Women in chess

April 17, 2006 at 12:23 pm (Chess, Society)

If you have a look at the FIDE Top 100 you’ll find just one female chessplayer – Judit Polgar (2700+ and Top 10 strength but caring for her little child). The current FIDE Top 100 ends with Evgeny Vladimirov rated 2616. The second best female chesplayer in the world is Koneru Humpy with an Elo of 2548 (Zsuzsa Polgar (2577) and Xie Jun (2573) dropped out of the list).

The question remains why there are so few strong female Grandmasters in comparison to the tons of male GMs?

A brief history of women in chess can be found here.

There was Vera Menchik competing with men and doing quite well and then you had to wait until Nona Gapriandashvili (sixties) and Maia Chiburdanidze (seventies) came up. High level chess could be observed when the Polgar phenomenon made an impact on the World of chess. Zsuzsa being the first woman to ever achieve the men’s GM title and Judit breaking Bobby Fischer’s record and becoming the world’s youngest GM at 15 years and 5 months of age in 1991. Zsofia’s stellar performance rating of 2879 (or 2928 depending on the source) in Rome 1989 shall not be forgotten.

Judit Polgar beat anybody. Spassky and Karpov in matches (Polgar was the first woman to ever beat the world-champion in a match), Kasparov in 2002 and Topalov. Only Kramnik is still missing. She’s also responsible for the best performance of a female chessplayer ever by coming a close second in Wijk an der Zee 2003, ½ behind Anand and without a single loss! She won so many tournaments (and doesn’t compete in “women only”-events) that I won’t list them here.

But the question remains: Are women capable of playing chess as good as men do? Was Judit Polgar nothing but a fluke?

Many strong chessplayers like Kasparov and Kramnik and others like Nigel Short commented derogatory on female chess (Judit taught them a lesson, especially Short who has a score of 3:12 against her). But there’s still a discussion going on.

I don’t think that there’s a difference between men and women concerning their ability to play chess. In my opinion you need a strong basis and long tradition to produce Super-GMs. But that’s still not enough. And the basis for female chessplayers is still going so we’ll probably have to wait for some time. Take Germany as an example: Their chess association has 236000 members and their strongest chessplayers are: Arkadi Naiditsch, Artur Yusupov, Alexander Graf (former Nenashev), Rustem Dautov and Igor Khenkin (only Christopher Lutz, Jan Gustafsson and Dr. Hübner break ranks). Or have a look at the United States with Onishuk, Kaidanov, Goldin, Shabalov, Gulko (Zsuzsa Polgar became an US citizen also). But the strongest US player is Hikaru Nakamura.

So what I wanted to show that it’s extremely hard to produce those Super GMs even if there are lot of people playing chess and with many strong players around. Just compare the rate of female chessplayers in chess clubs to the one of male chessplayers. I think it will become clear that it has nothing to do with the gender itself (some people really think that women were inferior to men concerning mental abilities). The large basis is necessary but the women lack this large basis so it's not surprising that Polgar was the only one to ever cross 2600 (and 2700).


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