Why there’s a separate World Chess Championship for women?

by Alexey Root
1/7/2020 – The Women’s World Chess Championship match is from January 5-26, 2020. The first six games will be played in Shanghai, China and the remaining six games, plus any tiebreak games, will be played in Vladivostok, Russia. The match features Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun of China against challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina, of Russia. Here, Alexey Root, a lecturer teaching courses about chess in education at The University of Texas at Dallas, answers questions about the Women’s World Chess Championship. | Photo: Lewis Liu

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1. When did the Women’s World Chess Championship begin?

The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) was established in 1924 and, in 1927, held the first Women’s World Championship and the Men’s Olympiad. According to Mark Weeks, who served as the Chess Guide for About.com, FIDE organized just these two events for its first two decades. Eventually, FIDE gained control of other prestigious chess events, most notably the World Chess Championship.

The present Women’s World Chess Championship cycle parallels the World Chess Championship cycle. The World Chess Championship cycle is open to both men and women, though only men have reached its final stage, a two-person match for the champion’s title. Preliminary stages include the Candidates Tournament, an eight-player double round robin where the winner becomes the challenger for a title match.

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The match sports a colourful symmetric logo

2. In most sports, such as tennis, golf, basketball and the like, there are separate categories or leagues for women because men tend to have some sort of inherent physical advantage. Why is there a separate championship for women in chess when chess is about decisions as opposed to muscle mass and physical speed?

Most chess tournaments are open, to all ages, all genders, and all nationalities. In the United States, the annual “U.S. Open” is one example. However, segregated championships exist, by age (junior championships), geography (state chess championships), by gender, and even by profession (U.S. Armed Forces Open Chess Championship). These segregated tournaments allow those playing to get media attention, benefit financially, and make friends with people with whom they share some similar characteristics. Separate tournaments don’t speak to whether there are advantages or disadvantages.

Likewise, separate tournaments for girls and women don’t mean that girls and women are more or less capable than boys and men at chess. However, there may be less interest in chess among girls and women compared to boys and men. Based on 2019 statistics, 14.6% of US Chess members are female, and that is a new, record-high percentage [see stories on the gender gap in chess]. Thus, logically, and in reality, a smaller base of females means fewer women than men at the top of the chess rating list, as one study found. Offering occasional female-only tournaments may make chess more attractive to girls and women, for the financial, social, and publicity reasons mentioned above.

Goryachkina's hand

Ju makes her move in Game 2 | Photo: Lewis Liu

3. What would happen if there was no separate world chess championship for women?

The Women’s World Chess Championship match is the culmination of a two-year cycle of events. Those events financially help the current top women players to concentrate on chess exclusively, as there is prize money for each event in the cycle. If the cycle were abolished, then it would be much harder for those women players to make money from playing in chess tournaments. Women would also become relatively invisible in media stories about chess.

A four-time Women’s World Chess Champion, Hou Yifan, is ranked at #75 among men and women combined. Though she is the highest-rated woman on the list of active chess players, as #75 she likely would not qualify for the Candidates Tournament in the World Chess Championship cycle and the prize money and media attention associated with it. Sponsorship money might also be lost to the chess world, as some sponsors specifically target chess for girls and women.

However, segregated tournaments for girls and women are not universally supported. For example, Judit Polgár, the highest-rated woman of all time who at her peak in 2005 was ranked #8 in the world, wrote that she makes it a point to never separate girls and boys — nor award special prizes for girls — in the children’s tournaments that she organizes. “Meanwhile, national federations use their resources, and public subsidies are creating more female-only competitions,” Polgár wrote. “It is high time to consider the consequences of this segregation — because in the end, our goal must be that women and men compete with one another on an equal footing.”

To get to equal footing, however, separate championships may provide a leg up. The prize fund for the Women’s World Chess Championship match is 500,000 Euros [watch live]. Perhaps that prize money will enable the two competitors to invest in more chess training for themselves so that maybe, someday, they can compete also in the World Chess Championship.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.
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TwoZero TwoZero 1/10/2020 09:25
"melante 6 hours ago

But just saying "it's a numbers game" seems like a simplistic way to get to a conclusion.

Let's assume the population of active chess players is 80% male and 20% female (I don't actually know the exact ratio, just guessing for example's sake). We would then expect to have a 80% male and 20% female distribution across all levels but, as we get to the top echelons of the rankings, the percentage of female players become less and less. ."

I disagree with your core assumption: that the fallout rate is linear.

It is not. It is exponential. It is that way for all other sporting tiers and I do not see chess being any different.

As to this though: "...is something else at play here ..."

I believe that your instinct is correct.

Many IQ studies have shown that whist men and women are equal in IQ on average, Statistically, the standard deviation of male intelligence is greater than the standard deviation of female intelligence. With fewer women on the positive extreme end of the scale that is an added obstacle in the numbers game in which women are already lacking. But going down that rabbit hole may be a bigger red pill than most are willing to swallow.

Ms. Root gets these articles on Chessbase because she has built up her CV as a legitimate voice in the chess world, and is willing to put out content to support her pet cause. Unfortunately proper rebuttals to her articles can only be made piece-meal as the comments section word count restrictions prevents a full point by point rebuttal of her erroneous and discriminatory agenda.
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melante melante 1/10/2020 02:49
@TwoZero:

But just saying "it's a numbers game" seems like a simplistic way to get to a conclusion.

Let's assume the population of active chess players is 80% male and 20% female (I don't actually know the exact ratio, just guessing for example's sake). We would then expect to have a 80% male and 20% female distribution across all levels but, as we get to the top echelons of the rankings, the percentage of female players become less and less. So much so that there is only 1 female player in the top 100! This is not just a numbers game as it does become increasingly difficult for female players to reach the very top (even for those who are 100% committed to the game) so there likely is something else at play here (the endurance required to be successful in long lasting elite events could explain it, though you don't agree with it being a possible factor).
TwoZero TwoZero 1/9/2020 09:06
"fgkdjlkag 2 hours ago

@TwoZero, how do you know what the endurance/physical fitness threshold is for high-level chess?
There is no such thing as a pure endurance event - all sports require a combination of many factors. ..."

The workout routines of the top players are no secret. Neither are the workout routines of racing car drivers. It's really not that hard. Do research. Polgar was not in some exceptional physical shape for her sex when she made #8.

"...Running up against the same numbers game" has no meaning, because it is well-known that ppl gravitate toward at what they are good, and away from at what they are bad. "

You realize that it is a numbers game for men as well, right? How many boys take up the game and fall by the wayside, or just become another 2600ish GM, for every one that cracks the top ten, let alone becomes world champion...

Interest also plays a major role. Like Christina Nielsen who has shown she is good enough to compete with the men and win championships in the GTD division in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. But as I related below she readily acknowledges that most girls just aren't interested in motorsport. Certainly not enough to do carting and work their way up in sufficient numbers for female drivers to be a regular feature at the higher levels.
There seems to be two camps here: The one that refuses to acknowledge that there are no insurmountable physical or mental barriers to women be able to be top ten chess players.

And the one that refuses to acknowledge that women are not under represented in chess; it's just that as girls grow older they just generally get interested in different things.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 1/9/2020 06:51
@TwoZero, how do you know what the endurance/physical fitness threshold is for high-level chess?
There is no such thing as a pure endurance event - all sports require a combination of many factors.
"Running up against the same numbers game" has no meaning, because it is well-known that ppl gravitate toward at what they are good, and away from at what they are bad.
TwoZero TwoZero 1/9/2020 11:15
"melante 4 hours ago
@TwoZero:
...
Judith Polgar was one isolated case as nobody managed to replicate her successes so far so she was just the exception to the rule. ..."

Polgar was the "exception" only in the sense of a woman breaking into the top ten players. (Which IMHO is more of a numbers game than anything - most male chess professionals do not make the top ten! And not enough women are interested in chess to make female top ten players a common thing.)

I disagree with you about the long term endurance, because compared to competitive racing drivers, chess players are in no better shape. And Women have long since proven they can compete with men in that arena. (naturally running up against the same numbers game when it comes to seeing women at the elite level.)
fede666 fede666 1/9/2020 10:48
I really hope that chess does not start to get a bad reputation on media and social sites..where It is portrayed as a discriminatory game where men have some kind of an advantage...then chess will definitely not get sponsorships...
melante melante 1/9/2020 05:50
@TwoZero:

I understand what you mean but every chess player will testify that playing in long tournaments is physically demanding and often exhausting.
Men are physiologically better suited than women for this kind of struggle that, while mentally driven, will impact the body as well.
Judith Polgar was one isolated case as nobody managed to replicate her successes so far so she was just the exception to the rule.

I could argue that the other events you are listing are all much shorter in duration and comparable to a single competitive chess game, not a whole tournament/match lasting two or more weeks with several hours competition plus additional preparation daily. It is in the long run where gender differences likely play a role in chess.
TwoZero TwoZero 1/9/2020 01:05
"melante 1/8/2020 04:10

I think it is also important to point out that, while muscles are not important in chess, stamina and physical resistance are: not on a single game but on a long tournament or match this is definitely a factor and here (fit) men do have a physiological advantage over women. "

In pure endurance events women do quite well compared to men. And when it comes to chess the threshold for the endurance you need to be at the top level is much lower than the pure track and field events. Women are easily capable of meeting the threshold for chess. There is nothing holding women back from reaching the same levels as men, Polgar proved it.

There are a handful of sporting areas where women can compete on an equal level with men: Most motorsport, equestrian, selected shooting events, and Chess: a game where women can compete with total equality.

It is hilariously ironic that in the 20th century we saw the rise of anti-discrimination, anti-segregation, civil rights, and pro-equality movements, that tore down unnecessary barriers between men and women.

And now in the 21st century we have Women like Ms. Root actively advocating, and campaigning for segregation between men and women in competitive chess!

Not only that, but she actually wants to maintain a discriminatory policy that closes off men from competing with women in the segregated events for prize money, and still keep all other events open so that women can compete against men for those events prize monies also!

Must be nice to advocate for polices that allow you to have your cake and eat it too!
chessgod0 chessgod0 1/9/2020 12:50
It's also worth pointing that sex-segregated competitions really only exist at the highest levels. The major open tournaments in the US have women-only prizes but the playing field is almost always mixed. Scholastic chess and college chess also has a mixed playing field. For the most part, only the world championship cycle, European/Russian team chess (high-level competition), and the Olympiad (high-level competition) are sex-segregated. It seems as if women are perfectly fine with male opponents...right up until things start to get serious. How convenient.

The fact of the matter is there is no dearth of opportunity for talented women players. Time to stop pretending as if there is.
KungFuChess KungFuChess 1/9/2020 12:16
I identify as an AlphaZero and am demanding to compete in both men's and women's championships!
montree montree 1/8/2020 10:45
Chessbase becoming 'woke'. This pretentious stand is totally ridiculous and unworthy. Really? Jumping on the clown band-wagon.
mastrovet mastrovet 1/8/2020 03:39
The Marplatense Chess Federation (Argentina) abolished the female category of all its tournaments, as it is considered discriminatory of gender. (2018)
blaher blaher 1/8/2020 03:00
Answer: Because women don't score as highly as men.

This is not a job opening for a sociology professor. All that should matter is how well you move wood across the board. End of story. You don't need a scholarship from Bill Gates. Nothing is preventing an average person of either sex from getting all they need for a one time payment of 10 dollars at the drug store or opening a browser. If you're discouraged because their are not enough PSAs of chess playing women you have bigger problems then chess. The vast majority of people of either sex will get no support and never be able to make a living on chess. Of the tiny minority that do, women are obviously more privileged as among other things they have double the 'World Championships' open to them. Bottom line If you want to move up, win...

BTW: Women and men don't just differ in physical strength. Its uncontroversial among actual experts that there are fundamental brain differences between the sexes. That means they're different, not one is inferior to the other. Women and men tend toward different strengths and thats not a bad thing.
digupagal digupagal 1/8/2020 12:57
I am just wondering what if a ~2600-2680 male player undergoes gender reassignment surgery...lol
Would he/she be allowed to play in the women only events?

That would be quite funny. I bet all we are promoting is Gender Assignment surgery here, and then we suddenly start earning more, i am quite sure the payback period after such a surgery for an average male Super GM wont be more than 2 years
countrygirl countrygirl 1/8/2020 07:31
I'm with Polgar on this one. To get better, you must play stronger players. That's what Judit did and she reached world #8.
BUT I feel that it is also remiss of Root not to mention the actual LOSERS in this situation, where dedicated money flows to these female-only events. The grandmasters who are just below the top few dozen have no chance of making a living. They are caught between the super-strong players on one hand and barred by their sex from winning money in the female events.
Finally, what is the sunset clause on this situation of special events for females only? At what stage will people agree that chess, which has few physical demands, be equally open - in all events - to all comers?
melante melante 1/8/2020 04:10
I think it is also important to point out that, while muscles are not important in chess, stamina and physical resistance are: not on a single game but on a long tournament or match this is definitely a factor and here (fit) men do have a physiological advantage over women.
TwoZero TwoZero 1/7/2020 11:54
Christina Nielsen who competes in an American sports car racing series was interviewed about why there is such a "lack" of young up and coming competitive women drivers, her answer: Most girls/women are just not interested!

In general, boys and girls tend to become interested in different things at early ages. Is there some overlap? Yes, of course. But the reason most girls drop out of scholastic chess around 12-14 years old is not rocket science! They get interested in different stuff! Anyone who had/has a teenage sister, daughter, or girlfriend can tell you. Your life experiences and eyes are not lying to you: boys and girls are different! (And that's perfectly ok.)

The TRUTH is that women are NOT under-represented in chess. The girls who stay involved in chess and play competitively from their late teens to adulthood are outliers among the general female population.

And it is perfectly ok to be an outlier. Most male chess players and fans are also outliers! Chess will not compete in populatrity with stick and ball sports anytime soon!

It is Ok to admit you're an outlier and enjoy chess. Women already have equality of opportunity; chess is a gender neutral game. Trying to socially engineer equality of outcome will only ruin things for both sexes.

And as for this nonsense: "Sponsorship money might also be lost to the chess world, as some sponsors specifically target chess for girls and women."

If they only target chess for girls and women - then those are sponsors that chess does not need! Because they prove that they are not giving money to support chess, but are specifically discriminating against male chess players that could compete for those funds in a open tournament format to push a specific political agenda.

And we need less politics in chess, not more.
Tanuki76 Tanuki76 1/7/2020 08:27
Can we just leave this clown world ideology out of chess. I've noticed that chessbase lately has been trying to introduce these articles and it does nothing but sow division. Nothing is stopping women from playing in men's tournaments or open tournaments. Playing the victim card and this SJW mentality that women are oppressed in chess is moronic and insulting.
Jack Nayer Jack Nayer 1/7/2020 06:28
Since the world population is 50% female, it makes complete business sense to tell women that they are oppressed etc. etc., just as Davide Nastasio writes repeatedly that talent will only bring you this far - meaning not far enough. In the first case, more equal opportunities are needed, in the second, more work, which means, in both cases, more business.

In the meantime, the best women in chess lag practically 300 points behind the best men and all of those of us who need hard work to progress, well, 99% of us will never reach even 2000. But keep buying, so to speak, into this ideology.
fede666 fede666 1/7/2020 06:16
correction Carlsen played Hou Yifan 6 times in classical chess..
fede666 fede666 1/7/2020 05:46
Chessgodo. You are 100 percent correct. Polgar too was not a victim. She received many invitations in the 1990 s. If I remember correctly gellfand and shirov mentioned something about male gms not being invited despite higher ratings. Hou hitan same story. She got to play Carlen 11 times I think despite never reaching 2700. That is unfair to any male gm with 2700 rating who may never get to play Carlen . But we are in politically correct period...
chessgod0 chessgod0 1/7/2020 03:39
@ Stupdio

The fact of the matter is that Hou Yifan got financial/playing opportunities that were unavailable to stronger male players. She got invites to many super-tournaments (she has played Tata Steel, Grenke, Biel and the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix) and has generally failed to impress. She's not a victim of the system---she simply does not have what it takes or has decided that she cannot give her all to chess and wants to have a normal life. There is nothing wrong with either of these things.

--------------------------

Regarding the article, I am tired of this whole ridiculous conversation. I like womens chess and the competitors are far stronger players than I am...but any pretension to "world champion" are a farce. If two male 2600 players played a 12-game match and proclaimed the winner to be the world champion, would we laugh. Most male 2600s cannot make a living playing the game, but the women can. These women are lucky, not oppressed. Again, this whole debate is ludicrous and some perspective is sorely needed.
Stupido Stupido 1/7/2020 03:21
The article largely misses Polgar's point. There has hardly been any progress between Vera Menchik and Hou Yifan. Judit Polgar was the only exception to reach the top elite. Hou Yifan tried but she was victim of the system that maintains a semi-closed elite of +/-25 players who have reserved seats in top closed tournaments. Hou Yifan's situation is not different from many very strong grandmasters who got ony a couple of chances to participate in supertournaments, did not immediately make the step (and it is a big one, like Kramnik explained when reflecting about his first couple of tournaments in the elite) and then relegated forever in lower events.
UncleFischer UncleFischer 1/7/2020 02:01
Clown world.
TheBowtieClub TheBowtieClub 1/7/2020 01:55
Why indeed?
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