Gender Inequality in Chess Essay Example

While famous chess players such as Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen have been showered in attention from the media, the incredible achievements and perseverance of their female counterparts have been largely ignored. From the moment chess clubs started becoming prominent in the early 1800s, women were ostracized and excluded from joining them. Eventually, women-only chess clubs were started, giving women their first opportunity to compete for chess rankings. This step forward motivated more women to begin playing competitively, leading to worldwide women’s tournaments being officially hosted by FIDE (the International Chess Federation) (Soltis). As women from around the globe stepped up to push the barriers facing them, several contenders would stand out among the rest, breaking numerous records and crushing the expectations of their male peers.

During the second half of the 19th century into the mid-20th century, major progress was made for competitive female chess players. The earliest known women’s chess club was established in 1847, in the Netherlands. In the following years, multiple small chess groups for women began to crop up. The 1880s would see the first official women’s chess tournament, which was funded by a chess organization from Sussex, England (Graham 6-7). As competitive chess settings for women became more common, incredible players from around the world began to be discovered. Vera Menchik was one of the earliest women to make a name for herself in the world of chess (Soltis; Rosenwald). When the International Chess Federation hosted the first “Women’s World Championship”, Vera went on to not only win it, but also win the following six world championships (Soltis). Despite the consistent dismissal of her skill and sexist comments from top male players, she was unafraid to take them on. She competed in open tournaments with men, defeating many notable male players of the time (Soltis; Rosenwald). Following Vera Menchik’s death in 1944, women’s chess would be almost entirely dominated by players from Russia and Georgia until the 1990s (Soltis; Rosenwald).

From the 90s to 2010s, new challengers arose, bringing new ideas and fresh competition. Hungary’s Judit Polgár, dubbed the “best woman to ever play chess”, would go on to set several important milestones for women in chess (McClain). In 1991, 15-year-old Judit reached the highest rank possible in chess; grandmaster (Hoare; Allen). No man or women had ever achieved such a goal at that young of an age. At her peak, she was ranked among the top ten chess players in the world, while at the same time being the first woman to reach the list of the top one-hundred players (McClain). One of the defining moments of Judit Polgár’s chess career was her 2002 victory against one of the best players of all time, Garry Kasparov. ‘“Women by their nature are not exceptional chess players . . .”’, was just one of the many disparaging comments Kasparov had made about female chess players in the years before their match. By beating him, Judit Polgár inspired women with chess ambitions and set the precedent that women could indeed be “exceptional chess players” (Hoare). One of the few women to beat Judit Polgár, Hou Yifan, was another star of women’s chess in the 2000s, winning the “Women’s World Championship” four times. Two of which were won while Hou was attending college. In an impressive show of her skill, Hou managed to stalemate (a chess term for a draw) the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in a 2017 tournament (Thomas). When Judit Polgár retired from competitive chess in 2014 and Hou Yifan focused more of her time on college, future champions would continue to come forward and challenge the gender stereotypes that have consistently plagued the game of chess (McClain; Thomas).

Once unallowed to join chess clubs, women have gone on to defeat the toughest male players in the game. In doing so, they displayed magnificent chess talent and resilience in the face of sexism. Without the efforts of women worldwide, the progress seen in modern times could never have been accomplished. As the game of chess continued to adapt, female competitors kept finding new ways to make themselves seen and respected. One example of this would be during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, when online chess “live-streaming” became popular and internet personalities like the Botez sisters helped showcase women’s chess to a larger audience than previously possible in the past (Leibowitz). One move at time, piece by piece, women have gained control of the board.


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