Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Women's Chess

Today I went to the Melbourne Chess Club where the inaugural Australian Women's Master's tournament is being staged. It is an 8 player round robin with the hope to grow it to a full tournament with norm potential in the future. In fact, arbiter, Jamie Kenmure has ideas not only to grow this event, but to resurrect the Australian Women's Championship.

These ideas are all very laudable, but to be honest I'm not sure that having women's only events is anything other than demeaning and patronising. We had a little discussion on this theme at the MCC today, and it seemed to sit a little uncomfortably with the players who I discussed it with. So I'll put my neck on the block as a player and coach. In my opinion women (and girls for that matter) shouldn't be treated any differently to men. I can't see why women should be considered as second class citizens in the chess world, nor why they shouldn't aspire to the very top of the World's game. Of course, if women are directed to a certain level, then it is unlikely they will progress much beyond that, just like anyone in any activity.

In her excellent book "How I Beat Bobby Fischer's Record" Judit Polgar recalls the Novi Sad Olympiad in 1990 as the time when she decided to not participate in exclusively women's only events any longer, setting herself the goal of breaking into the Hungarian men's (open) team, a feat that she managed, of course. This first volume deals with her performance up to that point so I guess we'll have to wait for the next volume until we hear her true feelings about women's only chess, although her wikipedia page gives an illuminating quote:

"I always say that women should have the self-confidence that they are as good as male players, but only if they are willing to work and take it seriously as much as male players"

It is this point of view that I also subscribe to, and for that reason I prefer to see all players in open's. Of course, there is an alternative side of the argument that US GM Jennifer Shahade eloquently expresses:

"If there were a 1:1 ratio of women and men in the chess world I would agree that all tournaments should be integrated. But a lot of women feel alienated at these mixed events, so it’s positive to have occasional all women’s events."

Ok, I have little trouble with this, as with junior, senior, or geographically closed events. However, when the standard for titles is dropped by 200-300 FIDE rating points (compared to men's titles) it seems that women are being encouraged to be content with a mediocre game. Yet we currently see Hou Yifan playing in the top section of Wijk aan Zee, more women are attaining the male GM title than ever before, and the most successful chess bloggers are both women, Susan Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk. Both have proved interesting and informative writers and their sites are visited by thousands of chess enthusiasts on a daily basis.

So that's a rant off my chest and I would be happy to get feedback about this as I'm not often opinionated on this blog. Anyway, back to the MCC Women's Master's. The tournament has only reached round 3 though 3 players are on a perfect 2/2, Megan Setiabudi, top seed Katherine Jarek, and Leteisha Simmonds (who won her game today while all the rest were still playing when I left, leaving Leteisha clear first). Good luck to all the players in the remaining rounds. Here are the players who were present at the start of the round when I was allowed to take a few snaps.

Tanya Kolak

Alana Chibnall

Megan Setiabudi

Katherine Jarek


  1. I note that entry to the tournament was free. Is the venue being provided free of charge? Are the arbiters working for free? Was the $1200 prize-money donated by an individual?

    If not, what is the source of funding for the tournament?

    Is it intended that the tournament become an annual event with the same source of funding?

  2. I think the intention is for the tournament to become an annual fixture, and of course the same funding would be desirable. I have no problems with this tournament per se, but rather the whole issue of women's chess

  3. To quote from your blog "to be honest I'm not sure that having women's only events is anything other than demeaning and patronising". You do appear to have a problem with all women's only chess events and, by implication, this tournament.

    I think that the reasoning behind the development of the tournament is important. If it is to just to keep a segment of the chess playing community happy, then it would be patronising.

    If, on the other hand, it was part of a serious program to develop chess as an activity amongst a severely under-represented segment of the population, then it may be justified.

    If the funding is being provided with a view to encouraging/increasing female participation in chess, then is this tournament the best use of such funds? What is the reasoning behind the tournament's development?

  4. Of course, later in the article I also express that "I have little problem" with Jennifer Shahade's alternative view but rather it is the treatment of women in chess as if they are naturally inferior to men that bugs me.

    I would "prefer" to see open events, as surely anybody would. I would prefer to see women on an even playing field with men rather than their titles being demeaned and belittled. I would prefer to see girls encouraged to aim for the top rather than a few steps up where they could be considered 'quite good for girl' (yes, that is an actual quote that one of my students had to endure after a close game with a player rated much higher than her)

  5. On "Women's Chess":
    1. There is in fact no such thing basically.
    2. It's either Female Chess, or Womens Chess, or Girls Chess.
    3. Females deserve separate events, and as many as they can get, especially where FIDE events are guided as qualification afterwards.
    4. There is also not much on what Shahade and other females write as a sole concern. There is much more similar happening among men in mens events, but men don't talk or write about it.

  6. 'I would prefer to see women on an even playing field with men rather than their titles being demeaned and belittled.'

    It is quite clear that the system and naming of all playing titles in chess is outdated 100% and is contributing to both men and women stopping competitive chess earlier than they might. Sadly, I do not have a good proposal yet to fix this.

    1. I think bringing titles in line would be a good start to getting women on an even playing field with men

  7. Hmmm, as women is the plural of woman, I'm guessing that there isn't actually a word "womens" but I don't really want to be pedantic about grammar so whatever.

    Females deserve to be treated equally to men in chess. I concede that women's only events may have a beneficial result for the progression of women's chess in the short run, but really, in my opinion, that is not a solution to progressing the upper end quality of women in chess.

    I don't understand what you're saying in your final point 4.

    Thanks for taking the time to post a response :) Since I wrote this blog post I've heard many things said about the issue and my views have clarified in some respects and modified in others. I'll probably write about them in a future post.


  8. My view is that as long there are girls-only schools, girls-only international events, Olympiads (Summer) where males and females are separated (except maybe in equestrian), there is not much basis on changing that in chess.

    My view is also that girls are generally not inferior to boys in chess, but it is clear their opportunities to excel are less to much less, with the current widespread mindsets and organizational structures.

    One plus I can see from the current system is that it "proves chess is a physical sport" and deserves a place among other sports without any questioning, with males overwhelmingly topping females.

    I'll reserve the point 4 comment further for a later occasion, if you don't mind.

    Thanks for the grammar corrections, am not expert with the very details of these.

    Thanks for allowing anon comments.