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Chess Queen®
April 29, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Once dismissed as "the Anna Kournikova of chess" for marketing her glamour, Alexandra Kosteniuk is now the Women's World Champion. (previously)

Not competing was Judit Polgar - widely regarded as the strongest female chess player in history - who restricts herself to men's tournaments.
posted by Joe Beese (103 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a "chess is cool!" audio podcast on one of those links... ha!... like I need that to know that chess is totally cool.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:47 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So she's now the Maria Sharapova of chess?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:49 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


also before we get into the "anna kournikova sucked at tennis" argument, lets acknowledge she was a rather good doubles player. And yes there's a separate skill set there.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, a question. Why are there separate women's and men's chess championships? I can see the purpose for physical sports where the fact is that testosterone gives men an edge. But chess?
posted by sotonohito at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2009 [12 favorites]


So, a question. Why are there separate women's and men's chess championships?
There isn't a men's championship. Women may compete in the overall (open) championship. I realize that doesn't answer your real question.
posted by rocket88 at 9:54 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are there separate women's and men's chess championships? I can see the purpose for physical sports where the fact is that testosterone gives men an edge. But chess?

It's a historical relic.

If I compare it to the NIT, will people get angry?
posted by unixrat at 9:55 AM on April 29, 2009


I'd capture it en passant.
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


Documentary on another Chess Queen -- My Brilliant Brain
posted by empath at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


(so ashamed)
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I find it interesting that Polgar took time off from chess while pregnant with each of her two children. Considering that chess is not a contact sport, I have to wonder if she either did not want the stress of competition while carrying a pregnancy, or else if she felt some of the temporary mental acuity loss that other women in mathematical fields have reported while pregnant, perhaps as a result of the pregnancy hormones -- see this AskMeFi post about this subject for similar reports.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


`Well, this IS grand!' said Alice. `I never expected I should be a Queen so soon -- and I'll tell you what it is, your majesty,' she went on in a severe tone (she was always rather fond of scolding herself), `it'll never do for you to be lolling about on the grass like that! Queens have to be dignified, you know!'
posted by empath at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2009


I guess she's good for a girl.
posted by I Foody at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't be, DU. At least you didn't say "I'd fork it!".
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:02 AM on April 29, 2009


I don't really keep track, but didn't Irina Krush stomp her last year?
posted by RavinDave at 10:02 AM on April 29, 2009


In the final game Alexandra Kosteniuk was winning but played it safe and drew with a perpetual check

This is related to why women sometimes lose on the Jeopardy! TV game show. They don't bet enough. They have a natural tendency to hold resources in reserve, even when logic will tell you that THEY ARE NOT REALLY DOLLARS UNTIL YOU WIN!!
posted by longsleeves at 10:02 AM on April 29, 2009


It's getting a little boyzone in here. Stop it.
posted by kldickson at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


I Foody: "I guess she's good for a girl."

Simply as a matter of numbers, her FIDE rating of 2516 puts her well out of the world's Top 100 players.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2009


And nobody's remarked on her Zwischenzugs so far.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:06 AM on April 29, 2009


Chess competitions which are gender-restricted make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I'm trying to figure out why this is even news.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:11 AM on April 29, 2009


It's getting a little boyzone in here. Stop it.

ok...hot girl+chess+metafilter= not going to be a little drooling boyzone how exactly?

checkmate!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:11 AM on April 29, 2009


was deep blue a boy or a girl?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:11 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


> also before we get into the "anna kournikova sucked at tennis" argument, lets acknowledge she was a rather good doubles player.

Hell, she got as high as 8th in the singles' world rankings. To be ranked 8th-best in the world at anything, you have to be pretty damn good.

/ OT
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:21 AM on April 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Card Cheat: "she got as high as 8th in the singles' world rankings."

Coffee is for closers.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:22 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm also puzzled as to why there are women's separate championships. Women are just as smart as men.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:33 AM on April 29, 2009


But, on average, not as obsessive.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:35 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That NYTimes article just totally devolved into gibberish in the last paragraph:
"Hou managed to hold on until Kosteniuk broke through, first with 33 ... Nd3 and then 36 ... Nf3 and 37 ... Bg4. The point was that White could not play 38 Qg4 because of 38 ... Qg4 39 Ng4 d1/Q, while 38 Ng4 would lose to 38 ... Qf3 39 Kf3 d1/Q."
Whaa...?
posted by howling fantods at 10:35 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I find it interesting that Polgar took time off from chess while pregnant with each of her two children.

Could be that she just didn't want to travel. Travelling while pregnant is certainly possible, but can be anywhere from trivial to very, very difficult depending on how the pregnancy goes. Soem women run triathlons pregnant, some just want to stay in bed. it varies.
posted by GuyZero at 10:36 AM on April 29, 2009


So, a question. Why are there separate women's and men's chess championships?
There isn't a men's championship. Women may compete in the overall (open) championship. I realize that doesn't answer your real question.


Any time there's an established group that's easy to segregate there tends to be separate championships, especially if members of the group are under-represented in the overall championship. For example, country-specific championships almost always exist, even though members of any given country can compete in the world championship. Age-specific championships are also common, such as the senior championship in chess. Obviously having a women's chess championship is as arbitrary as having a people with red hair chess championship, but based on the existing tradition of having separate women's sports championships and the general tendency to have specialized championships with entry requirements it's not surprising that they exist.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:38 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Men are almost as smart as women, and I think it's unfair to them to put them in a separate tournament.
posted by iconomy at 10:39 AM on April 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


So the point of this posts isn't that a woman won a chess tournament, but that an attractive woman won a women's chess tournament.
posted by rocket88 at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2009


post, that is. I'm showing my ignorance attractiveness.
posted by rocket88 at 10:49 AM on April 29, 2009


Serious question: if women are supposed to be just as good as men, why is it that only 1 woman out of the top 100 women players makes it on the top 100 worldwide?

Is it that since they do not play men, they are not playing anyone with a high enough ranking to affect their own? Or perhaps that they do not have the opportunity to get better because they don't have matches with the best players?
posted by splice at 10:59 AM on April 29, 2009


It's getting a little boyzone in here. Stop it.
posted by kldickson at 1:04 PM on April 29


That's true, and here's why. Men, and American men in particular, have this notion that being good at something that is intellectually rigorous or demanding makes it very difficult or impossible to take care of one's body or stay in shape. In my opinion, this is just a symptom of the high school nerd syndrome, where kids often gravitated to math, science or computers as an escape from social pressure, bullying, etc. Given those pressures, there was no interest in pursuing athletics, because that would invariably bring the person in contact with the kids they were trying to avoid. Again, this is a generalization that obviously does not apply to everyone.

The end result of this is the well-known nerd stereotype, which is often spot-on accurate, of the either gangly or overweight man with unkempt hair, unshaven face, chalky pallor, poor hygiene, etc. The excuse made for this is often time, i.e. they are too busy doing real stuff to work out, join a sports team etc.

So when they see a girl who somehow is both intellectually accomplished and attractive, it's perceived to be something truly special. If she's attractive, why would she also choose to be a nerd? Why would she choose to be one of us if she looks like that, etc. As if intellectual pursuits were the exclusive province of the ostracized and shunned.

Europeans and asians don't have these hangups the way Americans do, and the fact that high school plays a key role makes me think there is some anxiety over being cool or uncool as part of one's identity that is at work here.

In truth, there are a lot of attractive women in chess, sciences, math, computers, medicine, law, banking, horticulture, etc. They are everywhere, and they're easy to find. Just look in the gym. They're working out while you're sitting on 4chan eating bacon pickles watching anime.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:02 AM on April 29, 2009 [28 favorites]


I'm also puzzled as to why there are women's separate championships. Women are just as smart as men.

This is undoubtedly true. It doesn't, however, necessarily follow that women are statistically exactly as good at men at chess. Chess ability isn't exactly the same as "smarts", as nebulous as that term is.

It could be that women and men, raised in exactly the same fashion in a gender-neutral society, would be equally good at chess. Or men could still tend to be better at chess on the average. Insert extremely dubious spatial-relationship evolutionary argument here. I just don't think it's a given that women and men would definitely be exactly equal at chess under equal conditions.

But, again, "good at chess" and "smart" aren't the same thing even if there tends to be something of a correlation.
posted by Justinian at 11:03 AM on April 29, 2009


Serious question: if women are supposed to be just as good as men, why is it that only 1 woman out of the top 100 women players makes it on the top 100 worldwide?

It's because little girls who are good at chess have their parents and teachers saying things just like this to them to discourage them from pursuing chess at a higher level when they get older, and to push them instead towards more traditional girl roles. Like, say, being a cover model for Vogue or Marie Claire.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:04 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe there are actually a lot more women, but the chess nerds that keep the stats are so socially awkward that they don't actually know what a woman looks like?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:04 AM on April 29, 2009


I just don't think it's a given that women and men would definitely be exactly equal at chess under equal conditions.

What? Chess is not a genetic condition. When people start, they are all at the same level, they all suck equally. Chess takes training, learning, skill and an insane committment of years to become a master at it.

It may be true that men and women play chess differently, I have no idea. But the fact that chess was designed by men (I assume) suggests that if men and women do play differently for some biological reason, then the biological difference will work to men's advantage, because that same biological difference was present in the game's design.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2009


Half the people in this thread should be beaten for being sexists and the other half should be beaten for being chess nerds.

/fears chess the way dogs fear thunder
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


splice: "Serious question: if women are supposed to be just as good as men, why is it that only 1 woman out of the top 100 women players makes it on the top 100 worldwide?"

High-level chess requires an exceptional command of spacial relations - but there doesn't seem to be any gender gap there.

Chess talent is most actively sought and nurtured in the former Soviet bloc countries - which do not have a reputation as a hotbed of female empowerment.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:11 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


But the fact that chess was designed by men (I assume) suggests that if men and women do play differently for some biological reason, then the biological difference will work to men's advantage, because that same biological difference was present in the game's design.

Sure. I didn't imply this wasn't the case. Ironmouth said that women and men should be equally as good at chess since women are as smart as men; my point was that smarts aren't the only factor at work.

Men and women are equally smart but men are still going to be better on average at gridiron football. Because "smart" isn't the controlling factor. As I said, smart is a lot more correlated with skill at chess than it is at skill at american football, but it still isn't the same thing.
posted by Justinian at 11:14 AM on April 29, 2009


"So, a question. Why are there separate women's and men's chess championships? I can see the purpose for physical sports where the fact is that testosterone gives men an edge. But chess?"

Men tend to cry when they're beaten by women.

(As mentioned, the "men's" tourneys seem to actually be opens, and the disparity in gender seems mostly historical. Women's championships are a specialized sub-set produced in order to have more chess competitions.)

And yeah, the boyzone bullshit in here is pretty tired and weak. Hurf durf titties on your own time.
posted by klangklangston at 11:16 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's because little girls who are good at chess have their parents and teachers saying things just like this to them to discourage them from pursuing chess at a higher level when they get older, and to push them instead towards more traditional girl roles. Like, say, being a cover model for Vogue or Marie Claire.

Thanks for the flippant response, which doesn't address my question in any way.

Obviously there is a fair number of high-level players of both sexes. Equally obviously there are many women with high ratings. However only one woman is rated as being in the top 100 overall.

Again, why the difference in scores? Is it really that there are no women willing to compete with the top men except one? If so, why? I'd imagine more than a few should want to compete with the best players, regardless of sex, so why would they willingly limit themselves to women's tournaments only? Because that's the way, and it's traditional, and no one dares to break tradition? Seems silly.
posted by splice at 11:19 AM on April 29, 2009



And yeah, the boyzone bullshit in here is pretty tired and weak. Hurf durf titties on your own time.


Jesus fucking christ on a pogo stick, I am asking a serious question and looking for serious answers. I am not even remotely trying to make the point that men are better than women. I am trying to see the reason behind the ratings differences.

Sorry for asking, and I won't bother even mentionning sex ever again. This goddamn backlash about even mentionning anything that contains the word "women" is ridiculous and I don't want any fucking part of it.
posted by splice at 11:21 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't get the "women's chess" thing.

Are women at some kind of competitive disadvantage because their wombs, which are so often floating freely about their bodies, will float right out of their bodies, nip up, and just nudge a pawn forward without prompting? No?

Is there an ancient text about how the board will be "unclean" should a woman on her courses come to play? No?

Does a fear exist that there will be some distracting cleavage gambit interfering with the game? Or perhaps there's a concern that some great master of the game will be unable to ruffle the hair of a woman player? "It's so cute when girls try to play chess!" No?

What an archaic "tradition" of segregation.
posted by adipocere at 11:21 AM on April 29, 2009


What an archaic "tradition" of segregation.

I don't get it; as others have pointed out, women are perfectly free to enter the men's tournaments.
posted by Justinian at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2009


Or to put it another way; There is one chess league where anyone can enter. This is the one where Judit Polgar generally plays and Viswanathan Anand is champion. There is another league where men are forbidden from playing; this is the one where Kosteniuk is champion. Of the two, it seems clear to me which one is sexist and segregationist.
posted by Justinian at 11:27 AM on April 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Serious question: if women are supposed to be just as good as men, why is it that only 1 woman out of the top 100 women players makes it on the top 100 worldwide?

A better question is how the average man would fare against the average woman.

To know whether your metric is meaningful, you would have to know the number of men vs. number of women who play chess, because it is a matter of extremes in a sample of the whole distribution. If 5M men play and only 5K women play, then the highest out of 5K won't be nearly as high as the highest of 5M on average. Even if 5M of both play, then one needs to ask if they are sampled from the whole distribution the same way. If different forces push men and women to play, those forces could select differently on the inherent abilities as well. Likewise, the opportunities to play might differ substantially as well and it requires a lot of play to motivate the learning that is necessary to get really, really good.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:28 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dudes, the horsey is the key to chess.
posted by Mister_A at 11:31 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Jesus fucking christ on a pogo stick, I am asking a serious question and looking for serious answers. I am not even remotely trying to make the point that men are better than women. I am trying to see the reason behind the ratings differences.

Sorry for asking, and I won't bother even mentionning sex ever again. This goddamn backlash about even mentionning anything that contains the word "women" is ridiculous and I don't want any fucking part of it.
"

Uh, sorry if I confused you there, but I was more referencing bullshit like sexyrobot and dances_with_sneeches posted (though they're lovely people otherwise).

Given that I'm not a chess expert, I'm going to guess that there isn't a single reason why women are under-represented, just a confluence of many social factors. I mean, it's not like people posit biological explanations for why those of Eastern European descent dominate chess, it's just that gender differences are more noticeable. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but there aren't any Black chess masters in the top ten at all.

So, historical discrimination, cultural norms, institutional sexism, and that chess masters are drawn from a fairly small pool to begin with means that you'll see a magnification of sampling error.
posted by klangklangston at 11:32 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: working out while you're sitting on 4chan eating bacon pickles watching anime.
posted by jquinby at 11:33 AM on April 29, 2009


Sigh.

Online Asperger's Syndrome test

Hope this helps!
posted by aquafortis at 11:37 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think wondering why there aren't that many great women chess players is a bit like wondering why there aren't that many great American cricket players.

I played tournaments in the U.S. as a kid and the representation by girls was like 1% or something. At least in U.S. culture, girls are historically not encouraged at chess and/or don't self select into it as a career.

Look at the Polgars: their father decided to make them all into chess geniuses using a careful plan, and it worked. It seems reasonable that if you had many thousands of girls pushed or pulled into the rigorous world of serious chess, you'd have plenty of top-rated female players.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:39 AM on April 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Then it's an archaic tradition of self-segregation. I'm not terribly concerned about where the division originates. That the division exists sends an uncomfortable message.

Now, if we had some kind of rigorous study proving that one gender or another was at a distinct, sizable, inborn disadvantage when it came to this far end of the normal distribution for chess ability, I could deal with it. I allow for the possibility, as Nature has a track record of being wholly unconcerned with "fair." I would not have to like it, but I would have to accept it.

Without that information in hand, it seems like either oppression (were it initiated by outside forces) or surrender (if initiated by women themselves) based on things we do not solidly know. It's too early to say, "Ladies, we cannot compete on men's turf."
posted by adipocere at 11:39 AM on April 29, 2009


aquafortis: "Online Asperger's Syndrome test"

36
posted by Joe Beese at 11:42 AM on April 29, 2009


Obviously there is a fair number of high-level players of both sexes. Equally obviously there are many women with high ratings. However only one woman is rated as being in the top 100 overall.

Do you have a cite for the claim that there are relatively equal amounts of male and female high-level competition chess players? My guess is that there are significantly less serious female chess competition players than males, which would at least partially explain the lack of very many female players at the top of the overall rankings, in the same way that the limited number of Canadian players explains why no one from Canada is in the overall top 100 list.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:43 AM on April 29, 2009


Can we get a new subsite? Pastabagel's Pompous Pontifications?
posted by adamdschneider at 11:45 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's because little girls who are good at chess have their parents and teachers saying things just like this to them to discourage them from pursuing chess at a higher level when they get older, and to push them instead towards more traditional girl roles. Like, say, being a cover model for Vogue or Marie Claire.

This generalization is such obvious bullshit it's almost embarrassing. Way to avoid looking into the question by offering such an empty platitude.
posted by xmutex at 11:51 AM on April 29, 2009


"Without that information in hand, it seems like either oppression (were it initiated by outside forces) or surrender (if initiated by women themselves) based on things we do not solidly know. It's too early to say, "Ladies, we cannot compete on men's turf.""

Further into this discussion where a bunch of guys call women sexist for having their own tournaments, since there's a real historical precedent of discrimination against women, it can make social sense to have a tournament initiated by women for women—it's a community thing, and allows them to encourage and compete in ways they might not otherwise be able. I don't particularly get wound up about calling national tourneys nationalist, so it seems weird to care here, so long as there is a venue that's open to all. Which there is.

The presumed rebuttal, that there would be something wrong with having a men's only tourney, would ignore both historical precedent (for a long time, they were), and implicit power imbalance. It's the same issue as folks who try to start white students unions because they can't stand being excluded from the BSU.
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on April 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Do you have a cite for the claim that there are relatively equal amounts of male and female high-level competition chess players?

No, but I actually didn't say that. I said there are a fair amount of high-level women players. I do not know how large the population is compared to the male population.

My guess is that there are significantly less serious female chess competition players than males, which would at least partially explain the lack of very many female players at the top of the overall rankings, in the same way that the limited number of Canadian players explains why no one from Canada is in the overall top 100 list.

I can buy that.

Actually, I just went and downloaded the full FIDE ratings list. Excel croaked on it because I still have the old version that only loads 65535 rows. But out of those 65k, about 5.5k are women. That's a significant difference between the populations, and if you account for social norms, etc like klang mentionned then I guess it makes sense overall. So I'm satisfied, and I'll bow out now.

Sorry klang, your quoting me followed by that particular sentence at the end had me thinking it was directed at me. It's all good, and now I have a better idea as to the reason behind the disparity.
posted by splice at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2009


There are no Canadians in the top 100 chess players because chess is not played on ice.
posted by GuyZero at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, again, the hook here is that she was attractive, which I assume means that attractive women are an even smaller subset of the chess world.
Maybe what we need is an attractive women's championship, so disadvantaged players like Ms. Kosteniuk can won more medals without being outshined by the ugly majority.
posted by rocket88 at 11:58 AM on April 29, 2009


splice: "Serious question: if women are supposed to be just as good as men, why is it that only 1 woman out of the top 100 women players makes it on the top 100 worldwide?"

I think the rationale is approximately the same as it is for why women marathon runners aren't as fast. Traditionally, competitive events were (and are) men's events. So there are fewer girls encouraged to cultivate the skills than boys, and those that are skilled and enjoy it are not allowed to focus on it quite as single-mindedly, and there are fewer women role-models for girls to look up to as there are men role-models.

In the case of marathon running, this is correcting over time. In 1980, the difference in world records between the sexes was about 17 minutes (2:25:41/2:08:34). Today it's 11.5 (2:15:25/2:03:59).

splice: "Sorry for asking, and I won't bother even mentionning sex ever again. This goddamn backlash about even mentionning anything that contains the word "women" is ridiculous and I don't want any fucking part of it."

[Lawrence Summers rant deleted]

posted by Plutor at 11:59 AM on April 29, 2009


Wait, I thought Arianne Caoili was the Anna Kournikova of chess.

I'm actually a bit of a Kosteniuk fan and was sorry to have barely missed her in Amsterdam. Oh well.

There are no Canadians in the top 100 chess players because chess is not played on ice.

Whatever, dude. We invented perpetual check.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:00 PM on April 29, 2009


I took the Asperger's test and only scored 18, which means I don't have Asperger's–I'm just a jerk.
posted by Mister_A at 12:03 PM on April 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


We invented perpetual check.

Really? Wikipedia makes no clear case for this, though I know it's hardly authoritative. Cite, for the sake of having more info, not because I don't believe you.
posted by GuyZero at 12:05 PM on April 29, 2009


Thank you for posting news from last September. Old news is so exciting.

Judit's sister, Susan, is also a strong chess player and has been on the board of the US Chess Federation. She is currently suing and being sued by the USCF over nasty emails alleged to have been sent. I have no idea who is right and who is wrong but the USCF has been on the brink of financial collapse for years and the costs of all these lawsuits may just be the straw...
posted by notmtwain at 12:23 PM on April 29, 2009


It's because little girls who are good at chess have their parents and teachers saying things just like this to them to discourage them from pursuing chess at a higher level when they get older, and to push them instead towards more traditional girl roles. Like, say, being a cover model for Vogue or Marie Claire.

This generalization is such obvious bullshit it's almost embarrassing. Way to avoid looking into the question by offering such an empty platitude.


Yeah, as the father of a little girl I'm going to have to agree with xmutex's point here, though maybe not the tone. If my daughter showed an obvious talent for anything and it made her happy I would encourage her to pursue it to the best of both our abilities. I'm not saying this in a sort of "I'm the best father ever" way, but rather, I feel that this is just what parents of children, regardless of gender, are just simply supposed to do as a bare minimum.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:26 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


GuyZero -- bah, it was a bad hockey joke. I accept full responsibility.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2009


Pollomacho: "Yeah, as the father of a little girl I'm going to have to agree with xmutex's point here, though maybe not the tone."

Pastabagel wasn't saying that all parents and teachers do it, and those that do it might be doing it somewhat subconsciously. But world-class chess is a rare skill that has to be encouraged over a lifetime. It only takes a single dickass third-grade teacher or one mocking elementary school classmate to make a talented girl (or boy, for that matter) stop doing something she (or he) is really great at.
posted by Plutor at 12:35 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ice Chess Do You Speak It?
posted by Mister_A at 12:39 PM on April 29, 2009


notmtwain: "Thank you for posting news from last September. Old news is so exciting."

A good post to MetaFilter is something that meets the following criteria: most people haven't seen it before, there is something interesting about the content on the page, and it might warrant discussion from others.

Whether or not you think this post has met those three criteria, please note that "breaking news" is not one of them.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:44 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has someone already made the "mate" joke? Dang.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:54 PM on April 29, 2009


This generalization is such obvious bullshit it's almost embarrassing. Way to avoid looking into the question by offering such an empty platitude.
posted by xmutex at 2:51 PM on April 29


What do you think the question is? I think the question is: Why are there so few top ranked women players? Which leads to the question: How many female players are there relative to how many male players? At which point you discover the gross disparity in numbers between the two genders, making the question: Why are there so few women players compared to men?

The answer is either: (a) given the same amount of time and training, women are biologically inferior to men when it comes to chess, the way they are biologically inferior to men at weightlifting, and therefore can compete effectively against men at the professional level or (b) women aren't playing chess as much.

There is zero data supporting (a) and a lot of data running against it, so it's probably (b). So why aren't women playing as much? Etc. It isn't hard to come to the conclusion that 15-20 years ago when these top ranked players were still children, in those cultures where chess is considered important and worthwhile, that men were pushed to go further in it than women. Sorry it sounded like a "platitude," I didn't realize this was long-division and I had to show my work.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:55 PM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, what Plutor said.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:55 PM on April 29, 2009


Mmm ... guideline citing ...
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:02 PM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are women at some kind of competitive disadvantage because their wombs, which are so often floating freely about their bodies, will float right out of their bodies, nip up, and just nudge a pawn forward without prompting?

No, no, it's just that their bosoms get in the way of the board!
posted by Never teh Bride at 1:08 PM on April 29, 2009


I couldn't find a citation for this, but wasn't it 1986 when Susan Polgar qualified for the zonal tournaments that lead up to the selection of a World Champion challenger, and wasn't allowed in because she was a woman? IIRC she qualified, and then Hungary (her home country) first decided to pick 2 attendees instead of the 3 they had picked before so that they wouldn't have to send a woman. Then FIDE (the international chess organization) excluded her. Am I right?

I may have the details wrong but it sure seems misguided to suggest, as some others have, that women are being lame or sexist to have their own Women's tournaments.

I mean, 1986 - sheesh. It's not like we're talking about discrimination that ended back in Victorian times or something.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:13 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the subject of Asperger Syndrome, autistic spectrum disorders also vary by gender. According to the Wikipedia article, the male:female ratio is between 1.6:1 and 4:1. Since chess skills (probably) correlate well with autistic spectrum disorders, because of the greater capacity of such folk to focus on and memorize minute detail, and their lesser interest in other things, then absent any cultural conditioning whatsoever--eg, in a culture where all children are as routinely taught chess as, say, Australian children are taught swimming--there would (probably) still be a male-favored gender imbalance in chess.

It would be interesting to properly compare gender balances in competitive online RTS games that can be played purely anonymously, such as Starcraft; or in games like poker or Diplomacy that, as well as rewarding mathematical skills to some extent, are also heavily dependent upon skills that females are well-established to possess at a higher average skill level than males (and which those with autistic spectrum disorders possess at a significantly lower skill level), such as face-reading, deceit, and empathetic inference.

"Absent cultural conditioning" is very easy to say and harder to achieve. Peer support factors amplify original ratios. If some random gender-neutral school activity starts out with a lot of boys doing it, and very few girls, boys will feel more inclined and girls less inclined to do it, and it will become, culturally, a "boy thing" unless authorities deliberately intervene as a matter of policy, or a concerted group of girls deliberately intervene for shared personal reasons.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:14 PM on April 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I played a game against Alexandra Kosteniuk once, several years ago, in an online simul. I lost, of course, but it's a thrill just to play against anyone of that caliber. Congratulations to her.

The same debate going on here has been going on in the chess world for some time, with both male and female chessplayers on both sides of the issue. The number of female chessplayers who voluntary participate in women's tournaments (and rest assured, these are few and far between, with the vast majority of tournaments being open, having no women-only counterpart) make it clear to me that there are many women who do not consider women's-only tournaments to be sexist. At the same time, Judit Polgar restricts herself to open tournaments precisely for some of the same reasons outlined in this thread by people who believe it is sexist.

Female participation in amateur, open tournaments is around 1% in my experience (from playing in several), and that's not an exaggeration. Why it's so low, I can't say for sure, but probably a result of several factors. I will say that participation by girls in scholastic tournaments is somewhat higher—maybe around 10%, although I'm less familiar with these. If women-only tournaments at high levels increase the visibility of female chessplayers and thus encourage more girls to pursue chess beyond elementary school, I'm all for it.

I suspect the reduction of female participation between children and adults (but not necessarily the initial fairly low level of female participation) is more due to the influence of peers than of parents or teachers, but I can't back that up with any hard evidence.

Or to put it another way; There is one chess league where anyone can enter. This is the one where Judit Polgar generally plays and Viswanathan Anand is champion. There is another league where men are forbidden from playing; this is the one where Kosteniuk is champion.

"League" isn't really the right word here, for at least two reasons. First, it implies that the women who play in women's tournaments are playing only in women's tournaments; in fact, women's tournaments are far far too few for women to restrict themselves to women's tournaments only, and people like Kosteniuk are playing in plenty of open tournaments as well. Second, it may give the impression that there are separate sanctioning bodies for the open tournaments and women's tournaments, when there are not.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:16 PM on April 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Boy, Russians have the best taste in classy glamour photos.
posted by oneironaut at 1:20 PM on April 29, 2009


Mate in two moves.
posted by sfts2 at 1:34 PM on April 29, 2009


I used to compete in amateur chess, at the very lowest level of play. For example, one match had me pitted against a tiny little kid (escorted by dad) who was basically sub verbal, maybe four or five years old. This was during a New York winter, and he appeared in some sort of snow suit that made a swishing sound as he approached the board. He did not keep score of the moves, so I stopped keeping score as well, as allowed by the rules, for fear of embarassing myself and losing to the tyke. That tournament had one female player out of about ten.
posted by exogenous at 1:36 PM on April 29, 2009


he appeared in some sort of snow suit that made a swishing sound as he approached the board.



(begin pointless story)

I remember playing in the World Open back in the 1980s and there was a young girl (less than ten for sure) playing on a pretty high board (for those who don't know, in large open tourneys the boards are arranged in rank order from low to high so that the worst people are generally at one end and the best are at the highest end). The girl was playing an old man who was pressing his temples and was visibly stressed, and took a long time on most of his moves. The girl, in contrast, had a teddy bear leaned up against the clock and had her thumb in her mouth. On her moves she'd think a short time and take her thumb out so she could punch the clock by hitting the bear's rear end on it. As I recall she was beating him rather badly.

(end pointless story)
posted by freecellwizard at 1:47 PM on April 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


That's true, and here's why. Men, and American men in particular, have this notion that being good at something that is intellectually rigorous or demanding makes it very difficult or impossible to take care of one's body or stay in shape.

Wtf? I've never heard anyone say anything like that.
posted by delmoi at 1:50 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The crude jokes in this thread are an embarrassment. Actually, the post isn't much better. Having the first sentence of the post be about someone being dismissed in a sexist manner doesn't make for a good start.

I care a lot about the issue of the perceived difference between the sexes when it comes to chess. I teach chess to kids, beginner-level. It is been my experience that while equal numbers of girls and boys start, girls tend to be discouraged, subtly, either by other kids (both genders) telling them that girls aren't as good at chess at boys or by more subtle means, such as their parents signing them up for something else, even if they really like playing chess.

I've had two groups, one I taught in 2006 and one I'm teaching this year. In both groups the best player was a girl. So it's not been my experience that girls start at a disadvantage.
posted by Kattullus at 2:05 PM on April 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is beside the point, but I can't help but feel some sort of rationally unfounded pride that a fellow Norwegian, 18-year-old Magnus Carlsen, is ranked #3 in the world on the FIDE rating.

I mean, fuck yes.

And that ends my parochial chest thumping.
posted by flippant at 2:12 PM on April 29, 2009


a culture where all children are as routinely taught chess as, say, Australian children are taught swimming

Most cultures wouldn't consider it very "routine" to be thrown into a creek full of crocodiles, whereby you have to splash like hell to get to the shore or perish.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:14 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kattullus: "Having the first sentence... be about someone being dismissed in a sexist manner doesn't make for a good start."

It's true... The New York Times isn't what it once was.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:17 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, the post isn't much better. Having the first sentence of the post be about someone being dismissed in a sexist manner doesn't make for a good start.

If she's emphasizing that she's pretty, is it ok to mention that she's pretty?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joe Beese: It's true... The New York Times isn't what it once was.

If The New York Times jumped off a bridge etc.

Brandon Blatcher: If she's emphasizing that she's pretty, is it ok to mention that she's pretty?

Calling someone "the Anna Kournikova of Chess" isn't merely saying that Kosteniuk is pretty, but also saying that the only reason she is known is that she is pretty and dismissive of her qualities as a player. Anna Kournikova was a fine tennis player but her name is cultural shorthand for something like "woman athlete of middling talent who are perceived to use their attractiveness in the pursuit of fame."
posted by Kattullus at 2:31 PM on April 29, 2009


At the risk of being un-pc, there are a lot of pretty young women who are pursuing fame. I'd say that unlike most of them, both Kosteniuk and Kournikova have an actual talent at something other than smiling for the camera. She's not a chess player making hay with her face (heh) - she's a pretty girl making hay with her chess skills.
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on April 29, 2009


Kattullus: "Joe Beese: Calling someone "the Anna Kournikova of Chess" isn't merely saying that Kosteniuk is pretty, but also saying that the only reason she is known is that she is pretty and dismissive of her qualities as a player."

Yes, exactly. So the "hook" - as rocket88 put it - is "Woman Dismissed For Beauty Proves Talent". Like Hedy Lamarr, let's say.

Sorry if that dismissal pains you. But I wasn't making it up and it is part of the story.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:46 PM on April 29, 2009


Calling someone "the Anna Kournikova of Chess" isn't merely saying that Kosteniuk is pretty, but also saying that the only reason she is known is that she is pretty and dismissive of her qualities as a player.

The post didn't call her that, just noted that she's been called that. And is it sexism if the individual plays up their physical assets?

Either way, it's cool that you're teaching kids chess, good on you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:15 PM on April 29, 2009


It was interesting to see all the outrage!! in this thread over women getting together to play chess against eachother in woman's only championships (as if they were excluded from regular tournaments)
posted by delmoi at 3:47 PM on April 29, 2009


[a few comments removed - metatalk is an option, so is not contributing. Bad options include eye-rolling, presuming ill intent, and ironic sexism.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:56 PM on April 29, 2009


The Armegeddon game speed chess final between Anna Zatonskih and Irena Krush for the 2008 US Women's Championship is my favorite chess video of all time. It's a time scramble of epic proportions. (the action starts at about 20 seconds in.)
posted by notmtwain at 6:58 PM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I played a great deal of chess as a kid, as did my younger sister. We both made the British Junior National Squad, though while I was just scraping in at the bottom end of the squad, my sister was playing board 2 for the girls team. We both played in a lot of tournaments.

There was a massive preponderance of boys in the under-14 and younger tournaments, but there were still a good few girls - competition for the Best Girl prize (which almost all these tournaments used to award) was usually pretty fierce. My sister won several of those, though annoyingly this was often because her extremely strong friend who played Board 1 in the national girls team had actually won the tournament and there was a one prize per person rule. My understanding at the time was that this whole special dispensation for girls thing was an attempt to address the gender imbalance and encourage girls to play.

Above the age of 14 there were hardly any girls at all. They just seemed to stop playing. Including my sister. She'd been encouraged, she'd won prizes, she'd played for her country at national level. But she lost interest.

Mind you, by the age of 18 or so, so did I. At higher levels there's an awful lot of mindblowingly dull memorisation to do in order to compete.

I wish it had been Go.
posted by motty at 7:20 PM on April 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fascinating to read of the direct experiences people have had with chess, thoughts about why relatively few girls start playing and/or stick with it.

I don't know how much money there is in it, but I wondered if the top women who don't play in the "men's" tournaments realize there's more coin to be made by consistently finishing at or near the top of "women's" tournaments vs. being further back in the others.

Regardless of the challenge (be it mental, physical or some of both) or the level of ability, feels clear that competing against people who are better at it will make anyone (who is motivated) better at it.
posted by ambient2 at 12:26 AM on April 30, 2009


Yes, exactly. So the "hook" - as rocket88 put it - is "Woman Dismissed For Beauty Proves Talent". Like Hedy Lamarr, let's say.

I don't see what Blazing Saddles has anything to do with this discussion.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:45 AM on April 30, 2009


If The New York Times jumped off a bridge etc.

it would take its shoes off first?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:24 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I enjoy it when insecure men squirm when they're roundly beaten at something by a good-looking woman.

I shit you not, it gives me the biggest sense of schadenfreude to see that fearful little man whimper.
posted by kldickson at 9:17 AM on April 30, 2009


That's insecurist.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:42 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I enjoy it when insecure men squirm when they're roundly beaten at something by a good-looking woman.

Hear that, ugly girls? kldickson doesn't give a shit what you do.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:37 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


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