the problem is that unlike men most women cannot devote their lives to chess. Personally, for me chess is not the most important thing in my life, my family is.
Z.A. Ainur Sofieva and you were strongest players of Azerbaijan about 15 or 20 years ago, but today many young males make GM norms in this country, easily exceeding your highest ratings. Meanwhile, Azeri female players are not among the best 50 female players in the world…
F.V. Ainur made a career for herself and did not devote herself to chess. I started spending my time with my family. As for the young generation of Azeri female players, I think they have always received less attention than boys in this country. Things are changing with the election of the new management of the chess federation. I hope more money will be spent for women chess in Azerbaijan in the future.
I think my conclusion was that even female players themselves accepted that men would always be better than them. I think I was a bit disappointed and that I wished to hear different answers, like “just wait a few more years and we will overtake men”. However, something in me says that time will prove these girls are wrong and future generations will witness equal play of women and men…
About the author
Zahir Ahmadov is a freelance reporter based in Baku. He works for an international non-governmental organization as a senior manager. An intermediate amature player, Zahir actively takes part in various chess forums in the Internet.
You can send your comments to him at zahirruh (at) hotmail.com. Previous articles by Zahir: