06 Jan Year of Women in Chess
The history and future of women in chess have been a long-standing argument. The first Women’s World Chess Championship was held in 1927 and won by Vera Menchik. There was a time when the gift of chess was looked upon by women as well as men as an achievement, and there is no reason why it should be any different now.
How It Began
In the mid-1880s, a club in Turin, Italy, allowed the wives and daughters of its members to only accompany them to the chessboard, a practice praised by then-world champion Wilhelm Steinitz.
This is as it should be, and we hope that this example will be followed by other chess societies, it being evident that, if we engage the queens of our hearts for the queens of our boards and if we can enlist the interest of our connubial mates for our classical mates, our intellectual pastime will be immensely benefited and will pass into universal favor.”
The change that followed was slow, when women played in an international tournament for the first time, in London in 1897, a commentator cautioned that they “would come under great strain lifting the leaded, wooden chess sets.
Judit Polgár – The Trendsetter
Judit Polgár was at one time the eighth highest-rated chess player in the world; she is the only woman to have ever been in the top ten of the world’s chess players. An analysis of rating statistics of German players in an article by Merim Bilalić from 2009, Kieran Smallbone, Peter McLeod, and Fernand Gobet indicated that although the highest-rated men were stronger than the highest-rated women, the difference was largely accounted for by the relatively smaller pool of women players.
Chess players, both men, and women, have speculated that the reasons behind the gap in chess achievements by women compared to men is due to cultural expectations and bias. Judit Polgár said that society and some parents may suppress or weaken the desires of young female chess players to improve and that women were often held back by lower ambition by choosing to compete in all-women tournaments rather than open tournaments.
Female World Champion
Recently, Hou Yifan has been the leading female chess player. She also won the Biel GM tournament in 2017. In 2021 FIDE announced the largest sponsorship deal yet for women’s chess with the breast enlargement company Motiva. This move was met with both criticism and support from female chess players.
To make things better, FIDE declared 2022 as the “Year of Woman in Chess.” In all, three women, Maia Chiburdanidze, Judit Polgar, and Hu Yifan, have been ranked in the world’s top 100 players.
State of Women in Chess Today
Today the field of chess has some remarkable female players ruling the charts, and to add to this list of phenomenal women, we have our very own founder of Chess KLUB – Archana Kolangara. Archana’s father introduced her to chess when she was just a little girl, and she hasn’t looked back ever since.
In February 2019, she co-founded Chess KLUB along with her husband and partner. She believes that we have the vision to make Chess KLUB synonymous with Chess itself and take this concept everywhere.
Chess is one of the few sports where women can compete alongside men with no physical disparities. The only thing keeping them apart is prejudice and tradition. Until women are given the institutional resources to match their male counterparts, chess will remain embedded in an incomplete past and be unable to enter the future.
However, we are definitely far better than the 19th century and the first chess clubs. Women today are taking the lead in every sphere, and there is no reason why they should leave chess behind in the era of female dominance.