Should Women’s Chess Titles Be Eliminated?

“The most important thing is self-confidence. So many people will doubt your abilities in life---never listen to them. If you do not truly believe that you can make it to the Grandmaster title, for example, you will never do so.” -Jacob Aagaard, Excelling at Chess

Early in my chess career, when I was 10-years-old, my parents took my younger sister and me to an all-girls event for some of the young female talents in the area, featuring a Woman International Master. It started with a lecture about her views on chess, and then she played a simul against all of the girls. I don’t remember her lecture or my game in the simul. What I remember is that something felt very off about the event to me, even if I didn’t know enough about the subject yet to be able to express it in words. I knew that the people who organized the event as well as the WIM herself had the best intentions: encouraging more girls to continue playing chess and showing the girls a potential role model, a titled female player. The WIM, however, was US Chess rated around 1800. I was only rated about 1100 at the time. I knew that an 1800 player was stronger than me and that it took work to get there, but I also knew that it was a level that would not otherwise be revered---if she wasn’t a Woman International Master. I remember my 10-year-old self trying to intentionally look unimpressed during the event. I wanted the adults in the room and anyone else who saw me to know that this wasn’t my role model. It really bothered me that the adults believed that I would have an 1800 player as a role model, just because I was a girl. My favorite players were World Champions Jose Capablanca and Mikhail Tal. All of my coaches (with the exception of when I was a sheer beginner) had always been, at least National Master level, if not IM or GM level. I wanted to be a great player, not a great player for a girl. I believe that this mentality, and my high standards helped me improve quickly when I was young. By the next year, I had already crossed the 1800 mark myself. There is a very high focus on getting girls and women to start and continue playing chess. But, not all incentives are equal: Which are helping to inspire these players for future universally high levels of success? In 2009, the subject of women’s titles hit mainstream news. The Wall Street Journal published, “Abolish Women’s Chess Titles” by Barbara Jepson.

“The time has come to drop gender-segregated titles for women, which make even less sense today than when they were introduced in 1950 (WIM) and 1976 (WGM).” -Barbara Jepson, “Abolish Women’s Chess Titles”

While this article was well-intentioned and featured quotes from several of the top female players, it didn’t cover the main arguments for and against women’s titles or what the titles are mainly used for today. In addition, Jepson isn’t involved in the chess world, and many took issue with the article because of this. The most notable response to Jepson’s article was “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!” by former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, who speculates that Jepson knows “close to nothing about professional chess herself”. Kosteniuk’s article also explains in detail many of the main arguments in favor of women’s titles, which I’ll explore in the “Pros vs. Cons” section. However, before discussing whether the titles should or shouldn’t be eliminated (and my personal opinion), I’d like to examine some of the facts about them.

The Facts

1. There are currently 4 women-only titles awarded by FIDE, the World Chess Federation, for rating and norm based achievements.

Women’s Title Qualifications

2. Compared to the general (non-gendered and open to all) titles, women's titles require ratings and norm performances of 200 rating points lower.

General Title Qualifications

3. Players who hold women's titles can receive financial perks at tournaments.

Many tournaments offer free or cheaper entry to those holding certain FIDE titles. Women holding WGM and WIM titles often receive the same benefits as players who hold the general GM and IM titles, which makes competition more affordable to female players. Here are a few examples from some of the most prominent open tournaments in the world:

Pros & Cons

1. Are women’s titles encouraging for women?

In “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!”, Kosteniuk asserts that women’s titles are essential for encouraging female chess players:

“...abolishing all the women's titles, such as Woman Grand Master (WGM), and WIM (Woman International Master), and logically all the women titles below that, would just make it less interesting for women players to play.” -Alexandra Kosteniuk, “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!”

However, one of the reasons Kosteniuk supports women’s titles is her belief that men have an innate physical advantage in chess:

“Physical strength and therefore the ability to concentrate and thus not to make mistakes is higher in men's chess and that's also another reason why, in the long term, men are showing greater results.” -Alexandra Kosteniuk, “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!”

Supporting women’s titles as encouragement by claiming that women have less natural chess ability is counterintuitive: How can that idea be encouraging to any woman? In addition, Kosteniuk’s claim that greater physical strength leads to a greater ability to concentrate is not supported by any concrete data.

“Chess is an intellectual sport, physical strength is by far not the key factor there.” -Natalia Pogonina, “Women and Men in Chess: Smashing the Stereotypes”

In fact, lower expectations may be the very reason why less women play competitive chess in the first place. An article on Chessbase News, “Women in Chess: The Role of Innate-Ability Beliefs” by Professor Wei Ji Ma, explores this possibility. Using a study on the gender gap in different academic subjects, Professor Ma considers the possibility that women may avoid fields that are believed to require brilliance---because society is more likely to associate brilliance with males.

“A recent article in Scientific American Mind begins:’Try this simple thought experiment. Name 10 female geniuses from any period of history. Odds are you ran out of names pretty quickly’. The thought experiment can be adapted: try to name 10 female figures in popular culture who—like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House, or Will Hunting—are characterized by their innate brilliance, their raw intellectual firepower. As before, one rapidly runs out of names. Whatever the cause, the message is clear: women are not culturally associated with such inherent gifts of genius. The consequences of this stereotype are likely wide-ranging. In the current study, we focus on one of these consequences, asking whether such a pervasive cultural message might have a role in shaping individuals’ academic and career paths. Specifically, if it is widely believed that men tend to possess more intellectual ability than women, then women may be discouraged from entering into fields that are thought to require this ability.” -Meredith Meyer, Andrei Cimpian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, “Women are underrepresented in fields where success is believed to require brilliance”

The research finds a strong correlation between gender gaps and fields where “genius” is emphasized (whether or not the emphasis in genius is justified):

“The more emphasis on brilliance, the lower the proportion of female PhDs. For example, mathematicians (whether male or female) widely believe that you have to be a genius to be successful, whereas neuroscientists (whether male or female) consider hard work to be more important; neuroscience produces a much larger proportion of female PhDs than mathematics. Philosophers believe that innate ability is critical, education scientists not so much; education produces a much larger proportion of female PhDs than philosophy.” -Wei Ji Ma, “Women in Chess: The Role of Innate-Ability Beliefs”

Interestingly, this correlation was present across the sciences and humanities alike.

Graph: Percentage of female Ph.D's compared to a Subject's Reputation of Requiring Brilliance

Comparing these findings to the gender gap in participation in chess, this leads us to consider: Could the existence of women’s titles and the lower standards associated with them actually be driving women away from chess?

“Parents google “is my son gifted?” 2.5 times as often as ‘is my daughter gifted?’  Authors like Lisa Bloom, politicians like Jo Swinson, and even a campaign by Verizon Wireless have pointed out that girls get praised for their looks, while boys get praised for their smarts. The belief that mostly men are geniuses is further promoted by popular culture, from Good Will Hunting to House M.D., and persists among highly educated adults: on, the word “genius” is used much more for male than for female professors. Objectively, there is no scientific basis for claiming that women are less brilliant than men; for example, in American schools, girls are 11% more likely to be in a gifted program than boys.” -Wei Ji Ma, “Women in Chess: The Role of Innate-Ability Beliefs”


2. Gendered titles often lead to misunderstandings.

“It’s a taxing effort to explain to journalists or chess laymen the difference between woman grandmaster and grandmaster and how 20 women have the ‘real grandmaster’ title.” -Jennifer Shahade, “Jennifer on Women’s Titles”

Separate women’s titles often give those outside of or new to the chess world an inaccurate impression of how segregated chess is:

“...professional chess is facing serious questions about gender equality. The way the professional league (also known as the World Chess Federation) works now is that there is a larger league and a smaller league. The parent league is gender neutral and competes for the title of Grandmaster. The smaller league is exclusive to women and competes for the title of Woman Grandmaster.” -Elizabeth John, New York Minute Magazine

While there are women’s tournaments, there is no separate women’s league. Furthermore, most tournaments, especially in the U.S., are not gendered at all. I think I’ve played in one women-only event in my entire chess career. I’ve even heard people mistakenly speculate that there are entirely different rating systems for men and women. In an article in Toronto Standard, which describes the Chess Federation of Canada’s creation of a Woman National Master and a Woman Candidate Master title in 2013, one journalist, states:

“Although women can technically compete against men in open tournaments, females have their own set of ratings.” -Tiffy Thompson in Toronto Standard

This kind of misunderstanding is especially problematic because it can undermine the hard-earned ratings of female players.

“Nobody has ever said that WGM is equivalent to GM, everybody knows it's not the case…” -Alexandra Kosteniuk, “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!”

An example of the Woman Grandmaster title being mistaken for the Grandmaster title is seen in a book written (coincidentally) by Kosteniuk in 2001, titled, How I Became a Grandmaster at Age 14. Kosteniuk did not become a grandmaster at age 14---What she meant was how she became a Woman Grandmaster at age 14. The choice to drop the word "Woman" from the title was likely a publishing/marketing decision, meant to make the title more concise and catchier. However, since Grandmaster and Woman Grandmaster are two distinctly different titles with completely different requirements, the title is misleading. In fact, in an article in the Telegraph, a journalist mistakenly claims:

“At 14 years old, Miss Kosteniuk became a chess grandmaster, the youngest woman in the world to attain the title.”

Grandmaster at 14 would've meant breaking Bobby Fischer's and Judit Polgar's records (Both earned the GM title at age 15). To this day, only 27 people in the entire history of chess have earned the grandmaster title before their 15th birthday, including Hou Yifan---who was actually the youngest female in the world to do so (at age 14 and 6 months).

Note: This is not to say that the book itself isn't worth a read. And Kosteniuk has now, in fact, earned the general grandmaster title (in 2004, at age 20).

Unfortunately, when referring to the WGM title, it’s not uncommon for people to drop the “W”, treating it as the equivalent to GM.

FIDE Master Alisa Melekhina at the 2016 U.S. Women's Championship. Photo Spectrum Studios
“I’ve always wanted to go by the more general title. Female titles require less stringent norms and a smaller rating. I just never really got the idea of a WIM. Why? What’s a WIM compared to regular IM? So, I got my FIDE rating to 2300, and I went by FM.” -Alisa Melekhina in an interview with Daaim Shabazz of The Chess Drum

At weekly tournaments at a local chess club, I’ve regularly overheard the tournament director and some of the players claim that there are “two GMs” competing---when actually referring to one GM and one WGM. Grandmaster is the highest rating and norm based title, representing the pinnacle of chess achievement. The requirements for the WGM title are below those for the general IM title. Treating these two very different achievements as the same undermines all of the tremendous effort required for those who have earned the grandmaster title. In addition, equating WGM to GM deducts from the fact that women are fully able to earn the more stringent grandmaster title.

Grandmaster Irina Krush at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Championship


3. Lower Expectations = Lower Results

“I don’t see their benefit. Women’s titles are really a marker of lower expectations.” -Irina Krush, "Abolish Women's Chess Titles"

The greatest risk of women’s titles is that they set up a lower standard of achievement for female players (200 rating points lower). Nearly every great chess player has emphasized the importance of confidence for success.

“You need to have that edge, you need to have that confidence, you need to have that absolute belief that you’re the best and that you’ll win every time.” –Magnus Carlsen
“I grew up in what was a male dominated sport, but my parents raised me and my sisters [to believe] that women are able to reach the same result as our male competitors if they get the right and the same possibilities.” -Judit Polgar, TIME Magazine
“Winning is not a secret that belongs to a very few, winning is something that we can learn by studying ourselves, studying the environment and making ourselves ready for any challenge that is in front of us.” -Garry Kasparov

Lower expectations can affect a player’s confidence at the board. A loss of confidence can affect the performance of even the strongest players.

“At some point, he seemed to lose all confidence trying to break down the Berlin Wall. He was still fighting as only Kasparov can, but I could see it in his eyes that he knew he wasn’t going to win one of these games.” -Vladimir Kramnik on his World Championship match victory against Kasparov in 2000

How much can lower expectations affect performance? This question has been explored in detail for an ability considered related to chess, mental rotation. Mental rotation is the ability to rotate mental representations of 2D and 3D objects.

“And I started thinking about it and asking myself, “OK, what exactly does this rotation skill require?” And it seems to me that it requires being able to make a series of complicated changes to a three dimensional object, and then to be able to see it clearly. And that sounds almost exactly like chess calculation to me.” -Elizabeth Vicary, “E. Vicary on Chess, Girls and Genius”

In addition, mental rotation (comparable to chess) is an area where, on average, men have outperformed women. Traditionally, this has been attributed to inherent biological differences between males and females. However, a 2009 study examined the question “Are males always better than females in mental rotation?”---testing if lower expectations based on gender can affect female performance in mental rotation tests. The study found that the results of both men and women changed depending on the expectations set up before the test. When participants were told that men perform better, the men scored higher. However, when told that women generally perform better on the test, the genders performed nearly identically. Show Solution

In the study, male and female participants were divided into 3 groups, each given a mental rotation test with different instructions:
  1. Men are better than women at this task
  2. Women are better than men at this task
  3. Control instructions with no gender reference
Matching past research, females performed worse in both the control group and the “male superiority instructions” group. However, when the gender expectation was challenged, and the group was told that women show superiority in the task, men and women performed virtually identically (see chart below).
Note: In the control group, gender was not referenced before the test. However, the participants may've come into the test with preconceived gender expectations because of the widely accepted belief that males are innately better at mental rotation. “Taken together results suggest that, regardless of gender, a subject increases performance when gender superiority is suggested by the given instructions.” - Angelica Moe, “Are males always better than females in mental rotation? Exploring a gender belief explanation”, ScienceDirect

The effect of gender-based lower expectations in spatial ability has been tested since with a larger sample (nearly 1300 people) in a very unique way: by comparing the gender gap in spatial abilities between two tribes in Northeast India---one with a patrilineal society and one with a matrilineal society.

“One tribe, the Karbi, is patrilineal, meaning that men own most property and inheritance always goes to the oldest son. A second tribe, the Khasi, is matrilineal. The youngest daughter inherits the property in Khasi villages and men are forbidden to own land. -Stephanie Pappas, ”Culture Drives Gender Gap in Spatial Abilities, Study Finds”

The aim of the study was to answer the question:

“Could this gender gap in spatial reasoning be substantially driven by nurture?” -Moshe Hoffman, Uri Gneezy, and John A. List,“Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities”

This study was able to test for the effect of nurture more directly than other studies because both tribes “share a genetic background”:

“The advantage of going to rural India to study these two tribes is that they're biologically and geographically very similar. We have this beautiful control group where they live literally right next door. These villages are kind of interspersed with each other, and the tribes diverged genetically only a few hundred years ago.” -Moshe Hoffman, study author,”Culture Drives Gender Gap in Spatial Abilities, Study Finds”

A key difference between the two societies was the amount of education provided to men and women. In the matrilineal society, men and women received an equal number of years of education while, in the patrilineal society, men received 3.67 more years of education. Again, the results of the genders changed depending on the situation. In the patrilineal society, females performed worse by spending significantly more time to solve a puzzle than males. However, in the matrilineal society, the gender gap in solving time closed significantly. Show Solution

“In this study, we use a large-scale incentivized experiment with nearly 1,300 participants to show that the gender gap in spatial abilities, measured by time to solve a puzzle, disappears when we move from a patrilineal society to an adjoining matrilineal society.” -Moshe Hoffman, Uri Gneezy, and John A. List, “Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities”
Note: A lower bar indicates a faster solving time, which indicates a higher measure of spatial ability. Thus, lower bar = higher spatial ability
Interestingly, both the men and women in the more egalitarian (at least in terms of education) matrilineal society performed better than those in the patrilineal society.

From these results, the study concluded that:

“...even while holding biology constant, there is an effect of culture on the gender differences in spatial abilities." -Moshe Hoffman, ”Culture Drives Gender Gap in Spatial Abilities, Study Finds”

What do these results mean for women in chess? On a smaller scale, researchers have tested the effect of gender-based lower expectations in chess directly. In “Checkmate? The role of gender stereotypes in the ultimate intellectual sport”, female chess players were paired against a male opponent of a similar rating (within 30 elo points) for 2 online rapid games. In one of the games, the women players were told that their opponent was male. In the other game, the women were told that their opponent was female (even though they were actually playing a second game with the exact same male opponent). When the women inaccurately believed that they were playing against other women, they scored close to 50%. When it was revealed that they were playing against a man, their score dropped to 25%. In addition, the women approached the game with less confidence and less aggressively when they were told their opponent was male. The researchers surmised that "widely held gender stereotypes" could be the cause.

"Hence, a motivational perspective may be better suited to understand (and prevent) the underperformance of women in the ‘ultimate intellectual sport.’" -Anne Maass, Claudio D’Ettole, and Mara Cadinu, “Checkmate? The role of gender stereotypes in the ultimate intellectual sport”

Considering the research done so far, it is likely (and intuitive) that people perform better when they don’t face a lower expectation based on their gender.

“It is common to hear a chess-playing girl say that she aspires to become a “WIM” or “WGM” because women’s titles are taken as the natural stage of improvement. Unfortunately, one hardly hears a girl mentioning the coveted “IM,” “GM” titles as an initial goal despite the fact that they aspire to compete with the best in every other endeavor. By this default, boys will have higher chess goals, higher expectations and thus, more ambition. Have we pigeon-holed girls and women to think only in terms of gender-related events and lesser titles? Have we encouraged them to have lower expectations of their abilities?” -Daaim Shabazz,Jamaica’s Deborah Porter makes history… what’s next?


4. If women’s titles were eliminated, should women’s tournaments be eliminated, too?

“Women's tournaments and training allow an underrepresented population in the chess world to make friends and help organizers to promote women in chess to the media and community.” -Jennifer Shahade, “Jennifer on Women’s Titles”

Some, including Kosteniuk, have suggested that if women’s titles are eliminated, women’s tournaments would have to be eliminated as well.

“If we would accept the reasoning that women's titles should be abolished, we should also abolish all women-only championships, and all professional women chess players (well, maybe a handful would survive) would lose the little prize money FIDE and organizers offer them the opportunity to get.” -Alexandra Kosteniuk, “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!”

I think there is a big difference between women’s titles and women’s tournaments. While women’s titles are are directly associated with a 200 rating point lower standard of achievement, tournaments do not come with automatically lower requirements.

“The arguments I fall back on to explain women’s tournaments like financial incentives and positive examples for the community and the media, don’t work as well when trying to justify women’s titles. In an academic analogy, there are women's colleges, women's conferences, even anthologies of women's work but there are no WBAs or WPHDs.” -Jennifer Shahade, “Jennifer on Women’s Titles”

Women-specific competitions are meant to offer a space where female chessplayers (often 5% or less of the average tournament setting) can feel represented and more easily meet other female players.

“I think if we view those events in that aspect that we’re trying to bolster the game as a whole rather than make any objective assessments about how good women are, how valuable the title is in any tournament. I think as long as we keep that in mind that would make those tournaments less contentious. I think they’d be a lot more respected.” -Alisa Melekhina in an interview with Daaim Shabazz of The Chess Drum

Women’s prizes at open tournaments are another tricky subject, but at least they don’t create a 200 rating point lower performance expectation. In some cases, despite the existence of women’s tournaments and prizes, women have won the overall event:

Grandmaster Hou Yifan, currently the highest ranked woman in the world, at the 2016 St. Louis Showdown. Photo: Spectrum Studios
  • In 2012, Hou Yifan tied for 1st place overall at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival while simultaneously winning the “Top Woman” prize as well as the “Top Junior” prize.
The 2016 National Junior High Champion Maggie Feng at this year’s U.S. Women’s Championship.
  • Even though there is a separate “All-Girls National Championship”, last year’s overall National Junior High Champion was Maggie Feng.
  • Although there is currently a National Girls’ Tournament of Champions, the overall Arnold Denker High School Tournament of Champions was won by a female, Abby Marshall, in 2009.
  • In 2013, Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk became the first person to win both the overall Swiss Championship and the Women’s Swiss Championship simultaneously.
  • After 1990, Judit Polgar refused to compete in any “women-only” tournaments. That same year, she won the under-14 open section (called the “boys section” at the time) of the World Youth Championships. After that, despite being a clear candidate to be Women’s World Champion as the top ranked woman in the world, Polgar competed in only the overall World Championship cycle, qualifying for the World Cup, the Candidates Tournament, and the 2005 FIDE Knock-out World Chess Championship, ultimately breaking into the top 10 in the world with a peak rating of 2735 and a peak ranking of 8th in the world overall.  
“Thanks to the Polgars the adjective 'men's' before events and the 'affirmative action' women's titles, such as Woman Grandmaster, have become anachronisms (though they are still in use).” -Garry Kasparov


5. Intermediate titles can motivate and show progress.

One aspect to consider is that it may be easier to find women’s titles superfluous when you’re not that far from the general FIDE titles. For players who start playing competitive chess later in life or have less access to resources, the general FIDE titles may seem less accessible.

“...for me personally, trying to obtain the WIM title was a big motivation. Given the time I want to invest in chess, becoming a grandmaster is simply not an option, but the goal of WGM does seem possible.” -Arlette van Weersel, “Abolishing Women’s Titles: A Different Perspective”

One of the biggest arguments in favor of women’s titles is that they give players that aren’t within range of the general titles something to aim for.

“People need encouragement for their efforts, they need rewards, or else they will not try to perform at their best. In all areas of life, school, hobbies and sports, to stimulate progress, teachers and trainers have set up levels where participants can be rewarded for their intermediate success, so they get confidence and start tackling the NEXT step. Without those rewards, few would consider entering many activities. And all those rewards need to be is REALISTIC to be effective.” -Alexandra Kosteniuk, “Abolish Women’s Titles? Ridiculous!”

I agree that titles signifying intermediate progress can be motivating, but why do the titles have to be gendered? Why not add more general titles instead, such as a FIDE Expert title for a 2000 rating? There are many male chess players I know that, especially if they didn’t get a head start by competing at a young age, are likely out of range for the current FIDE titles (unless they begin to study and compete very heavily for many years). Why not create titles that these players can earn too? Gaining 200 rating points in any rating class usually requires at least some, if not a lot of, dedication and hard work, and is certainly an achievement worth celebrating. In fact, the WCM title could simply be converted into a FIDE expert title, open to all. That way, all the players with a WCM could maintain an earned FIDE title, but it would drop the gendered implications. While I see no problem with rewarding more steps along the way to higher titles, I believe that gendering the titles and the mentality of lower expectations for women behind them represent the main barrier in chess for female players.

My Own Point of View

For me personally, the existence of women’s titles has been discouraging from the moment I learned about them. They are a reminder that we live in a world that tries to gender everything---even when you’re a 10-year-old kid that just wants to be good at a board game. I’ve been eligible for the Woman FIDE Master title for years. As much as I'd love to someday earn the general FM title, I will never apply for WFM. This is all I can think about when I consider the meaning of the WFM title:

FIDE Master = 2300

Woman FIDE Master = 2100

Woman = -200

I can’t understand accepting titles that equate the word “woman” with “200 rating points lower”. This can’t be the message we want to send to the world about women chessplayers or female potential in general. I’ve always loved playing chess. I love solving a creative puzzle. I love sitting at the board fighting with all my might to put my will on the board instead of my opponent’s. But, whenever I think about the community’s mentality on gender and chess, it’s disheartening. I feel highly conflicted that I participate in a mental sport where many from each gender encourage a lower standard of achievement for women.

“If they would have a higher goal, they would also reach higher." -Judit Polgar on women in chess, “A Gender Divide in the Ultimate Sport of the Mind”

Sending a message of female limitation, even unintentionally, to current and future female players is dangerous. This negative outweighs any arguable benefits that come from the titles.

“If somewhere back in the recesses of your brain you believe that girls aren’t naturally gifted at chess, then working to improve at the game would be an exercise in futility.” -Hana Schank, “Where's Bobbi Fischer?”

For true improvement in the gender gap, I think there’s much more to it than just using incentives to raise participation rates. I think we, as a community, need to objectively evaluate which incentives are truly beneficial and which are double-edged swords that create more problems than they solve---especially the ones that inadvertently encourage a mentality of lower standards for female players.

“Rather than lowering the bar so that more women earn a master-level title, we should work to eliminate those barriers that are making it objectively more difficult for them in the first place.” -Mary Brock,“Gender Inequality in Chess”

We need work to make it clear to female players that they can and that they deserve to reach whatever level they seek, if they’re willing to put in the hard work.

"I just don't see the point in having these separate women's titles. I'm not sure what they indicate. Women can play with men — they do play with men now. They can earn the same titles as men." -GM Irina Krush,“A Gender Divide in the Ultimate Sport of the Mind”

I think encouraging all female players to work to reach levels universally respected in the chess world would be a huge step in that direction.

“Finally, the girls themselves should know that they are equal to men in terms of chess talents, play in men’s tournaments, study hard and believe in their powers. If most women start acting that way, then one day quantity will lead to quality, and the world chess elite will be enjoying more female players. It’s essential to remember that the sky is the limit, and all the obstacles are in our heads…” -Natalia Pogonina, “Women and Men in Chess: Smashing the Stereotypes”
Prodigy Carissa Yip reached US Chess expert level at age 9 and earned the National Master title at age 11. Photo: Spectrum Studios

In the U.S., the rank of expert (the unofficial title for players with a US Chess rating of 2000+) is within the top 5% of American chessplayers. National Master is among the top 2%. I think these are excellent substitute goals for those within the WCM and WFM range.

Tatev Abrahamyan at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Photo: Lennart Ootes
“She got Women’s Grandmaster, and she didn’t want that title. She thinks she deserves to get the men’s title—and she is right. She can do it all.” -IM Armen Ambartsoumian about Tatev Abrahamyan, who currently has all three of the norms required for the IM title, “Women’s chess champ Tatev Abrahamyan aims to put men in check”

The difference is these players will know that they are highly ranked among all chessplayers, not just the female ones. FIDE Master and International Master are great goals for those within the WIM and WGM range. And, if one is really ambitious, why not go for overall GM? Or beyond?

Akshita Gorti at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Championship. Photo: Lennart Ootes
“I want to actually become number one in the world, not just number one in women–-also in the men. I’m going to keep working hard to achieve that goal.” -Akshita Gorti


A World Without Women’s Titles:
How would it work?
“Having a title is beneficial in terms of getting special conditions from organizers, becoming a more recognized coach or author, finding sponsors or receiving stipends from certain institutions, free memberships from top chess websites, etc.” -Natalia Pogonina, “The Coveted Titles”

If women’s titles are eliminated, what would happen to free entries and other financial conditions at tournaments for women chessplayers? I’d love to see higher female representation in chess, but what matters to me is eliminating the barriers that discourage females from playing, rather than aiming to create an artificial 50/50 gender ratio. It’s never felt right to me that, for tournaments that offer free entry to “GMs/WGMs”, women grandmasters can receive free entry while higher rated male International Masters may have to pay full price. Of course, offering free entry to all GMs and all IMs could be too many free entries for some tournaments. A possible compromise that would limit free entries and encourage more gender diversity is offering free entry to an unlimited number of GMs, but only a set number of IMs of each gender (on a first to register basis). This would raise the standard overall, encourage top female players to participate, eliminate the need for women’s titles, and make the requirements more fair.

What would it be like?

Recently, the first gender-neutral acting prize in awards-show history was awarded to Emma Watson for her performance as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Here’s what she had to say about it:

“The first acting award in history that doesn't separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience. MTV's move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone. But to me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. And that doesn't need to be separated into two different categories. I think I am being given this award because of who Belle is and what she represents. The villagers in our fairy tale wanted to make Belle believe that the world is smaller than the way she saw it, with fewer opportunities for her—that her curiosity and passion for knowledge and her desire for more in life were grounds for alienation. I loved playing someone who didn't listen to any of that.” -Emma Watson’s acceptance speech

While acting and chess are, of course, very different skills. What Watson said about the villagers wanting her character, Belle, to believe that the world held “fewer opportunities for her” is a parallel for the chess world in its current state---it’s not uncommon for prominent figures in the chess world to assert that women have less potential. It’s about time that we put an end to this. Taking steps to eliminate women’s titles and the lower standards they come with---to say, we can do better than this!---would be huge progress towards this.


The Future:
What’s Next?
“There is no person living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” -Henry Ford

While I’m not sure if women’s titles as a whole will be eliminated by FIDE in the near future, there is a lot that individuals in the chess community can do to encourage higher standards for female players, especially parents, teachers, journalists, tournament organizers, and the players themselves. If you’re in any of these positions in the chess community, I hope you’ll give the following suggestions some consideration:

1. Up-and-coming female players can aim higher for the overall titles.

“You have to put your goals as high as possible and only then will you improve.” -Judit Polgar, “Top female chess player aiming to inspire”


2. Chess parents of both girls and boys can make it clear that either gender can achieve any goal in chess, if they’re willing to earn it with determination and effort.

A great example is Carissa Yip’s father, Percy Yip, who admitted that he initially had some “misconceptions” about girls and chess:

“There’s a culture that parents should take girls to dancing class, not to chess. When she said she wanted to play chess, I said, ‘No, no, it’s not easy; you probably won’t like it.’” -Percy Yip, ”Four Young Chess Masters Tackle a Persistent Puzzle: The Gender Gap”

When he realized that Carissa was, in fact, very interested in the game, he became hugely supportive of his daughter and played a large role in her reaching the National Master title at the age of 11, a rare feat for any player:

“Dad is very good in data analysis. He is a math genius. He analyzed my games and results. He found out my weakness (but I am not going to disclose the secret!). We came out with a new plan to reach master by the end of March. We started playing ‘guess the moves’ over the Internet. He showed a position in his computer and the game appear in mine. I had to analyze and find the correct move. He used a lot of fun methods in our studies. I recorded my video analyzing grandmaster games. It was fun studying with my best coach---but also my lowest-rated coach.” -Carissa Yip, “Yip, Yip, Hooray!”, Chess Life Magazine - August 2015


3. Teachers can actively keep in mind that interest and work ethic, not gender, are the most important markers of potential.

I think that, because we see so many more male top players, chess talent in females can often be overlooked.

“I think that there's definitely some cultural/sociological bias at work that has made it more difficult for women to excel in chess. I realized a few years ago (after it was pointed out to me by an ex-girlfriend) that I was taking a much more active role in my nephew’s chess education than I was with my niece despite the fact that she was more eager to play/learn and seemed to take to the game much quicker. I had subconsciously not taken her interest in chess seriously and was mortified when I realized I was helping to perpetuate the myth that boys are better chess players.” -Roy Gates, “Women and Men in Chess: Smashing the Stereotypes”

As a chess teacher myself, I think it’s important for coaches to notice which students, whether female or male, have an especially high interest and work ethic and make sure that they have the resources necessary to reach any skill level they seek.

“Once you start teaching a girl how to play, and you see that she has talent, all of this statistical nonsense becomes irrelevant.” -Greg Shahade,“Women in Chess”


4. Chess writers can emphasize female players’ overall achievements and place less emphasis on women’s titles.

“Eventually, reporting of events in which she [Judit Polgar] competed stopped referring to her as a woman player and simply referred to her as a player.” -Dan Lucas, Chess Life Magazine Editor


5. Tournament organizers can encourage female participation in new ways, prioritizing overall measures of accomplishment, such as general titles or a chosen rating mark, instead of women-only titles.

“These rights I consider to be human rights, but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today.” -Emma Watson, “Gender equality is your issue too”, at the United Nations Headquarters in 2014

What are your thoughts on women's chess titles? Share your opinion on Twitter: #WomensChessTitles  

About the Author

Vanessa West is a regular writer and digital assistant for US Chess News. She won the 2017 Chess Journalist of the Year award. Follow her on Twitter: @Vanessa__West  


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Excellent article. I think Kosteniuk benefits more as "women's" chess player from the standards mentioned in this piece, so she's inclined to support the women's standards. Krush and Polgar are brilliant players who can play in any category. I would love to see women and men play together in the big tournaments and then see who comes out on top.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very well argued. Get rid of the awkward-sounding FIDE "Candidate Master" title while you are at it. The women's titles as you say could be "converted" to a neutral title so that those who earned them don't feel robbed. WGM = FM, WIM = Fide Expert, etc.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You have an embarrassing grammar mistake at the beginning. "... my parents took my younger sister and I..." should be "sister and me". You wouldn't say "my parents took I" so you shouldn't say "sister and I" in this context. Incorrect grammar distracts the reader from the points you are trying to make.

In reply to by Stephan Burton (not verified)

OMgrrrd, how embarrassing [/sarcasm]. Your lapsed membership DETRACTS (not distracts) from the point you are trying to make. There are nicer ways to make editorial comments. Learn some.

In reply to by Grammar AntiNazi (not verified)

TO grammar anti-Nazi- yes we find no courtesy,no respect, no manners coupled with some crude ,snide critical introductions to what appears an instant, provocative, interesting and massively researched world chess literary classic... certainly one of the the greatest chess essays of all time.PERIOD. It must have killed the author to write it, time..treasure .. worry and to roll her career dice on. IT COVERS US CHESS ONLINE WITH GUTS, GLORY, AND GREAT HONOR. Read below to see what heavy duty serious dudes and ladies , yes, world class critics/ writers do as postscript. They do not mess around,they roll, burn hot smelly rubber... When you without warning unleash nucleur world class penmanship like this here Vanessa West the giants come out of the woodwork. You type, They draw. Oh my goodness, a word you deem not proper.What will we do pray tell. ... I recall LSU Professor of Russian history Dr. George Putnam..his choice morsels about Joseph Stalin.. Two elitist writers once pounced out of the blue on a tiny error of Stalin's, his poverty/ prison developed outlaw direct style.They swiftly ruthlessly died overnight for it. There are such penalties large and slight everywhere..there is a time to hold them, a gentle time to fold them.For gentle manners. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

In reply to by Grammar AntiNazi (not verified)

It was a mistake, but not embarrassing. But the lapsed membership does not detract from the point he was making.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The current system does not prevent any girl from attaining IM/GM titles. So this is basically an advocacy piece opposing women's titles. By the author's logic, we should get rid of the National Master title because it is at least -200 points from a (International) Master. Wouldn't a high Master standard encourage chess players to aspire to become one? At college level, we have BA, MA, and PhD. You don't give out a Master degree to a 4-year college graduate. There is nothing wrong with intermediate titles because not everyone aspires to be a (professional) GM. The intermediate titles encourage participation. We do not have enough girl chess players. If we take away these women's titles, a number of these girls will find no reason to stay. Is that what we want?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

There doesn't seem to be any clear data that offering an inferior title to a gender-segregated group encourages that group's participation. When I was coaching at the elementary school level, most teams in our area had about 12 players. Usually 10 boys and two girls. Our teams always had 20 or 25 players, and were typically half boys and half girls. The only difference seemed to be that our teams had an adult female on the coaching staff. I do think the parents, both fathers and mothers, felt a little more comfortable about their daughters joining the club because of that. I don't know how much difference it made to the girls themselves. We didn't offer any gender-segregated activities or prizes, and we didn't participate in any. We just played in regular team events and trusted that the Chess itself was interesting enough to attract players who felt welcome. It worked well for us for a number of years. I'm sure there are some dedicated adult high-level players who would find it much more challenging to participate if they didn't get the financial incentives that the gender segregated events offer. But that's very different than saying that removing those financial incentives would change the total number of women playing, or even the number of women earning the open titles. It could just as easily be argued that there's a distraction in knowing that you have to compete against a specific group of lower rated players to get those financial incentives. If you're spending your time studying or playing styles of a group of players with almost no grandmasters among them, are you yourself going to improve as quickly as if you are an ambitious IM trying to earn the GM title? Milestone titles are those that everyone passes through on their way to a higher goal. (Well, some, like Tal, jump the fence but you know what I mean. ) The gender-restricted titles are not milestone titles. They are a diversion along a separate path.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

I have been involved in school chess club with players of various strength. Some players are excited to play in the Under sections at Nationals. They are motivated to win top trophies in those sections, but are not interested in competing in the open sections. Without the Under sections, we will not have the participation we have today. Similarly, without women's titles, we will lose many girls who want to be recognized for their participation but are not interested in becoming IMs/GMs. As to your medical and law school example, the key motivation is monetary. It is now happening in $oftware as well. However, there are still very few girls in science and engineering disciplines in general.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The number of women in software development has gone down over the last 20 years. There are a number of different theories as to why, but it's not just a question of where the money is. From a 2017 article at GoodCall "Lana Verschage is the director of Women in Computing at Rochester Institute of Technology. The Women in Computing group is a part of RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. Verschage tells GoodCall® that the gender gap in computing actually is widening. 'Since 1990, the percentage of female computing professionals has dropped from 35 percent to about 24 percent today, and according to Girls Who Code, if that trend continues, the share of women in the nation’s computing workforce will decline to 22 percent by 2025,' Verschage says." Again, there are a lot of different theories as to why, but the numbers are real. As the argument that taking away the gender-segregated titles would cause a decrease in the number of girls participating, I don't think there's any data on that, and having been a girl who played chess and a coach for girls and boys who played chess, it doesn't anecdotally fit with what I either felt or saw. Again, the club where I coached didn't offer any gender-segregated events or titles or prizes, and we always had more girls than the other teams that we competed against. For several years. I'm sure that the girls who currently compete for the prizes enjoy them, at least I would hope so. But who's to say that there aren't other girls who would be more likely to participate if they didn't feel they were going to be judged as inferior from the beginning? Or parents who would be more likely to support a daughter playing chess if they didn't feel she was going to be relegated to a lesser track. (And yes, I know it's always a choice to play the open events. But I also know that not all parents know that, and decisions are often made before they come in the door.) Age-related titles are milestone titles. Everyone is eligible for them at one stage in life and then they grow beyond them. And are expected, in fact required, to compete at a higher level. That's not true of the gender-segregated titles or events. I've said before that I would personally be open to considering an option where any female player could choose to play in gender-segregated events for, say, five years. The time would start when she played in her first gender-segregated event. After that, just as with Junior events, eligibility would expire, and she would be allowed to play only in open events. There might indeed be some women who decided not to play at all after the five years was up. But I think it would be worth testing the hypothesis that the ones that remained would get better than they would have if they stayed focused on the gender-segregated titles. It would certainly test our own expectations as to why we have these titles.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

I have stated my opinion. I believe most female chess players prefer to keep the women's titles. Perhaps we should survey WCMs/WFMs/WIMs/WGMs, both active and inactive players, if they support women's titles? ;)

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

That brings us back to the same question: what's the purpose of having these titles? If the purpose is to keep happy the women who currently have them and enjoy participating in events, then the mission has been accomplished. But it's sort of like the story about Robert Dantzig in World War II. England was trying to decide what to do about the fact that their planes were getting shot down. They could add more steel plating, but then the planes would require more fuel and fly slower. So they wanted to be very efficient in where to add the additional armor. The first thing they did was to carefully check every plane that came back and mark any place it had been hit. They brought in Danzig to help find patterns. And when they described the project to him, he said, "You're measuring the planes that came BACK?" Instead, he suggested interviewing the flight crews, and they almost universally said that the two places that needed to be protected were the fuel tank and the cockpit. Do that, and you had the best chance of bringing back a plane. So if our goal is to make happy the women who have these titles, we can take a survey of them, but it's not going to tell us much about the women who aren't playing chess at all. If our goal is either to bring more women into tournament play or to have more women in the top 100 overall either nationally or internationally, the current system isn't working no matter how happy the titleholders are. Like Danzig, we need to think about the problem a different way.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

The point is not to keep these women (with titles) happy. It is to broaden the appeal and membership in chess. As I mentioned earlier, if we get rid of the Under sections at Nationals, participation will take a huge hit. Same thing will happen if we get rid of women's championships and titles. In general, kids who win often tend to stay with chess (or any sport) as they go from elementary to middle and high schools. The women's titles give much needed recognitions to the few female players we have in chess. We will never read about Sabina Foisor in chess magazines if there is no US women's championship. Why would getting rid of women's championships and titles encourage more girls to play chess?

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

"It is to broaden the appeal and membership in chess. " Certainly a worthwhile goal, but there just isn't any evidence that having had segregated titles has helped to achieve that. Today, 77 years after the WIM title was introduced, there are 14,321 US players with FIDE ratings. 13,352 of them are men. Recognition may help fuel participation, but only when the recognition is generally respected. Go to any scholastic tournament and ask an adult who Judit Polgar is. Just as with Jen Shahade's quotation in the article, it's very likely that someone is going to explain that Polgar is a "real" grandmaster. Let's go a step further, though. Why would we believe that a nine-year-old girl, with an average chess rating, would drop out of Chess when a nine-year-old boy with the same rating would not? Assuming all other factors in their lives were equal including the amount of time, money, and parental support available for their participation, why would the girls need the pink tiara motivation and the boys wouldn't? I've never seen any evidence of that as a parent or as an elementary school chess coach. Again, though, I don't think the current system is going to change until we find some other way of increasing participation by women in tournament chess. If female players come into the game expecting to do as well as the males and aim for the same "real" achievements, it's likely they'll follow the same path to get there. If the people allocating the resources feel that the current system of gender-segregated titles is worth continuing, for whatever reason, sobeit. But those whose goal is to increase participation by female players at any age and level need to look for other strategies, because that one just doesn't work. I understand that there are currently just professionals who are female who count on financial benefits that they get from the availability of the gender – segregated titles and events. So those individuals might have issues if the system went away, which is why I don't think the system will go away. But if our goal is to get new people into chess, our first step has to be to look at the ones who aren't coming in.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

The entire sports world has both men and women championships and titles. Until we have enough women winning major open championships, it is unproductive to get rid of women's championships and titles. Just FYI, there are girls' mathematical Olympiads in Europe, UK and China. See also "Girls Are Rare At The International Math Olympiad" Someone suggested (proven?) that men are overrepresented at the top and bottom in the distribution of mathematical abilities while women cluster around the middle. If this is true, it certainly justifies having women specific championships and titles.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

I am a little surprised that my last comment has been moderated away. So I shall stop here. Good luck.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

Never mind. It shows up now. Technical issue probably.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

Okay, the comment between Duif (May 27, 2017 at 1:47 pm) and mine (May 27, 2017 at 5:37 pm) does appear to be blocked.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

Actually, the "entire sports world" does not have separate gender tracks. Those that rely primarily on physical skills generally do. However, in Olympic Equestrian events men and women compete against each other, and have done since the 1950s. There have been a number of women who medalled, including Liselott Linsenhoff of Germany. who won both a team and an individual gold. (In different Olympics.) In competitive horse racing, there are a number of women jockeys, some of whom have been quite successful. Donna Barton Brothers not only won over 1000 races, but her mother was a jockey as were her brother and sister. There is very rarely a separate gender-segregated event in horse-racing: the women who are jockeys earn their wins in open competition. In the US, Julie Krone won a Triple Crown event, the Belmont Stakes, aboard Colonial Affair. Sailing also has a number of events, particularly the long-distance ones, in which there are no gender restrictions. Although bowling normally does offer gender-segregated events, women are eligible to compete in top level events if they can qualify. Kelly Kulick beat 62 men in the 2010 tournament of champions to take first place. Pamela Reed, an ultramarathoner, won the 135 mile Mojave Badwater Marathon in an open field – – twice. Mah Jong is an interesting example, and of course closer to Chess than other "sports." In China, it is mostly played by men. In the US, outside of Chinese American communities, it has been mostly played by women. In Japan, it is played by both. The European MahJong Open championship is open to both men and women. And it has been won by some of each gender. And indeed the very first MahJong world champion was a woman from Japan, Mai Hatsune. The organizing bodies of chess can decide for themselves whether or not they wish to offer gender-segregated titles and events. But it certainly wouldn't be unique if they chose not to.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The international titles of FIDE Candidate Master and Woman Candidate Master should be abolished. These titles are insults to those players who have earned the title of National Master in whatever countries of the world they are from.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I want to commend Vanessa for a very well thought out, well presented article. 40 years ago when I was a 21-year-old 1700 player, I said much the same thing, although not as well. As both a player and a coach of elementary students it seemed obvious to me that when a presentation ceremony had a Men's Champion and a Women's champion and the Women's champion was always 400 or more points lower rated that it simply sent the wrong message. We were used to seeing this in physical sports, where it made sense. Men did jump higher and run faster, at least most men compared to most women. But we didn't separate law school graduates and medical school graduates and give out a "women's attorney" license with lower qualifying scores on the bar exam. Or a "women's medical degree" for women who wouldn't have qualified on the general requirements. Law schools and medical schools did a number of things to encourage higher levels of female enrollment, but they didn't change the qualifications for graduation or professional licensing. At that time, less than 10% of US medical school graduates were women. And less than 10% of US tournament chess players were women. Today about half of US medical school and law school graduates are women. But the number of US women tournament chess players is about the same. 40 years without change. No one is surprised these days to meet a woman who is a doctor or a lawyer. If we want that to be true for titled chess players, that is, the same titles that are open to both men and women, then we need to look at bringing more girls into Chess as beginners. Not focusing on the women who are already highly motivated to play the game. I know there are strong feelings on all sides of this issue, and I respect that. But as chessplayers, we all pride ourselves on our ability to objectively analyze the truths that lie before us. We have 40 years of data now, and we know that medical schools and law schools have succeeded where tournament chess has not. If our goal in having women-only titles and events is to make sure that there will be a substantial number of women in the event photographs, then we've succeeded. But if our goal is truly to increase the number of women who play and the number of women who earn open titles, we have 40 years of data to say that the law schools and the medical schools have done a lot better then the Chess community has. Maybe it's time to learn from their strategies.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

Well struck. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There are two arguments in favor of women's titles that come out to me: 1. Encouragement 2. Prizes Let me knock out #1 right now. If you need to be encouraged to do something, you probably don't want to do it anyway. The people that are best at what they do eat, sleep and drink the stuff. They don't need a pat on the back to be able to do what they LOVE. So no we don't need to encourage or 'prod' anyone into doing anything. Showing girls the opportunities in life is fine. Showing kids in general the possibilities they can have in life is an important thing. After all, a lot of kids and parents aren't even aware of things like chess scholarships. Then one person says that it's 'easier because women may not want to reach the title of GM.' But this assumes that every boy and man that has ever played chess played to become a GM and that's simply not true. Men come to the conclusion that certain titles may not be in reach all the time and they don't have lower standards to "encourage" them either. I think plenty of men wake up in the morning and realize that they probably won't be challenging Magnus Carlsen for the chess crown. I mean Magnus probably has so much encouragement that no one could ever defeat him!! Ok that was a bad joke... But no I don't think this is a fair point here. Now I can understand encouraging little Jane because little Johnny called her a "poopy-head" at the chess tournament or because little Jane had some bad results. Sure all kids will go through this and may need to be encouraged to not give up because someone is not being nice or because they're having trouble doing what they want to do. I can equally understand the importance of encouragement when kids do well. But that's really where it should end. We can show them the game and the possibilities of it, but it's up to them whether they want to pursue it. #2 is the elephant in the room and is the one that seems prevalent to me. Now I am well aware that many GMs or players in general don't make a living by only playing chess. But some of them make something from it. And the fact of the matter is that a WGM has the possibility of making more prize money than a man at the same rating level because the WGM title is the top of the women's title range and it's nowhere near the top of the men's. Someone that can benefit from this, even slightly, may be reluctant to lose the women's titles. However I believe that women's titles do nothing more than to promote a lower standards for women. I find it to be simply wrong to think that we should encourage girls by telling them that they don't have to live up to the same standards as men to receive titles and that they shouldn't do anything without a pat on the back. No, we should not tell them that being a great chess player is possible because Alexandra Kosteniuk is a great chess player. We tell them that they can be great chess players if they want to be and are willing to work for it. That is encouragement - telling someone what they can do by their own ability and drive; not by telling them that it's not as hard as other things.

In reply to by Guy Who Probab… (not verified)

Nicely put. I see no reason why a beginning female player can't be inspired by the games of Magnus Carlson or Hikaru Nakamura. My own favorite when I was beginning was Tal, like many beginners. Later Capablanca, Timman, Benko, and Rubinstein. I didn't need to see a picture of them to enjoy their games. The games themselves spoke to me. I remember the first time I dreamed about pieces moving on a chessboard. It was a Capablanca endgame and it was and is still both compelling and beautiful. I remember the first time I found an improvement on a game I had studied for my homework and my teacher reached across the board and shook my hand and wrote my move in the margin of his own book. It was, I don't know – – chilling and amazing at the same time. I remember the first time I clearly saw a sequence of seven moves leading to a crushing advantage and it was like watching a black-and-white movie of stone towers in Atlantis falling apart underwater: unreal and inevitable and enthralling all at once. I think I held my breath for the whole sequence as move after move played out on the board just as I had seen it. Without words, without movement, without applause, it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. Gender didn't play a factor in any of those experiences. The chess itself is enough.

In reply to by Guy Who Probab… (not verified)

Greetings Guy Who Probably Won't Be an FM ( I am not so sure , you and The Duif seem pretty sharp to me!) you and The Duif explore all bases on summer bikes please consider briefly where the baseball game is played for just a little longer ... the stadium location,basic geography which powerfully hammers in the background of your valid arguments. Hundreds of world FIDE rated chess tournaments and title qualifiers at 15 minutes per game or at most one hour and Blitz fide grandmasters at every state fair in Anchorage , Alaska or Boise Idaho are coming. The ABSOLUTELY FREE OF CHARGE RATING SYSTEM FOR ALL ORGANIZERS/PLAYERS IN 180 CHESS NATIONS.. The new St. Louis "one rating""rating system, deeply researched is THE MILLION DOLLAR FINANCED forever in St.Louis /600 TOURNEYS ALREADY RATED.. ST.LOUIS WORLD PRO 'ONE RATING SYSTEM' is now absolutely free worldwide to BOTH players and all amateur chess organizers... incorporates blitz, rapid and classical chess in ONE RATING with classical weighted of course the leading fraction already totally used to select the St. Louis million dollar world pro circuit players. Believe it or not the mega million dollar women's pro tennis ratings came right out of specially hired Professor Arpad Elo's chess rating office! This is really the modern version albeit having nothing to do with Fide elo ratings.) ALL of St. Louis Scholastic and Chess Center TOURNAMENTS are "One Rating" right now.AND IT DOES NOT HURT ONE IOATA TO USE OTHER RATING SYSTEMS RIGHT ALONGS SIDE IT. ("Everyone should Have one rating..a FIDE rating"- Kasparov, 2016 St. louis ) So naturally it will free of charge offer women LOCAL CHESS COFFEE SHOP world rated tourneys never dreamed of.Now just support the US CHESS new uncensored website and wonderfully improved CHESS LIFE magazine. I read the uncensored rocket US Chess website and Chess Life magazine suddenly like never before. US Chess organization itself is simply a defeatist/lawsuit ridden "We can't because we have no money" roadblock, not a road. It also discriminates massively versus critics, reformers , women like Susan Polgar , "THE MENS GRANDMASTER TITLE SYSTEM" GRANDMASTER.. She is 100 times over qualified for the chess hall of fame and everyone in the entire world knows it .Lincoln and Washington would never have made it to Mount Rushmore if this quite silly madcap crew were doing the picks. The free non profit ST. LOUIS "ONE RATING" SYSTEM IS ALSO OPEN FOR ALL YOUTH/SCHOLASTIC CHESS/ WOMENS EVENTS.Period. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Although no longer a member, or player, of Chess, I did write a blog, the Armchair Warrior, in which I posed similar questions, for which I was excoriated. A former reader, who is a member, and still plays the Royal game, sent an email asking me to read this article, and comment, if I had anything to add. I will try to add something. I applaud the author for writing, and the editor for publishing, the article. This is what a good forum should be; some way for all to express their opinion(s). A democracy allows all the birds to sing. A recent article appeared at The Hardball Times website, "On Diversity: Baseball and Its Fans Fall Short." ( This was in response to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports release of its annual Racial and Gender Report Card for Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball does not have as many African American players as it did a generation or so ago and some feel strongly that something, anything, should be done about it NOW! Others posit no one is excluded because everyone is free to chose Baseball, or any other sport. The question Chess must answer is why it is necessary to bring more female players into the game? After all, they are free to chose Chess, are they not? There are as many, if not more, female Bridge players as men players, yet I do not recall any "push" to get more females to play the game. I believe there is no distinction between any Bridge title. When I played Backgammon professionally back in the late 70's early 80's there were far more women players, percentage wise, than there has ever been in Chess, and that includes the women Chess players of the old Soviet Union, where Chess was far more popular than in the west. Far more people play Go than Chess and the only titles earned are the same for men and women. Ms. Calvin writes, "Again, though, I don’t think the current system is going to change until we find some other way of increasing participation by women in tournament chess." The question those involved with Chess should answer is, "Why does Chess need to, "... find some other way of increasing participation by women in tournament chess?" Chess, like any other game, Bridge, Go, Golf, Tennis, etc., is available to any woman, if they have a desire to play, is it not? Separate titles segregates women. Period.

In reply to by Michael Bacon (not verified)

From an organization standpoint, increasing membership and event participation is usually seen as a good thing. The USCF has as its vision statement "Our vision is to enrich the lives of all persons and communities through increasing the play, study, and appreciation of the game of chess." So figuring out how to increase the number of women who are USCF members and participate in tournaments represents a growth opportunity for the organization. Is spending some resources on the promotion of gender-segregated events a good use of organizational assets in pursuit of its mission? I think that's a legitimate question for the organization's members to consider. On the other hand, if the organization stops spending those resources, some individual players would be hurt financially. Nobody likes to see that. Which is why I don't think anything is going to change anytime soon.

In reply to by Michael Bacon (not verified)

"Chess, like any other game, Bridge, Go, Golf, Tennis, etc., is available to any woman, if they have a desire to play, is it not?" - Bridge, Golf and Tennis hold major women's championships. E.g. Serena Williams in tennis. "The question Chess must answer is why it is necessary to bring more female players into the game? After all, they are free to chose Chess, are they not?" - You could say the same about (computer) science. But we still have girl specific programs/camps to entice/encourage them to enter the field. It is easy to say that they are free to choose chess, but in reality we need to do more to encourage their participation.

In reply to by Michael Bacon (not verified)

Sir Michael.. Interesting. Agon multiple survey 2016 numbers.. about Go numbers versus chess . THE AGON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SPONSORED SURVEYS SHOWED .approximately 600,000,000 CHESS PLAYERS JUST ONLINE ( SIX HUNDRED MILLION chess phone app users definitely play according TO THE AGON CELL PHONE SURVEYS). People like chess,Go not so much. Go players are well under a hundred million and rightly so..though a legendary game GO is not finite and instantly analyzable, does not really shove responsibility on the player in a short time. More people ALSO play chess daily than golf! See Agon 2016 third party surveys. One scary thing is that absolutely no one daily plays classical chess. More than 99 per cent of all chess games played worldwide are ONE HALF HOUR OR LESS. Under no circumstances will sponsors in the coming century keep pouring millions into chess events unless EVERYBODY plays and that means all world championships are going to be one half hour games and one game with each color against every opponent and ABOVE ALL no player will ever be allowed to leave the chess board for one second during world cash play. You walk,you lose. The quicker the better.Draws by agreement are totally banned and stalemate as pointed out by England's Malcom Pein will soon be a win for the player who moves last. As I predicted and now made law by FIDE .. ALL ILLEGAL MOVES LOSE THE GAME/ NO TAKE BACK EVER. Make an illegal move and the game is all over in pro play. Touch a piece with intent to move that cannot be legally moved- you lose immediately regardless of position. (You are not allowed to distract your opponent in any way especially in time pressure) NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE RESIGN..PLAY EVERY GAME OUT TO THE VERY END .. ALL GAMES END IN ONE HOUR OR LESS REGARDLESS. This keeps the worldwide broadcast audience there to the very end.Only the arbiter declares a book draw in top flight play and the player must ask the arbiter for it first to show the books draw is known. As in pro bridge the pro arbiter can double forfeit both players for any reason without appeal if mutual fraud games are even suspected. No proof needed..if it even looks suspicious you are long gone. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

In reply to by Jude Acers (not verified)

and furthermore.... Sir Michael.. A gentleman with true style .. forgot to mention how much I greatly enjoyed your " all the birds get to sing". Swift.This crew does not bow, doesn't know how. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I hope someone nominates article this for Best of CLO 2017! My own two cents is that women's titles, just like women-only events, are justified but not necessary. Therefore, whether or not these titles exist, there is no big problem either way. I think the same applies to many things in which the participants in the debate often falsely assume that one side is a moral requirement while the other is a moral failure.

In reply to by Kele Perkins (not verified)

*this article

In reply to by Kele Perkins (not verified)

How does a person drifting through time without warning unleash something this marvelous..while other immensely talented and observant people go their whole lives without even graffiti on trains? Basquiat. The breathtaking timing, curiosity, investigative and journalistic skills plus photos that work quite nicely (plus it rocks) is coupled the sheer unbelievable luck of Vanessa West.She was allowed to publish it totally uncensored while hundreds of really ruthless savage examinations of the US chess scene and the US chess policy board clowns went largely unread much less heard. The eyewitness shocking US chess policy board observations by one time elected member Grandmaster Lev Alburt in THE CRAZY WORLD OF CHESS by Larry Evans appeared simultaneously with the author's death. So what? The lion and greatest American critic/ chess commentator of all time was fired by US Chess on his death bed. He was largely unheard. Every warning was given that the entire American chess scene would have to be totally rebuilt and along came the billion dollar closed shop St. Louis Chess and Scholastic center to totally prove it... (Suddenly world top 10 Grandmasters So, Nakamura , Caruana really mattered..had a stage because of billionaires Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield.. they were paid, they could work on chess without the interference of foolish people of the US chess policy board who left them to die on the sidewalk, not even mentioning the truly magnificent absolutely unprecedented pro chess world team champions ..the team USA Baku Olympiad gold medal champions or the US chess grandmaster national championship in their mission statement .. while racking up millions in expenses, ridiculous lawsuits, uncaring, unwatched, absurd. AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT - THEY LAUGHED. NOBODY REALLY CARES. Titanic chess historical figure/organizer coach and FIDE Grandmaster Susan Polgar does not get into the chess hall of fame because we the chess monarchs say so. Go ahead. Make my day. What are you going to do about it?) St Louis totally replaced the (We can't)US Chess as world chess central. Like a titanic and very much underestimated American chess shadow , FIDE chess grandmaster Irina Krush- launched world famous as the nifty teenager chess commentator for two months in the 1999 Kasparov versus the world internet chess match by sheer freakish chance- promotion unheard of for any other woman player in history... Vanessa West now establishes an echo. She simply, like many hugely successful people I know , got unbelievably lucky that while gifted, prepared , curious ... she was not really noticed until she hit like a bomb here. Her stage. Nobody stopped her. Just epic. The fiery post mortem. The red hot and "cookin' like mama used to do " commentators also appear delightfully one by one, truly wonderful , beyond summary. Go ahead. I just dare you. Take a ride on the wild side. Go forth. Ride the stallion through the valley below. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good discussion Vanessa! The issue of these titles would be made clear if someone suggested that we have titles that are based on ethnicity or another underrepresented demographic. How about a "Black GM" or "BGM" title to address the paucity of numbers in the African-America chess community??? Of course not! It would be widely ridiculed.

In reply to by Daaim Shabazz (not verified)

The women's titles/competitions are common in the sports world. Of course there is no non-African 100m Olympic champion or non-Chinese ping-pong world title. LOL.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

True, but while chess is certainly a competition, no one considered it a "sport" until the efforts about 20 years ago to attract some Olympics money to chess organizations. If you truly believe that women are genetically destined to be worse chess players than men, then the gender segregated titles makes sense. That's the situation that most sports deal with. Judit Polgar has taken an opposite position. "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. If they would have a higher goal, they would also reach higher."

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

I don't know of any (scientific) proof one way or another that women are genetically destined to be worse chess player. So why get rid of the women's titles now?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

As I've said, I doubt if we will get rid of the titles, because it would hurt the women who have them financially and no one wants to see that. As for why get rid of them there are two possible reasons. The first is simple: they cost money for the organizations that offer them. Why spend money on those programs and not others? The answer should be because there is a greater good for the organization as a whole, but the problem is, no one has ever demonstrated that. Women's titles do not increase the participation of women to any significant extent, the numbers already show that. If some individual benefactor wants to offer a gender segregated prize, that's no different than an individual benefactor offering a prize to individuals of Irish descent or something similar. It's their money and they can spend it how they like. But an organizational offering takes resources away from other programs of the organization. So it needs a justification. The second reason is because, since we already know from the numbers that it doesn't increase female participation to any meaningful level, it's a statement by the organization that they don't think women can compete equally with men, whether because they are by nature inferior players or because the organization believes for some reason that women require external motivation beyond that of men. I don't believe that, and I would prefer that the Chess organizations to which I belong indicate that they don't believe that either. But again, I don't think it will change anytime soon. My arguments are all general, and dropping the gender-segregated programs would hurt known individuals. So I expect it will be status quo for quite a while.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

"since we already know from the numbers that it doesn’t increase female participation to any meaningful level" You have made this claim multiple times as if it is the fact. I don't believe this is a fact.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I've given you the data and the source. Anyone can go to the FIDE website and look it up themselves in the database. Today, 77 years after the WIM title was introduced, there are 14,321 US players with FIDE ratings. 13,352 of them are men. The US Census Bureau says 50.8% of the US population in 2015 was female.(again, you can go to their site and look it up.) If the intent was to increase women's participation significantly, it's failed. You may argue about why it failed, but 7% total participation from a population which is a little more than 50% of the available candidates is not meaningful participation.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You are missing my point. 7% is still an increase from 2%, 3%, or 5%. From 2% to 7% is a 250% increase in participation! I don't believe 50% participation is realistic unless men stop playing ;)

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

I just came across an article by Mark J. Perry, a scholar at American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's Flint campus. It basically shows that high school boys perform better at math than girls in all SAT tests in the past 50 years. The statistically significant difference in math test scores in favor of boys is consistent across all ethnic groups. Perhaps men do play better chess than women.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Maybe. The SAT scores are complex because they may also reflect the amount of study time spent on any one subject. Using the SAT labels, as a group Asian girls score significantly higher on math in the SAT than White boys, for example, but not as high as Asian boys as a group. However, the difference between Asian girls and White boys is a wider gap than the difference between White boys and White girls. The SAT again is a self-selecting population, however. Someday someone will do that blank slate experiment, testing only for chess outcomes, and then we'll have much better data. Meanwhile, we just don't have comparable data to the SAT scores for chessplayers, because there aren't very many female tournament players. So statistically, it's hard to draw any conclusions about chess performance based on gender. If you want to make the argument that women are inherently weaker chess players and that's why we need gender-segregated titles, it's not something that can be proven statistically either way at the present time. Perhaps Asian women are inherently better chess players then White men. There is a lot we don't know yet.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

First, there is not enough female chessplayers to prove that men play better chess. Then, despite boys scoring better at math over 50 years, it does not prove anything because SAT is a self selecting population. Finally, you can't compare Asian kids and White kids in math because Asian kids spend more time studying math in school. But within the same ethnic group, boys generally outperform girls in math. Again, perhaps men do play better chess than women.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Yeah, statistics are crazy, right? I'm sure the SAT scores mean something, we just don't know what they mean exactly. "Correlation is not causation" and all that. A blank slate experiment would tell us a lot. Everything else has static in the data. My personal belief is that the characteristics of the individual matter much more than the group that they were born into when it comes to chess talent. But I can't prove that. Nor can anyone prove the contrary based on the data we have so far. Everybody has their own guesses. But so far that's all they are.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very well-researched and cogent article. A grammatical mistake - "less" was used in place of "fewer" in an instance. What if Alexandra Kostuniuk is right, and men have some innate advantage (due to a factor or combination of factors that is yet to be discovered) in chess. Does it still make sense to eliminate female titles, or should it be like American Ninja Warrior, where the course is the same for both genders, despite an advantage to males? Can arguments be made to eliminate female tournaments? Are those not also guilty of setting female expectations much lower? GM Polgar improved much faster playing in neutral events; are girls missing this opportunity by playing in segregated ones? @Daaim Shabazz, that is a great point.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Several different people have analyzed women's performance in chess versus men's. Mathematically, much comes down to the number of participants, not an intrinsic advantage of men. I have attended many tournaments over the years where the average woman was rated significantly higher than the average man, just because I was the only woman playing and my rating was 1700. For awhile women were considerably overrepresented in the top 10, because Judit Polgar was in the top 10 and significantly fewer than 10% of total players were women. So it could be argued that more women don't play because chess is too easy for them. But would be simple to test for inborn differences. Take 1000 men and 1000 women who don't play chess. Teach them the game, set up competitions, and evaluate the results. Until someone does such a "blank slate" experiment, though, we are left with evaluating self-selecting groups with many different factors involved.

In reply to by Duif Calvin (not verified)

Number of participants is not a valid argument, since as you mention, it is self-selecting. Weaker players tend to drop out. In addition, take Georgia, where male and female players are roughly equal, and yet the male players dominate at rates similar to other countries. Looking at average numbers, where n is small, also does not make sense (such as yourself, or 1 player in the top 10). But my point is not who is stronger, but whether it makes sense to eliminate segregated titles even if it were the case, as Alexandra Kostuniuk argued. And a separate question, whether female tournaments should also be eliminated using similar arguments to Vanessa West.

In reply to by Anonymous32 (not verified)

A lot of women play chess in the country of Georgia, but participation rates are nowhere near equal. Again, checking the FIDE database, as of June 2017 there are 618 women out of a total of 2291 players. Around 27%. I'd be interested in the data sources for the statement that "weaker players tend to drop out." The numbers I've seen don't indicate that to be true, but I haven't seen anything comprehensive. Anecdotally, there are plenty of 1400 players in the US who've been playing for 20 years or more.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I thought a key point of the article is that the mere existence of gender specific titles actively *discourages* participation by girls and women. I was not 100% convinced, but I am willing to take this argument seriously. Organizers do ratings and titles and championships not because they are effective at encouraging low-level participation, but because they know how to do those things. It's "what we do". When trying to encourage more girls and women to play, it's no surprise what ideas come to mind. The USCF should poll *lapsed* members asking them why they quit. Ignore any response that says $$$ (because if the perceived service were "better" the same $$$ would then be "worth it"). To encourage more girls and women to play, actually pay attention to their answers, and work to overcome the issues they identified. It's called customer service, and it's hard. Oh, never mind. Let's do a tournament instead.

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