Investigating gender differences in chess pattern recognition

by ChessBase
2/21/2020 – Here's an opportunity to support chess research. Tom Koolen bills himself as an "interdisciplinary data scientist" and a chess player, who's attempting to get a research project off the ground using the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. Commentator WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni has promoted the project on social media. | Photo: Michal Vrba on Unsplash

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A foray into crowdfunded research

We have covered the gender gap in chess on a number of occasions and it always provokes interesting (if sometimes heated) conversation in the comments. While there are heated opinions on all sides, there remains a dearth of serious research on the subject.

This new project is endorsed by chess influencer and commentator Fiona Steil-Antoni:

Tom Koolen is organizing the fundraiser, and describes it as follows:

Because of the strength difference between the top male and female chess players, only male experts have been analysed regarding pattern recognition. More relevant should be the exact study of gender difference regarding the perception of the game in order to be able to raise female participation at the high level. Thus the aim of this experiment is to research the key component of chess strength (pattern recognition) for female players as well in comparison to male players.

In (Bilalic, 2009) the higher strength of top male chess players is attributed mostly to participation rate and male predominance at the top. (Bilalic, 2010) is a very interesting and visual research on the difference in pattern recognition (which is seen as the key strength factor of chess masters) between chess experts and novices. Female chess players were not included in the research group.

Other variables attributed are memorization and psychological factors that lead different strategic decision-making between the two genders. This projects wants to create a homogeneous test for each of these variables to present a clear visualization of the specific strengths of both genders.

The choice to only look at male chess players leaves a wide research gap open to explore. In order to increase participation rate amongst female chess players, chess education needs to be tailored to their specific needs, like in many sports and disciplines. Measuring the differences in the above-mentioned variables between the two genders will lead to significant insights into the gender difference in perception of the game of chess, which can be used to improve training approach and raise the participation rate amongst females.

In a psychological game like chess, it is of importance to research these differences. The insights could furthermore lead to evidence for further fMRI studies into generalizing gender brain differences in decision-making.

The goal of this research is to conduct the above-described homogeneous test with a target group of chess players representing equally as many male as female players and with a spread in playing strength. The results will be visualised and published openly, while also being presented on well-known chess media. A more practical goal is to provide research data that can improve training focuses for female chess players.

What will be the end product?

A research paper will be published open-access and the research will be provided to major chess media. A video presentation will also be shared online. The product can be used freely by all chess media and federations and aims to clarify unclear misconceptions about the gender difference in chess.

Tom Koolen may be reached via email.


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