Magnus Carlsen started his world title in chess defense in Dubai recently. Here, there was no active player who is a woman in the top 100 as Hou Yifan of China, who ranks 8rd, decided to focus on her studies.
Carlsen shares that the lack of women in the chess world was partly because of cultural factors. However, for some, it was because of biology. Nigel Short, VP of the world chess federation fide, said that men are biologically designed to be better in chess than women.
“You have to gracefully accept that,” Short added.
Judit Polgar, one of the greatest female chess players and ranks as No. 8 in the world, disagreed. “It is not down to biology. It’s just as possible for a woman to become the best as any guy. But there are so many difficulties and social boundaries for women generally in society. That is what blocks it,” Polgar said.
It is noted that Polgar has managed to defeat 11 world champions, whether in classical or rapid chess. Also, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen believe that starting to play chess at an early age, a good approach in teaching, and encouraging girls to dream big is crucial in this matter.
“All champions and big players start to play chess and get familiar with the game at a pretty early age,” the Hungarian grandmaster said.
Emma Hilton, a development biologist, disagrees that the gap between both genders can be settled down to genetics. She adds that the game of chess has an “extremely skewed starting pool.” This is where boys who learn to play chess outnumber the girls who do. She also stated that this factor makes it unlikely or impossible for the world to have a female champion.
Jovanka Houska, the English international master, believes that this smaller pool has a ripple effect in some areas, especially when you are the only woman in a group. “We have situations where the girls don’t feel very comfortable playing, while the boys can hang around, make friends and play amongst themselves and get better that way,” says Houska.
Houska also added that sexism might also play a factor in this matter.
“It’s mainly because there are so few women playing. And it’s reinforced by national federations who don’t publicize your achievements to help you with funding. When I look at the situation across Europe, I see a lot of top women players fighting their federations for basic things,” he added.
To add to that, Alexandra Botez, 2020’s women’s Fide master, also a well-known chess streamer, shared her unfortunate experiences in the said sport.
“In chess, so much predatory behavior has been normalized,” says Botez.