Mint: Why women lose at chess

by ChessBase
10/5/2020 – Mint, one of India’s premium business news publications, just published an article written by Omkar Khandekar focused on the rating gap between the top men and women chess players. The author wonders whether it has to do with conventional gender roles or unequal access. | Pictured: Harika Dronavalli observes her compatriot Humpy Koneru in action against Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: FIDE

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What’s holding women back?

When she first started participating in chess tournaments at age 7, Koneru Humpy would play in both draws—of boys and girls. “They considered girls as ‘underdog players’, so I was allowed to participate,” she recalls. “But mostly girls themselves didn’t dare do that because the competition (in the boys’ draw) was very tough.”

Humpy was no underdog. In 1999 and 2000, she won the Asian under-12 and national under-14 titles at ages 12 and 13, respectively, both in the boys’ category. Her performance against girls was even better: She swept up the top prize at the under 10, 12, 14 and 20 world championships. At the age of 15, she became a chess grandmaster (GM), the youngest woman in the world at the time to enter the elite club. She even broke the record of Judit Polgár, the highest rated woman chess player ever—she was three months younger than Polgár was when she became a GM.

Some couldn’t digest her meteoric rise. Humpy recalls an instance from 2003, when her automatic selection for the top-level Men’s National A tournament met with disapproval from some of her male peers. “They didn’t think I deserved it. They said I didn’t have the strength to play the higher event.” To prove herself, she entered the men’s draw in the qualifiers’ tournament. She finished second.

There are no men’s tournaments any more. These have been expanded to “open” contests where players are chosen on the basis of their rating points, or “ELOs”. Over the years though, Humpy’s success rate at such tournaments started dipping. Today, at age 33, she is the world No.2 in women’s chess but No.283 overall. The No.1 in women’s chess, Hou Yifan, is world No.86 overall.

The sharp gender divide among the best—a phenomenon with a historical precedent—has often had people scratching their heads: If chess is a sport of the mind, why don’t women match up to men?

Some of the answers are obvious. Professional chess is mostly a boys’ club. Only 15% of all the licensed players in the world are women, according to the International Chess Federation, or FIDE. India is no different: Its 13,365 women chess players make up 16% of the total registered, according to the All India Chess Federation (AICF). Fewer participants at the entry level results in fewer chances for the top slots. But Humpy has a different theory, a more controversial one: Men are just better players. “It’s proven,” she says. “You have to accept it.”

Read the full article at LiveMint

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KIva78 KIva78 10/8/2020 12:12
"If chess is a sport of the mind, why don’t women match up to men?" The evidence shows that women tend to be more interested in people, and men tend to be more interested in things. Thousands of years of evolution prepared the way for this.
celeje celeje 10/8/2020 11:21
fgkdjlkag: "This idea that different participation rates explains it is silly, because persons select into or out of what they are good or bad at"

Yes, I agree.
pfitschigogerl pfitschigogerl 10/7/2020 02:30
pfitschigogerl Just now
@kamamura: If it is the hunt/warfare and killer instinct thing: Why do we not have nobel prizes for women, all female universities or motor racing for women?

However, what we do have is chess tournaments and special prizes for women. Incredible.
kamamura kamamura 10/7/2020 12:45
Hmm... conversely, why are men so bad at having children? Lack of womb and ovaries, perhaps, difficulty to lactate? I would research along these lines.

Evolutional biologists will tell you that unlike neanderthals, human sexes have specialized - men on hunt and warfare, women on care for children and home, and food provision. History has shown that it was the correct bet.

I believe that women are worse chess players because they lack the competitive spirit and "killer instinct", and they also lack the focus, and especially the focus. I have met many ambitious women, and yes, they can improve in this or that area, but mostly the specialization is just a tool to achieve some other goal - prestige, finding a suitable enough partner, securing funds for a family. That's maybe enough to become average to good in something, but never the best.

Forget all the feminist BS that women are discriminated in chess clubs or on tournaments, etc. I have met several women on official tournaments, some of them gave me proper beatings, and all of them were welcomed cordially in their clubs and supported as any other member.

In chess, you lose because you play worse moves then your opponents. Everything else is just excuses.
e-mars e-mars 10/7/2020 12:29
Read the whole article: superficial, bunch of citations, inconclusive. As usual Short & C. deemed as sexist.
Not worth the time I spent on it.
fede666 fede666 10/6/2020 02:56
matter of time ? maybe eternity is the answer...
kurumban kurumban 10/6/2020 11:35
For hundreds of years, it has been drilled into women that men are superior to them. The psychological impact of such conditioning can be deep, and it's not easy to overcome the effects of such prejudice quickly. There are subtle ways of discrimination against women going on around us today too. It was once believed that a woman couldn't excel at math. Yet, women have claimed the highest prizes in math. So, why not in chess? It is only a matter of time before we get to see a female World Champion.
Peter B Peter B 10/6/2020 09:47
If the sex difference was only nurture, then following should be possible: a sufficiently talented girl would be brought up in the right environment, in which she was encouraged to be just as obsessive about chess as young boys can be, and she would reach the very top level.

Oh wait, that has already happened.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 10/6/2020 06:47
@pfitschigogerl, you linked an interesting article, which brings up an important and explanatory variable for differences in chess performance based on gender: choice. But it does not impact any point that I made, in the way that I think you think it does. There are other known factors (eg, a study showed that online female players played worse if they were told they were playing against a male, vs. if they told they were playing against a female).

@chessgod0, I'm not sure about the idea that greater numbers of women playing in open tournaments is a prerequisite for a woman to win the world championship. While of course it would increase the probability, a freak of nature like a Mozart or a Fischer could be of either gender.
nchaar nchaar 10/6/2020 03:58
The 2 best women players now agree.
Humpy: Men are just better players. It’s proven. You have to accept it.
Yifan: Theoretically, there should be a possibility that a woman can compete for the title in the future, but practically I think that the chances of this happening in the next few decades are very small. I do think the average rating of female players could improve, but the gap between the top women right now and the players competing for the world title is really quite large. But if you look at any sport, it’s hard to imagine girls competing at the same level as men.
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 10/6/2020 01:01
As per the book "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus", there are fundamental psychological differences between the sexes. These differences no doubt account for much of the disparity between the performance of men and women at the chess board.
chessgod0 chessgod0 10/5/2020 11:27
Also, the article at LiveMint refers to a "pay gap" between "mens and womens tournaments". I cannot emphasize how dishonest this is, if only because men's tournaments simply do not exist. There are "open" tournaments and "womens" tournaments and the "pay gap" exists because you shouldn't be able to make the same money by facing weaker opposition.
SunriseK SunriseK 10/5/2020 07:20
I already wrote on this subject here in June:
So I don't want to repeat the same concepts again, which above all seem so obvious to me (and there I cited also illustrious fonts which are well known in psychology).
Now I will just add a piece of information: notice that top female chess player can be trained by coaches who are much stronger than them, while for example Magnus obviously can't.
In spite of this, still the gap between males and females is about 200 ELO points.
And still there are people who try to find twisted explanations instead of accepting a simple fact: men and female brains are different; not better nor worse, just different (and btw complementary, which is a great thing IMHO). ;-)
chessgod0 chessgod0 10/5/2020 07:03
@ pfitschigogerl

It's important to remember that female players requested separate tournaments back in the 70s and 80s...and they got their wish. Women aren't "accepting degrading treatment" so much as they are getting exactly what they wanted.

It's also important to remember than there are no 'mens' chess tournaments and that tournaments with mostly men are actually 'open' tournaments in which anyone can play. Women can choose to play against men or to not play against men.

I agree that a women will not become the official world chess champion until greater numbers of women begin to compete in open tournaments. I also don't think it's a big deal at all and believe that women should be left to make their own decisions and the "equality" is not nearly as important as doing what you want and having fun.

Part of the reason chess is so great is because politics don't matter. Let's keep it that way.
pfitschigogerl pfitschigogerl 10/5/2020 05:03
Hi fgkdjlkag!
Interesting post. In response to what you said you might want to read this:
pfitschigogerl pfitschigogerl 10/5/2020 03:51
The article is a good read and raises almost all the important points in the discussion (we simply do not know why women play weaker chess, the Polgar phenomenon, educational and social aspects etc), but falls short on the most important one: why do we have girls/women only tournaments?
If in the discussion one were to replace the term "women" with "black" there would be an outcry because of racism, and rightly so. There are almost no black top playres. The first black American GM was Maurice Ashley in the 1990ies and black people are at a disadvantage in many areas of life. And yet, if we awarded a special prize for black players in a tournament or had black only competitions it would be embarrassing.
What we need is gender euality, empowerment of women and feminism if you will. Women´s chess is degrading, infantile and discouriging in the long run. Women should be treated fairly, and not like children or the handicapped.
That so many top female players accept this kind of treatment is understandable (they profit frome it), but still a disgrace if you look at the whole picture. The depressing thing is that FIDE and national federations are moving in the opposite direction and continue with this nonsense.
sokaspkarpov sokaspkarpov 10/5/2020 03:30

This question was answered long ago by Jan Hein Donner!!
Grandmaster, writer and critical philosopher!

He wrote it in a women magazine!!

Little joke...

fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 10/5/2020 03:04
An alright piece by a non chess-player, who hasn't done much research, even assuming that Koneru Humpy is quoted correctly.
This idea that different participation rates explains it is silly, because persons select into or out of what they are good or bad at.
"The numbers" do not support the hypothesis. With that reasoning 100 years ago, men would have been considered to be intrinsically superior in most fields, which is obviously not the case.
"Centuries of patriarchy" has nothing to do with a woman's ability to learn today, given the plethora of online resources.
It doesn't "get complicated" when elite women players agree. Is everyone not free to have their own opinion, it has to be reflective of one's gender?

The risk-taking and emotional factors are interesting hypotheses, because risk-taking explains part of the performance in other fields (eg, CEOs), and if less emotional players are better, then it will be reflected at a population level.
Mr Toad Mr Toad 10/5/2020 02:56
Firstly, a nice story about Nigel Short who has been quoted as saying "Women, by their nature, are not exceptional chess players; they are not great fighters.". Unfortunately he, like Kasparov, have also lost to Judit Polgár in the past.

So if women can beat two of the top men player's at least once then they indisputably possess the necessary qualities to do so when the conditions are favourable. Koneru Humpy is fully entitled to her view that "men are just better players" but I believe she is wrong.

Furthermore, we can see that some people, who should know better, have now taken her opinion as established fact. They lean back in their chairs with authority amd inform us that the case is now closed. Such is the frailty of the human condition. We believe what we want to believe.
e-mars e-mars 10/5/2020 02:34
Oh, here we comes again