Chess player disqualified for...

by ChessBase
4/19/2023 – impersonating a woman! At the Kenya Open, something unique happened when a man was caught playing in the women’s section. Registered as an unrated player, he was wearing a hijab (head and shoulder covering) typical of a Muslim woman, with a niqaab (face covering).

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In his chess blog Daaim Shabazz writes:

After beating a former Kenyan champion (Gloria Jumba) and Uganda’s top player (Shakira Ampaire), many initially wondered why they had never heard of Millicent Awuor in important national events. Who was this Muslim woman? Was she a long-retired chess veteran? 

According to Victor Otieno of Nation Media Group, it turns out that the player was Stanley Omondi, a male university student with a 1499 FIDE rating. Other players and tournament officials started to draw suspicions when Millicent never spoke to anyone or interacted with the other players. They also noticed some peculiar mannerisms and a strange gait for a woman.

After the official finally confronted the player, they asked him to produce an identification, after which he confessed to the ruse. He cited the 500,000 KSh (approximately US $3800) as the incentive as he was struggling with his student expenses. He was immediately expelled from the tournament and his results were reversed. The news of a male chess player impersonating a woman is novel and has gone viral. 

It is interesting that while this was not the top woman player there was no “stereotype threat” since they thought he was a woman. Stereotype threat in chess is the idea that women may approach the game differently when facing a man. This incident brings about all types of discussions. One basic question is whether a man should be able to play in the women’s section. Right now the answer is “no”, unless the man is technically a transgender woman.

There were comments about what would happen if a man indeed began to identify as a woman. Would it be a problem if a 2700 male grandmaster became a transgender woman and began to dominate every event? In the past few years, federations have had to deal with this question. The U.S. Chess Federation’s transgender policy allows one such gender change. There is one such player in the U.S. who actually had the operation and now competes as a woman.

A brief discussion on gender

Transgender women (born male) competing with women is clearly questionable when physical strength plays a factor in competition. But what about chess? Most will say that gender doesn’t matter in chess because it isn’t a physical sport. However, one can make the argument that testosterone makes men more aggressive in general, and this could also be true in how they approach chess.

The gender gap between men and women chess players remains constant, but girls and women have shown increased activity. Yet there is still a precipitous dropout rate of girls. Do men have an inherent advantage in games given their fighting instinct? Men play at higher levels (on average) in chess, shogi, xiangqi, go, draughts, and even bridge. Why? The “participation approach” (more men play) has been critiqued as dubious. Is there any validity to the “Fighting Chess Index” seen in Dr. David Smerdon’s report?

Some of the variances can be explained given the gender differences in the social importance placed on games. In this “hijab” case, it was a situation of a needy student who was enticed by the lucrative prize fund. There was no way this 1499 Elo player was going to win a tournament with seven grandmasters, but may have had a chance at winning one of the ten cash prizes in the women’s section.

Millicent Owuor doesn’t exist, but this name will now live on forever. False identity cases are prevalent in online chess where a strong player may play on a friend’s account. Let us hope that players spend more time working on their chess skills than ways of cheating the system.

The Chess Drum, which has been going strong for 22 years, was created to highlight the chess activities within the African Diaspora, to serve as a vehicle for fostering a greater sense of community within the chess world, to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge, and to demonstrate the true universality of chess. We will bring you a full portrait of the origin and activities of the site in the near future.

Daaim Shabazz, the founder of The Chess Drum, holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and is still an active tournament competitor.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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