By Sophie Velez
It was Tuesday, December 6th, when I walked into the chess club to play a few rounds. I played two games in total, won one, and lost the other. I began to seek new opponents only to look around the room and see about 20 boys and just one other girl. This would mean that female raiders constitute about 10% of our club. That being said, my goal is to inform you of the chess gender gap, and how we can create a welcoming community by encouraging our other girl raiders to come on down to our chess club and play a few rounds with us.
LETS TALK ABOUT CHESS BABY
According to Britannica, Chess first appeared in India in the 6th century CE. Moreover, by the 10th century, it had spread from Asia to the Middle East and Europe.
Chess is played by two players. The objective of the game is to kill your opponent’s king. You do this by moving your players strategically in order to checkmate (an inescapable capture) the opponent’s king piece. Chess is not only one of the oldest board games, but it is also one of the most popular. The world chess champion today is Magnus Carlson. Chess is a game loved by millions. It is so popular, the chess.com website keeps crashing because of the number of people playing chess online.
WOMEN IN CHESS TODAY
FIDE (The International Chess Federation) has announced that they have declared 2022 as the “year of women in chess”; with three women now ranked in the world’s top 100 players and the portion of female internationally rated players playing the game growing from 6% in 2001 to more than 15% in 2020.
WHY ARE THERE SO FEW WOMEN WINNING WORLD-CLASS CHAMPIONSHIPS:
One article I found, written by Michael Stephen Vargas, expressed how because of the lack of female players, statistically, there would be more male chess champions than female ones. This theory resonates with me because of the statistics of our own chess competitions here at St. Thomas Aquinas as well. According to Mr. Jackson since he has run the tournament at STA, there has only been one girl on the competitive team.
There can only be one world chess champion; therefore, the statistics are in favour of men. This is due to the few female opponents. We have to remember that women and men are allowed to play against each other since there is no requirement or rule prohibiting this. I discuss this later on when I summarize my interview with the supervisor of our club, Mr. Jackson
But this brings us to the root of the gender gap…
WHY IS THERE A LACK OF WOMEN IN CHESS?
This is an extremely broad question so I had to do a lot of research to try to find the root of the chess gender gap (when I definitely should have been studying for my math culminating). I found out that there are many different studies and theories about the reason why more boys play chess than girls. I found many eye-opening studies, but this is the one that resonated with me the most.
Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian are three phycology researchers and professors. They put their marvellous minds together and conducted a study that revealed that high-level intellectual ability is commonly associated with men more than with women. This discourages women from pursuing highly intellectual activities. The study proves that this embedded discouragement of women is also prevalent today and embedded in our future generation’s minds, as early as the age of six. It showed that specifically six-year-old girls are less likely than boys to think that women are “really, really smart”. We can see now how the notions of brilliance are embedded into young minds and have an effect on children’s interest, so they tend to steer away from games (such as chess!!) intended for the “really, really smart”.
I mean, isn’t that crazy!! One of the roots of this gender gap isn’t intelligence, intellectual performance in men vs women or natural ability, but the root is an external factor. Therefore, it is important to support and encourage women starting from birth and make sure they aren’t exposed to the false notion that high-level intellectual ability is a male quality. It all circles back to the environment we can create for these young developing minds.
While writing this article, I found myself in a little bit of a slump because of the negativity I was receiving from fellow peers and teachers (believe it or not). They all had the same negative comment: Who cares? Who cares that there are way fewer women grandmasters in our chess society? And to this, I would always respond with representation matters”. Representation is such an important aspect of our STA community we even have a club called Representation Matters that revolves around the idea of creating a safe, inclusive and inviting community. The University of Toronto’s Teaching Assistants’ Training Program’s course has a passage that really resonated with me. It states “Representation refers to the basic idea that if students see people like them reflected in course materials, they are more likely to identify with and be able to imagine themselves as belonging in the field.” We can relate this to professional chess and even recreational chess in general. If girls see women in world-class chess matches and become grandmasters, they are more likely to identify with them and be able to imagine themselves as belonging to our chess community.
Misogyny in chess
Being a male predominant game, there is sexism and misogyny. Sexist comments are prevalent in the top ranks of the game.
Here are a few examples: “I guess they’re just not so smart,” said world champion Bobby Fischer in 1962. Chess is “not for women. … Women are weaker fighters,” said world champion Garry Kasparov in 1989.
In September of 2022, The International Chess Federation (or FIDE) announced that they are removing a commentator the from the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix named Ilya Smirin for making sexist comments during the live broadcast of this event
Here is a clip of this discussion: https://twitter.com/i/status/1574792047562719233 posted by Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova (given the title of woman grandmaster in 2016 by FIDE)
He was asked whether Chinese player Zhu Jiner could rise from Woman Grandmaster – which requires a rating above 2300 – to Grandmaster, a title open to men and women with a rating above 2500.
“She’s a woman grandmaster or what?” “Why she wants to be like men Grandmaster in this case?” said Smirin.
Steil-Antoni then challenged his assertion accusing him of saying chess was not for women, for which he replied: “I didn’t say it openly…in private, private conversation”.
He also asked why women could play in open tournaments with men, but men could not play in women’s events.
You can read further here:
If you’ve read the dialogue and are wondering who the two commentators are, one is Ilya Smirin, an Israeli chess player. He became a Grandmaster by FIDE in 1990. The other is Fiona Steil-Antoni, who earned the title of Woman International Master by FIDE in 2010.
Briefly, he’s asking Why does she want to play like a man because she’s playing well and has a strong endgame? To which Steil-Antoni counters with opposing arguments saying yeah, but what does that have to do with playing like a man? Only men can play well?
This discussion raised concerns by major chess players such as Susan Polgar, who has quite the reputation in our world of chess, winning four Women’s World Championships, and being the first player to win the triple-crown (Blitz, Rapid, and Classical World Championships). She reacted by posting tweets advocating for women’s rights.
This dispute caused FIDE (World Chess Federation) to become involved. In response to this they released a statement: here’s a segment of their official statement that stuck out to me:
“FIDE not only strives to increase women’s representation in professional sports and official positions but also to change the perception of chess as purely a men’s world. Our community has to be a place where women feel safe and respected. Therefore, any action that carries disrespect, sexism or physical, verbal or emotional assault is unacceptable.”
THE QUEEN HERSELF:
Nona Gaprindashvili is a former Georgian chess champion and the first woman to be awarded the FIDE title Grandmaster in 1978. She earned this title for her impressive performance in the Lone Pine International Tournament that took place in 1977, where she shared first place and defeated four grandmasters at the age of 36.
CREATING A COMMUNITY FOR WOMEN
In 1990, a quota was introduced to the French chess Club Championship, a championship many players participate in next to playing in individual tournaments. The French Club Championship teams were required to have one female chess player to see the aftermath of having a female player represented in their team. The repercussion of this quota since 1990 is that there are not only more but also better and more qualified female chess players. As a result, the number of women among France’s top chess players has increased and the absolute number of elite female chess players has increased dramatically since 1990.
It is clear to us that when we give women a chance and a safe welcoming space, there are trickle-down effects. Now we are able to implement this in other environments such as our chess club.
To promote gender equality in chess, it’s important for individuals to take steps to support and empower our female players, just like FIDE and the French club championship did in 1990. This includes providing opportunities for women to participate and compete which is exactly what our chess club does. It provides a cool competitive but comfortable environment that contains approximately 30 raider members that love the game. The leaders of the chess club include Mr. Jackson (Chess club supervisor and awesome teacher) and Emmanuel. It is simple, just come on into room 213 and immerse yourself into a world of chess.
I have attended chess club since grade 9 and have always loved the game so I come whenever I can. You do not have to come every Tuesday but come whenever you would like to play a game of chess. Playing chess can be refreshing, competitive and intense (most of the time) which makes it so much fun.
LETS MEET A FEW MEMBERS OF OUR CHESS CLUB
Jean is a grade 9 student at STA. Jean and I play a game of chess almost every day. When I asked Jean what he liked about the chess club he responded “I love the chess club because I get to play a lot of chess. It is very fun.
Diya is also a grade 9 student at STA who just started to learn chess. When asked what she liked the most about chess club, she responded with “mostly the environment and the people here.”
Our chess club could not run without our student leaders and our teacher supervisors, let’s meet our teacher supervisor and the head of our beloved chess club to hear what he has to say about our Chess Club Community!
When Mr. Jackson was asked to tell us a little bit about our chess club he responded with:
“I originally got it started back in the 2017 school year. We meet once a week, Tuesdays (in the classroom, 208) from about 2:30 to about 4:00. It’s not an exclusive club by any stretch of the imagination. We definitely have kids of all abilities who are able to join, practice their skills, and things like that… We do a lot of interschool play but this year we hope to go back, obviously coming back from covid, we’re hoping to have our inter-school tournaments, with St. Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Notre Dame, Bishop redding and hopefully add other schools to that as well.”
When I asked Mr. Jackson to tell us about our chess club community, he responded with:
“Let me tell you, the St. Thomas Aquinas chess community is very diverse. In the past couple of years we have been growing the club, in terms of more diversity, mainly with female involvement we think that’s… you know… you can’t force people to play chess, you can just kind of make the environment as welcoming as possible, you know, no big macho, no big egos, nothing like that so we do try to keep it inclusive. We got a couple of ladies that regularly come out and yeah, we welcome students from all backgrounds, different pathways. People might have in their minds what a chess player looks like but I must tell you, the St. Thomas Aquinas chess club does help to shatter and move away from those stereotypes”
The intent of this article is to encourage our young ladies to be able to pursue and enjoy something that is so male-dominated and to feel comfortable playing. The best way we are able to do this is to start at the roots, just like the article by Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian spoke about, and promote this equal opportunity to people of all genders and encourage women to join. It is important also to remember what FIDE said about keeping respect and inclusivity in our chess community and applying that to our community here at St. Thomas Aquinas.
With that, Come CHECK it out! (pun EXTREMELY intended). We meet in room 213 from 2:30- 3:30 on Tuesdays with cancellations broadcasted on our morning show.
Chess club won’t bite, and neither will our supervisors or your opponents (we hope LOL). Please don’t be shy and come on down to our lovely Chess Club. The lack of representation now actually promotes more lack of representation in the future, so let’s close the gap and encourage everyone, especially other girls, who want to play chess to come out.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, June 11). Where did chess originate?. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/question/Where-did-chess-originate
Chess: Everything you need to know. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2022, from https://www.chess.com/terms/chess
Bian, L., Leslie, S. J., & Cimpian, A. (2017). Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science, 355(6323), 389–391. https://doi.org/10.1126/SCIENCE.AAH6524/SUPPL_FILE/BIAN.SM.PDF
FIDE sacks commentator for sexist remarks during Women’s Grand Prix. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1128614/fide-grand-prix-commentator
FIDE’s statement on sexist remarks. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://fide.com/news/2008
Nona Gaprindashvili | World Chess Hall of Fame. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://worldchesshof.org/hof-inductee/nona-gaprindashvili
Representation Matters – Teaching Assistants’ Training Program. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://tatp.utoronto.ca/teaching-toolkit/equity-diversity-and-inclusion/representation- matters/ ‘
Smirin, Ilia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://ratings.fide.com/profile/2801990
Sousa, J. de, & Niederle, M. (2022). Trickle-Down Effects of Affirmative Action: A Case Study in France. https://doi.org/10.3386/W30367
statistics – Is it true that Chess is generally more played by men? – Chess Stack Exchange. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://chess.stackexchange.com/questions/162/is-it-true-that-chess-is- generally-more-played-by-men/23337#23337
Steil-Antoni, Fiona. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://ratings.fide.com/profile/4001249 Susan Polgar | Top Chess Players – Chess.com. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.chess.com/players/susan-polgar
Why are men ranked higher in chess than women? It has to do with statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://slate.com/technology/2020/12/why-are-the-best-chess-players-men.html
Why are there no female chess champions? (The truth!) – Wegochess.com. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://wegochess.com/why-are-there-no-female-chess-champions/