Women in chess remain invisible to their male counterparts despite being brilliant at the game
If we were to do a Google search for “chess players”, more often than not, the top results that appear are male players. It was only after about the 40e no one brings up a female player’s profile after which the algorithm drops again and resumes presenting male players.
Women who play chess rarely get the attention they deserve. Titles awarded to players by FIDE (International Chess Federation), ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation) and others conferred by chess governing bodies use ‘Master‘ (a title often used to refer to a male person): Grand Master, FIDE Master, International Masters. etc., regardless of the gender identity of the players. While both men and women actively participate in the game of chess, media representation focuses primarily on male players.
This is largely driven by the taboo surrounding women participating in sports and the anxieties that many people have when seeing these women pose with confidence and fervor. Women in sport challenge the docile, domesticated gender trope that our society fiercely idealizes. Although chess is not in the obvious sense a physically aggressive sport, it is considered intellectually aggressive, which again is an area that only men are meant to rule.
Thinking is power, and it’s not something our society is uncomfortable entrusting to women. Women who think and express their thoughts openly have, for a very long time, been considered arrogant and frivolous, forcing them to suppress all forms of intellectual expression. The participation of women in a game like chess once again breaks down these barriers. However, this is conveniently undocumented, allowing the struggles of women in sport and their journeys to be lost amidst the exciting craze of media coverage of male chess.
The 44e Chess Olympiad which took place in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, brought together approximately 2000 players from over 200 countries worldwide. The event ended on 9e of August. The Indian Women’s A team, who initially topped for the gold medal, won the bronze medal while putting on a tough match.
The men’s team A and B, which also initially held second place with the United States of America, won the bronze medal. While the women’s team played phenomenally and held the upper hand for the longest part of it, media coverage and representation focused primarily on the men’s team and their game.
However, this has also been the case historically, where female chess players in the country have gone largely unrecognized and under-recognized. This has also been a general trend in sports, where male dominance is starkly visible, and it’s disheartening to see such sexist tendencies persist.
It was also interesting to observe that the stereotypes around female gamers came from the women themselves. Eva Repková, an international master who heads the FIDE Women’s Chess Commission, commented, “This game doesn’t come naturally to women. Some people might not like the fact that it’s more natural for men to choose chess as their focus or for women to choose music or arranging flowers. best indian player, Grandmaster Koneru Humpy, said that “you must accept” men are better players—in an article titled Why women lose in chess.
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Wei Ji Ma, a chess player, however, has a different grip why most of the best chess players are men: “The fact that top male players are consistently ranked higher than top female players may have nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with stats and external factors.”
In an article for Slateshe begins by quoting the psychologist Merim Bilalic, who highlights the “logic fault“using differences in top rankings as a basis for determining whether males or females are better players, because if one group were to have more players than the other, then by chance the better player in the larger group will outperform perhaps the best player in the small group.
Wei Ji Ma, in addition to this statistical analysis, also highlights socio-cultural factors that affect the number of women playing chess. “Top female players are often relegated to women-only invitational tournaments, which most likely limits their ability to increase their rankings. It is possible that national federations invest less in top female players than in their male counterparts, for example, in terms of training or finding sponsors… women could be more responsible for childcare than men and have therefore less time to play and prepare for tournaments. »
Wei Ji Ma’s article is an important analysis of why comparing the abilities of male and female chess players is not effective in understanding why male chess players are more numerous and more successful and how, by trying to do so, we end up reproducing dangerous gender stereotypes. .
While the representation of women in sport and especially in chess is bleak, their achievements know no bounds and the recent Chess Olympiad in Chennai is proof that the future of women’s chess is bright and strong. On that note, let’s look at the accomplishments of some of the Indian female chess players as a means of recognizing their achievements in the game of chess:
1. Koneru Humpy
Originally from Vijaywada, Koneru Humpy became the youngest woman to achieve Grandmaster title at the age of 15 in 2002. She also became the second woman, after Judith Polgar, to cross the bar of 2600 Elo, with a score of 2606 in October 2007. She was born Koneru Hampi, but her father later changed the spelling of her middle name to Hunchbackto supposedly give the name a more Russian sound.
Humpy has won several awards, including the British Women’s Championship in 2000 and 2002, the tene Asian Women’s Championshipand the Indian Women’s Championship in 2003. In 2009, she held the Indian Chess Federation responsible for hinder his participation in the 37e Chess Olympiad which took place in Turin, northern Italy.
Despite all these obstacles, Humpy established herself as a seasoned player and dominated the world of women’s chess. In 2017, she took a maternity leave sabbatical and returned 2 years later to claim the title of feminist Fast World Champion.
2. Tania Sachdev
Delhi’s Tania Sachdev holds the titles International Masters and female grandmaster. In 2006 and 2007, she won the Indian Women’s Chess Championship and became a two-time champion. The same year, she won the title of Asian Women’s Chess Champion. She is also the three-time champion Commonwealth Women’s Chess Championship.
She was introduced to the game at the age of 6, with the support of her mother, and trained by KC Joshi in her early years. In 2009, Sachdev received the Arjuna Award, which is the second highest honor in sport in India. Besides being a chess player, she is also a chess presenter and commentator.
3. Harika Dronavalli
Harika Dronavalli of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh holds the FIDE title of Grandmaster. In 2008, she received the Arjuna Award. In 2016, she emerged as the winner of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix event held in Chengdu, China, which led to her going from 11e up to 5e position in the FIDE Women’s World Rankings.
She is known to be the second woman after Koneru Humpy to win the Grandmaster title. She received a lot of attention during the 44e Chess Olympiad held in Chennai as she participated in the event while being 8 months pregnant.
The recent Chess Olympiad has drawn a lot of attention and also brought the spotlight to India’s women’s chess team. Even though the team settled for a bronze medal, the bravery with which they played until the end impressed chess viewers from afar. Hopefully this is a positive shift towards the representation of women within chess and sport in general and allows for more open conversations about the participation, struggles and achievements of female players while establishing itself in a field dominated by men.
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Featured image source: Women’s Web