1. g4 d5 2. f3 e5 3. d3 Qh4 4. Kd2 h5 5. h3 hxg4 (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
February 7, 2017 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Current Women's World Chess Champion Hou Yifan (侯逸凡) resigned after five (horrible) moves in the tenth and final round of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, in a protest against being paired against seven women in the previous nine rounds of the open (not segregated into male and female players) tournament. Organizers "firmly reject the suggestion of any 'fixing' of pairings".

Yifan has essentially stopped playing in women's chess events (including the upcoming World Women's Chess Championship in Iran) in favor of open tournaments. She is currently ranked slightly outside the top 100 of all players, but is far and away the highest-ranked woman, and has been ever since she ended Judit Polgar's 26-year reign at the top of the list two years ago.
posted by Etrigan (91 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
The only reason there aren't equal numbers of women in chess as men is sexism. Huge amounts of it. Like every other "genius" field. We should support the trailblazers absolutely.
posted by iotic at 9:28 AM on February 7, 2017 [31 favorites]


Organizers "firmly reject the suggestion of any 'fixing' of pairings".

I see. And all they had to do in order to make the pairings is to work out how exactly improbable they are, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea, and turn it on.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2017 [31 favorites]


I wonder if Brian Callaghan, the tournament founder quoted in the story went out of his way to sound patronizing or if it just comes naturally to him.

She's very popular with me and very popular with the tournament, she's a huge player, I think one of her games is possibly up this time for being the best game of the tournament, she's a great player and we love having her. . .I hope that she will come back and play again and that these sort of, what I call bad days at the office, don't occur too frequently. . .But I'm sorry for Yifan, because I think she has let herself down at little bit today.

And regarding this claim from Callaghan: Clearly nothing was going on, it comes out of a machine and sometimes the odds fall that way, I'd love to see the number of women playing and the number of total players so we could figure out what the odds are of a woman playing against another woman 7 times in 10 rounds. Maybe I'm too cynical, but it's not at all clear to me that "nothing was going on."
posted by layceepee at 9:34 AM on February 7, 2017 [9 favorites]


A friend of mine did this math and it was .... vanishingly improbably, but not impossible, that the draw fell this way.

Myself I would have welcomed the opportunity to play against other women and not have to face men for a while, but she's not me, and her reaction is not just reasonable, but admirable, I think.
posted by allthinky at 9:48 AM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


The question is whether the pairings were manually adjusted as Hou Yifan says. Or if this was luck of the computer draw as tournament organizer Callaghan says. There's some insidery discussion here (five pages of comments), including folks trying to reconstruct the pairings with the same software. See page two, a comment from "TheJackpot", which says the pairings look legit. I'm unqualified to evaluate all this myself.

I've been interested in the question of gender and chess and have a reading file I've collected over the years. Chess seems to clearly be a competitive game with no built-in gender bias and yet men dominate the highest ranks. Jennifer Shahade's book Chess Bitch talks in great detail about it, offering various theories and personal stories. The one that stuck with me was how women in the Republic of Georgia are some of the strongest players in the world. Because there's a historical culture of women playing chess there going back 100+ years, so there's more support for developing female players in Georgia.
posted by Nelson at 9:49 AM on February 7, 2017 [13 favorites]


How closely are the pairing draws monitored? I would think that there is an incredible amount of oversight that would make fixing any of the pairings not worthwhile due to the risk of scandal alone.
posted by Think_Long at 9:50 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


One thing from that discussion I linked; the pairings for a tournament like this are deterministic, not random. They are based on your rating and current tournament score. (Or so says the discussion and a friend of mine.) I should not have said "luck of the draw".

So the pairings are verifiable. The 5 page discussion goes in great detail about whether the one verification TheJackpot published is correct, and other people trying to reproduce it. Salted with various offensive sexist comments from other people, unfortunately.
posted by Nelson at 9:56 AM on February 7, 2017 [8 favorites]


Here is the Chessbase user's post who claims to have tried to replicate the pairings.

The FIDE Swiss Dutch rules are on the FIDE website, in the handbook. There is pairings.fide.com which has a list of endorsed pairing software, meaning it was tested by FIDE to follow those rules. Why is nobody doing the checks?

Guess what? I did :)

Took the SwissManager tournament file from chess-results.com, created a TRF / FIDE rating report file, imported it, verified the pairings.

Round 1: differences, which is to be expected: people show up late, ratings get corrected, mistakes fixed, etc.
Round 2, 3, 4: equal to the pairing in Gibraltar
Round 5: a few differences in the group of people with 1.5 and 1 out of 4, nowhere near Hou. My educated guess: results of previous rounds were corrected after round 5 was paired
Round 6, 7, 8: equal to pairing in Gibraltar
Round 9: in the lower echelons 2 pairings were adjusted (the black players exchanged), due to (probably) israeli not playing irani
Round 10: equal to pairing in Gibraltar.


If correct, there's not a lot of room for the organizers to have tweaked the pairings. But I haven't seen a list of which of Hou's pairing rounds were with women.
posted by justkevin at 9:58 AM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


How exactly do pairings work? Winners only play winners?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:00 AM on February 7, 2017


How exactly do pairings work? Winners only play winners?

Swiss System
posted by thelonius at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


Nelson: Chess seems to clearly be a competitive game with no built-in gender bias

It's not chess that has a built-in gender bias, it's society. The more egalitarian that a society is, the better that women are at things like math (which, like chess, also has no built-in gender bias).
posted by clawsoon at 10:09 AM on February 7, 2017 [18 favorites]


It's not chess that has a built-in gender bias, it's society. The more egalitarian that a society is, the better that women are at things like math (which, like chess, also has no built-in gender bias).

Indeed -- gender and racial, as we are reminded by with the awesome Hidden Figures. (Everybody go see it!)
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is what is so exhausting about being a woman in any career: trying to analyze every instance that could be bias, and decide, is it really? How sure am I? If I say it is, what arguments are going to be used to prove me wrong? Can I counter the arguments? Is that my job? How mad should I be? How much anger can I show? Is this the one where I flip the table? Is it betraying all the women who come after me if I don't flip the table?
posted by BrashTech at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2017 [89 favorites]


Here's a link to the actual "game" if you're curious what it looked like.
posted by straight at 10:18 AM on February 7, 2017


Disputing the randomness of a random sequence is stupid. A perfect random number generator can produce any sequence with equal probability. If you could make predictions about what the output "should" look like, (e.g. women shouldn't be matched against women too often), it would not be random.
posted by w0mbat at 10:20 AM on February 7, 2017


Disputing the randomness of a random sequence is stupid.

Swiss system isn't random.
posted by Etrigan at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2017 [13 favorites]


A perfect random number generator can produce any sequence with equal probability

Well, I think she knows that. She evidently does not believe that pairings were done randomly.
posted by thelonius at 10:22 AM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


Here's a link to the actual "game" if you're curious what it looked like.

It's in the title, no? If accurate, those are glaringly, obviously bad moves.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:28 AM on February 7, 2017


I'm not hugely experienced with chess, but it "feels" like she was trying to goad her opponent into a Fool's Mate, then resigned in frustration when they didn't pull it off.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:47 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


She evidently does not believe that pairings were done randomly.

Again, the pairings are not random. They are deterministic, based on player's ranks and score. The tournament runner says the pairing was done correctly and not influenced by gender. Some other people have apparently confirmed that.

As for what Hou Yifan believes, you can hear what she says herself. She characterizes it as an "unbelievable and weird pairing". She also criticizes the pairings for other women players. (You can also listen further for Callaghan's response.)

I feel badly saying anything that sounds critical of Hou Yifan, I fully support women in chess and can only imagine how stressful this is for her. So I'm just gonna quote Brashtech's comment because it's such important context.
This is what is so exhausting about being a woman in any career: trying to analyze every instance that could be bias, and decide, is it really? How sure am I? If I say it is, what arguments are going to be used to prove me wrong? Can I counter the arguments? Is that my job? How mad should I be? How much anger can I show? Is this the one where I flip the table? Is it betraying all the women who come after me if I don't flip the table?
Chess is full of men who act bizarrely, demandingly. And we all just laugh it off, that crazy eccentric. I mean Bobby Fischer was a Nazi sympathizer in both his chess career and his post-chess life and we still consider him an American hero.

There's a lot less benefit of the doubt given to women players. Hou may be wrong in this specific instance, but that doesn't change the stress of the uphill battle she and her women colleagues are fighting in professional chess.
posted by Nelson at 10:49 AM on February 7, 2017 [21 favorites]


I'm not hugely experienced with chess, but it "feels" like she was trying to goad her opponent into a Fool's Mate, then resigned in frustration when they didn't pull it off.

It's possible she chose this strategy intentionally as part of her protest.
posted by mpbx at 10:50 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Swiss system isn't random.

The Wiki page on the Swiss system says the first round pairings can be entirely random ("The first round is either drawn at random or seeded according to some prior order") or only partially random when dealing with people with equal scores leading to some ambiguity. After that pairings are chosen algorithmically, but again there is an assumption that randomness will be used in cases where equal scores would allow various pairing options in that round. It is in these cases where bias is being claimed, but as I said, it's impossible to distinguish bias from random choice. Humans like to see patterns whether they are there or not.
posted by w0mbat at 10:54 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here's a link to the actual "game" if you're curious what it looked like.

It's in the title, no? If accurate, those are glaringly, obviously bad moves.


She could have made the game even shorter by playing, say, 3. a3 when 3... Qh4 is mate.

Most chess players prefer resignation to getting mated, though... I guess that's why Yifan prevented the mate even though she was clearly playing to lose.
posted by WalkingAround at 10:56 AM on February 7, 2017


It's possible she chose this strategy intentionally as part of her protest.

Yes, I agree. Someone on her level losing to a Fool's Mate would have been quite the statement.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:57 AM on February 7, 2017


3 d3! stopped the Fool's Mate, anyway
posted by thelonius at 11:08 AM on February 7, 2017


This is what is so exhausting about being a woman in any career: trying to analyze every instance that could be bias, and decide, is it really? How sure am I? If I say it is, what arguments are going to be used to prove me wrong? Can I counter the arguments? Is that my job? How mad should I be? How much anger can I show? Is this the one where I flip the table? Is it betraying all the women who come after me if I don't flip the table?

Not only is this a fantastic description, it is also fairly suggestive: most women are playing chess all day, every day, often upon penalty of their lives (or at least their livelihoods).

Also, in the vein of "let's trust women to be experts about their own lives", I'm not thrilled with the strain of "SHE'S PROBABLY JUST BEING PARANOID, IT IS STATISTICALLY POSSIBLE FOR THE UNLIKELY THING TO HAPPEN" in this thread. Just another example of how many people are opposed to sexism in THEORY, but every individual instance is magically explained away as just a coincidence or you're imagining things or but he would never.

If she's the Current Women's World Chess Champion, maybe we can believe that she knows a fair amount about the international competitive chess scene.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2017 [46 favorites]


3 d3! stopped the Fool's Mate, anyway

She literally played "not a fool" then walked away.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:33 AM on February 7, 2017 [42 favorites]


Could it be both determined by a rule and also sexist? That is, could it be based on previous rankings, and yet could the previous rankings be based on tournaments in which those women weren't given a fair shake, skewing their rankings in such a way that they were paired together?
posted by Schmucko at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


Interview.

I think that given that she has no evidence, her protest was childish. It would have been more respectful to her opponent (who has prepared for the game) and the organizers of the tournament to play the game and complain after.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2017


It would have been more respectful to her opponent (who has prepared for the game) and the organizers of the tournament to play the game and complain after.

Speaking as the person who brought this situation to MetaFilter and only learned about it because she essentially flipped the table, I'm glad she wasn't "respectful".
posted by Etrigan at 12:15 PM on February 7, 2017 [20 favorites]


and we still consider him an American hero.

We do? I thought the overwhelming consensus was 'fucking loon who was good at chess'.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:23 PM on February 7, 2017 [20 favorites]


Speaking as the person who brought this situation to MetaFilter and only learned about it because she essentially flipped the table, I'm glad she wasn't "respectful".

Yeah, but if you're just learning about this now, you obviously don't follow the chess world. If it turns out that the computer-generated pairings were unaltered, then she will look silly. You won't find out since your source of chess news is metafilter, so you'll be long gone with your "alternative facts". Here is yesterday's statement by the organizers:
In view of the incident in Hou Yifan's last-round game at this year's Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, and the consequent speculation over the reasons she gave for her actions, the Organisers wish to make the following statement.

All Masters pairings were made by computer using the Swiss Manager pairing programme, approved by FIDE (the World Chess Federation). Nothing was done to increase (or decrease) the number of female opponents that Miss Hou had to face - her pairings were at all times the correct ones, and the gender of her opponents was therefore a chance event.

To give just one other example of an "unusual" pairing sequence from this year's Masters: Grandmaster Nikita Vitiugov was paired against four female opponents in the last five rounds. (He played five women in total.)

That Miss Hou's pairings were entirely correct has since been independently verified by at least three FIDE International Arbiters. Chief Arbiter of the Masters, Laurent Freyd (Chief Arbiter of the French Chess Federation, and member of FIDE's Anti-Cheating Commission) discussed the pairings with Miss Hou a few days before the incident, after she had expressed concern. From her action on the last day it must be concluded that she did not accept his explanations.

The Organisers of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival firmly reject the suggestion of any "fixing" of pairings. That the Women's World Champion chose to react in the way she did is a matter of considerable regret, both for us and also, we feel, for the global chess community.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:25 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. If you find yourself moved to comment along the lines of "we must consider whether women are innately less good at chess", you should step away.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:27 PM on February 7, 2017 [11 favorites]


Could it be both determined by a rule and also sexist? That is, could it be based on previous rankings, and yet could the previous rankings be based on tournaments in which those women weren't given a fair shake, skewing their rankings in such a way that they were paired together?

No. It's a Swiss-system tournament where pairings are randomly generated according to your score so far in that tournament. Only the first pairing is based on previous rankings. So, another way for her to have played more men would have been to lose fewer games during the tournament.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:28 PM on February 7, 2017


It's a Swiss-system tournament where pairings are randomly generated according to your score so far in that tournament. Only the first pairing is based on previous rankings.
The ratings (to use the technical term) are relevant in every round. The pairing algorithm for Swiss system tournaments attempts to pair players with the same score, but within a given score group, it will try to pair the top half of the group (by rating) against the bottom half of the group. (Of course there are lots of special cases - odd numbers of players, players who have already played each other, etc.) So ratings continue to have a large effect on your pairings throughout the tournament.

That said, women being underrated wouldn't have the effect of making them play each other more.
posted by dfan at 12:39 PM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


I love how they spin it as she could have "handled it differently" and "chose to react" without applying these same principles to their own inaction. This convenient rhetoric discredits them more than her.
posted by polymodus at 12:42 PM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


Why do so many people feel it necessary to jump in and defend the tournement ? After the defense linked in the post, which is dripping with condescension, I wouldn't be surprised if she hadn't faced a considerable amount of sexism, both direct and indirect, leading to her reaction.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:45 PM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


From their point of view she is the transgressor (assuming the system genuinely generated the pairings according to the rules & wasn’t tweaked) who chose to throw a game for no good reason so that’s hardly surprising.
posted by pharm at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2017


…without applying these same principles to their own inaction.

What did you want them to do besides verifying the pairings "by at least three FIDE International Arbiters"?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:47 PM on February 7, 2017


IIRC she won the Game of the Tournament (which she didn’t stick around to pick up) too. An analysis of that game is on YouTube
posted by pharm at 12:53 PM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


What did you want them to do besides verifying the pairings "by at least three FIDE International Arbiters"?

Not say "But I'm sorry for Yifan, because I think she has let herself down at little bit today." It's concern-trolling, and it particularly doesn't look good when it's a man saying it about a woman who is complaining about her perception of sexism.
posted by Etrigan at 12:55 PM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


What did you want them to do besides verifying the pairings "by at least three FIDE International Arbiters"?

I mean, a great option would be to avoid pushing the "women are crazy amirite" narrative in all of their subsequent coverage. All of their infantilizing scolding and "the lady doth protest too much" and jokes about men being more "rational" are hardly proving her wrong. The official twitter is retweeting takes that are so sexist it's a bit startling.

If anything, it shows that while the roster may have been accidental, her response is not coming out of nowhere. It is a reaction to a culture that looks pretty toxic, based on the narratives they are so eager to employ following this incident.

Also, the pairing system was built by FIDE, was it not? "FIDE said the FIDE system is incapable of bias" isn't exactly a watertight argument.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:55 PM on February 7, 2017 [22 favorites]


(Game of the Tournament analysis starts @ 4.52 in that video btw, after some stuff about the game she threw.)
posted by pharm at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2017


I want them to stop spinning because that's destructive ideology, and to do the labor of examining the situation structurally especially their failure to gauge Hou's concerns in private for example being more sensitive to the power dynamics in such a situation. This is textbook structural patriarchy, so my "want" is exactly along these issues. Sometimes we can "want" things that aren't reducible to simple behaviors as tempting (motivated reasoning) as it may be to want to argue that Hou is somehow to blame.
posted by polymodus at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2017 [10 favorites]


They could speak about how it was random and acknowledge the difficulties of being a woman in chess. For bonus points they could speak about what they're doing to overcome the barriers for women in chess. Instead of talking about her like she's crazy or a little girl.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 1:03 PM on February 7, 2017 [8 favorites]


Yeah, "she brought her concerns to us, we told her she was crazy, and now we keep holding her up for ridicule as often as possible! How dare she imply this tournament is unwelcoming to women players!!!!!!" isn't the killer argument they seem to think it is.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:05 PM on February 7, 2017 [23 favorites]


It is a reaction to a culture that looks pretty toxic, based on the narratives they are so eager to employ following this incident.

As Hegel would say, No evidence? This is the evidence!
posted by polymodus at 1:12 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, the pairing system was built by FIDE, was it not? "FIDE said the FIDE system is incapable of bias" isn't exactly a watertight argument.

It's not like the pairing system is a black box and we can only look at the inputs and outputs and try to guess whether some unknown algorithm is biased or not. While "FIDE said the FIDE system is incapable of bias" might not be a convincing argument, "Here are the FIDE rules for Swiss System pairings, which are largely deterministic and leave little room for discretion on the part of the arbiter or pairing program" is.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:12 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


The last big chess protest I can recall (I'm sure there have been others though) was Karpov, back in the 90's, pissed off that the game started too early. He played 1 d4 and offered a draw, which his opponent, a teenage GM, accepted. "What am I supposed to do, beat Karpov's d4 with Black?" I think he said to an interviewer. No doubt he was a little intimidated, too, by the actions of his famous opponent, and just went along and got his half-point with Karpov in the books.

Now that issue is not as frivolous as it sounds - Karpov had a serious point about the playing conditions affecting the quality of play - but I don't recall anywhere near as much pearl-clutching after the incident.
posted by thelonius at 1:14 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


My thoughts on the matter, and hopefully they're not contradictory:

1) I would be extremely surprised if anything untoward was going on with the pairings. Unlikely things happen all the time. The organizers had no reason to try to stack the pairings in that way, and they had the pairing double-checked by an independent authority.

2) Throwing a game is deeply, deeply frowned upon in the tournament chess community. It is just Not Done. When people want to protest in that manner they just forfeit the game by not showing up, and the game is not rated. It probably seems like the two forms of protest are pretty much equivalent so it may be not obvious how shocking the form of her protest was to the chess lifers running and participating in the tournament. I can imagine that the organizers were really taken aback.

3) The Gibraltar tournament is indeed historically very welcoming to woman players in many ways; for example they have a large prize fund for woman players, and do explicit outreach to try to increase participation by women. I would be surprised if any major tournament open to both sexes had more female participation, partially because of that reputation.

That said, I think that their attitude towards women is pretty patronizing in a way that the organizers probably have trouble taking seriously. For example, the women in the tournament are often referred to as "girls" (as Callaghan did in his statement) and "females" (is this a British thing?). There is often a well-meant kind of sexism of the form "Look at this player, she' s beautiful and smart!" that I find infuriating. There is a traditional "Battle of the Sexes" team tournament one evening that is meant to be all good fun but I think it plays into the same kind of patterns.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of that attitude contributed to the frustration that Hou Yifan felt. Because of #1 and #2 above, and because I'm sure that they feel that their intentions are benevolent, I have a hard time believing that the organizers are going to learn much from this episode.
posted by dfan at 1:21 PM on February 7, 2017 [16 favorites]


It would be nice if they did. Chess has a big sexism problem. Right or wrong, her protest will likely be the tip of an iceberg of difficulties she will have faced, decisions of what to fight, what to soldier on and absorb - as you say, frustration, and effort and emotional struggle that other chess players don't face simply because they are male and accepted. Surely everyone in chess has a part in changing that.
posted by iotic at 3:51 PM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, "she brought her concerns to us, we told her she was crazy, and now we keep holding her up for ridicule as often as possible! How dare she imply this tournament is unwelcoming to women players!!!!!!" isn't the killer argument they seem to think it is.

No. What happened is that the organizers took her concerns seriously and appointed three arbiters to verify the process. Then, they revealed their findings publicly. This is a professional and even-handed response.

I don't know where you're getting the idea that anyone was saying the tournament is "unwelcoming to women players". Hou was not suggesting that.

By not playing with her opponent, Hou was basically suggesting that it wasn't worth her time. Given that her concerns were found to be baseless, I think she should apologize to her opponent if she hasn't already, and to the organizers for her accusation.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2017


Given that her concerns were found to be baseless, I think she should apologize to her opponent if she hasn't already, and to the organizers for her accusation.

We should absolutely not penalize, even socially, women for raising the specter of sexism, especially when they do so by disadvantaging themselves as Yifan did.
posted by Etrigan at 4:30 PM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Given that her concerns were found to be baseless, I think she should apologize to her opponent if she hasn't already, and to the organizers for her accusation.

We should absolutely not penalize, even socially, women for raising the specter of sexism, especially when they do so by disadvantaging themselves as Yifan did.


Put yourself in her opponent's shoes. He prepared for the game, and he might have been looking forward to playing someone at her level (a bit above his). You don't think he deserves an apology?

The organizers put a lot of effort into the tournament, and through no fault of their own, the software produces pairings that one player doesn't like. And now that's what their event is known for. Does that seem fair to you?

Expecting someone to apologize for the harm they cause to other people is not a penalty; it is basic human decency.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:46 PM on February 7, 2017


Nah. The sexism is worse and more important
posted by iotic at 4:53 PM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


Nah. The sexism is worse and more important

But there was no sexism. I think that insisting on "alternative facts" — that deciding in advance that anyone's feelings that supports one's narrative are justified in spite of the evidence — is really pernicious behaviour.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:41 PM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


Nope.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:09 PM on February 7, 2017


"There was no sexism" is not true anywhere as far as I know, let alone a professional chess tournament. If sexism was frowned on as deeply as throwing a game, in the professional chess community, perhaps the organisers might reflect on the pressures and tensions felt by 侯逸凡 and come to a more conciliatory, understanding approach, together with her. All this shrill punitive talk does nothing to bolster the claims that unfairness is impossible in this pristine logical rule bound environment
posted by iotic at 6:37 PM on February 7, 2017 [7 favorites]


But there was no sexism.

Ha ha! Good one. If you have read the organization's press and listened to their released statements and thought they contained no sexism, news flash: you are so used to baseline sexism that it is invisible to you.

But thanks for trying to gaslight people here in the thread.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:25 PM on February 7, 2017 [8 favorites]


> (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

Interesting how the algebraic notation can be informatively extended in the Unicode era! Last I checked, they had to use much more obscure and situation-dependant notations like "K>Kn" (for "Fischer attempts to shove the king up Karpov's nose".)
posted by wwwwolf at 7:58 PM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


I’m confused: Is there some consensus here (and in the chess world at large) that sexism did not motivate the pairings that she had in the tournament? If that’s the case, then her claim in this instance is simply unfounded, correct?

I’ve no doubt that there’s sexism in chess—there’s sexism in most every human social activity. It also seems clear to me that open tournaments are a wise idea since chess isn’t like a physical sport where someone can get seriously injured playing co-ed. Integrating men and women will probably have the outcome of women playing at a lower level for awhile but then rising the ranks as more young girls become interested in chess and eventually prove their parity with men if the institution actually allows them to perform and social pressures don't hold them back. I just don’t see how a hollow and unfounded claim of sexism in this instance is acceptable when there are probably ample ways to criticize the chess community and establishment.

If sexism is rampant (and again, I’m not disputing that it is), then it would be fairly easy for her to make her case based on actual merits and with evidence. She’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the game and is obviously extremely intelligent. I’m not understanding how her evidently unsporting behavior is justified any more than intentionally throwing a match and then saying, "We need to stop logging in the rain forest!" is a noble message in some sense but a bizarre and illogical one. This doubly does the harm of discrediting others who have substantive claims of sexism. There is a contingent of sexists who will always be bigoted against women and this will only give them ammunition for those who aren't bigots but who simply don’t know anything about chess and whether or not it actually disenfranchises women in practice.

If she’s upset that there is some kind of background radiation of sexism that has excluded women from chess, then I’ve no doubt that’s well-founded and the chess community should address that. It’s not clear to me how an evidently false claim of sexism in this particular instance is supposed to address that.
posted by koavf at 11:12 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


No, there’s no consensus anywhere else that sexism motivated the pairings. Someone has run the software with the same inputs & it spat out much the same sequence of games given her results & the the rankings of the various players who turned up. The chess world is a sexist place, but her pairings were not actually an example of it.

It’s the perfect storm of “female player in a sexist sport flips the table over the one action by the sport authorities that isn’t actually sexist, even though it felt like it at the time” meeting a Metafilter which really, *really* touchy about sexism related topics right now. Probably for at least another 2 years :(

(“females” by itself it not British usage - we might say “female / male players” if we wanted to distinguish them by gender, but not just “females” or “males”. That just sounds awkward to my ears.)
posted by pharm at 12:10 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


(NB. If the tournament runners *had* fiddled the pairings, by tweaking the input rankings & running the software over and over again until they got “interesting” pairings that appealed to them, then that would be different of course, but since the pairings were recreated by someone using the public player rankings that seems implausible right now.)
posted by pharm at 12:17 AM on February 8, 2017


pharm: I wrote “sexism did not motivate the pairings”.
posted by koavf at 12:27 AM on February 8, 2017


Yes, I know: I was confirming your interpretation of events as I see them. Apologies for any ambiguity,
posted by pharm at 12:31 AM on February 8, 2017


Ah. Re-reading, I see what you said. Sorry. Onwards and upwards.
posted by koavf at 1:16 AM on February 8, 2017


I might be a little dense here, but can someone explain to me, what exactly the problem is?

A) Even if she's paired with women in the first rounds, she'll eventually get to play men once she advances enough rounds, no? (Unless, of course, the women in the tournament are, on average, stronger than the men, leaving only women in the final rounds, which I understand is not the case).

B) It sounds like the tournament organizer had a motivation to pair her with other women. Why would that be the case? Wouldn't it, on the contrary, make the tournament more "interesting" to pair the women world champion with as many men as possible?
posted by sour cream at 3:45 AM on February 8, 2017


Bonus question:
C) I understand that her final opponent was a man. What's the point of forfeiting against a man, when you want to protest being paired against too many women?
posted by sour cream at 3:49 AM on February 8, 2017


This previously is worth looking at, for those trying to imagine how sexism might make chess a difficult world for girls to enter and remain in
posted by iotic at 4:02 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


sour cream:

A) There were many strong women players in this tournament, many of which had good results. Also, Hou Yifan's tournament performance was not extraordinary (she went 6 out of 9 before the final round).

B) I don't think anyone has proposed a convincing motivation for the tournament organizers to have intentionally paired her against an unusual number of women.

C) It was the last round, so it was her final chance to make a protest in that manner. I assume that she didn't decide just how unacceptable the situation was to her until after she finished the previous game.
posted by dfan at 5:09 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


A) It's not an elimination tournament. All players play ten rounds, with their opponent in each round after the first being determined by their win/loss record in the previous rounds (and a few other factors). The organisers don't choose (except, apparently, to ensure that an Iranian vs Israeli matchup didn't occur - Iranians are forbidden to play against Israelis.)

B) The tournament organisers appear to have applied the standard algorithm the way it was supposed to be applied. The algorithm is complex, but also transparent and deterministic and other people claim to have replicated the organisers' results. It's not at all obvious what she wanted the organisers to do differently, unless she expected them to discard the tournament rules and hand-pick opponents just for her.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:32 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Probably for at least another 2 years :(

Or until people at large stop being shitty to women, especially ones who dare to call out sexism. So, no, Metafilter will probably never stop being "touchy about sexism". And if it does, that's the day I leave the site for good.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:37 AM on February 8, 2017 [10 favorites]


Absolutely, tobascodagama. This discussion is reason enough to stay "touchy."
posted by agregoli at 5:48 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


(rolls eyes) Fine. Metafilter is touch/ier/ than it used to be about sexism right now.
posted by pharm at 6:04 AM on February 8, 2017


Iranians are forbidden to play against Israelis

Without, please, getting into what we think of this ban or tournament organisers following it for matchups, or indeed anything about these two countries at all, what would happen if this matchup did happen for other reasons (final game in a tournament, perhaps)?
posted by jeather at 6:12 AM on February 8, 2017


Without, please, getting into what we think of this ban or tournament organisers following it for matchups, or indeed anything about these two countries at all, what would happen if this matchup did happen for other reasons (final game in a tournament, perhaps)?
The Iranian player would voluntarily forfeit the game. (Regardless of their personal feelings, they would likely get in trouble with their country's government or at least their country's national chess association if they played.) This has happened.
posted by dfan at 6:22 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's like saying Mefi is "touchy" about racism. Yes? What's the problem?
posted by agregoli at 6:23 AM on February 8, 2017 [7 favorites]


Touchy, good God.

Women are ridiculously underrepresented in chess. If you don't think that's a sexism problem, then you think women are intrinsically worse at playing chess. i.e. You're part of the problem. Sexism is relevant in this case primarily because the player feels it is, and we should look to the people who experience sexism to understand what it is and how to change it. Now we're "touchy" for discussing what is clearly very relevant in this story?
posted by iotic at 6:34 AM on February 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


[Okay, here I am! Yes, Metafilter is touchy about sexism. It's officially official! Now, please carry on the discussing TFA, please and thank you.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:41 AM on February 8, 2017 [6 favorites]


So here's a question: if they're able to prevent Iranian and Israeli players from being paired, then how do we trust that they're not further mucking about with the pairings? They're already admitting to changing these things up!
posted by explosion at 7:37 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, founder Brian Callaghan sought to defend the pairings.

He said: "It's quite tricky because these things come out of machines, these pairings are not made by people and I understand if I was in her shoes.

"Clearly nothing was going on, it comes out of a machine and sometimes the odds fall that way." He added: "When you are running something as big as this you are going to have incidents, this one just happened to involve Yifan."


The whole thing was that it was not "clear" that nothing was going on. It appears to have turned out that that was the case, at least with respect to the pairings, but that doesn't mean it was "clear" from ground level, so to speak. It's not like it's impossible for the system to be gamed. Even if the criteria used themselves are neutral and dispassionate, there is the principle of disparate impact, meaning, maybe there's a better way to set up tournament matches that doesn't coincidentally lump together the major women players. I'm not saying there necessarily is a better way, but the argument that because the method is reproducible and deterministic means it is free from bias is not convincing. "People respect taller executives. Therefore all other things being equal, we will always promote a taller executive over a shorter one," might be reproducible and deterministic, but it is absolutely biased against women.

It's to be expected that the official statement would be face-saving but let's not overlook the leading language it uses toward that end. "Chief Arbiter of the Masters, Laurent Freyd (Chief Arbiter of the French Chess Federation, and member of FIDE's Anti-Cheating Commission) discussed the pairings with Miss Hou a few days before the incident, after she had expressed concern. From her action on the last day it must be concluded that she did not accept his explanations." In other words, a titled, credentialed, told her there was no bias and she refused to accept it. We're supposed to assume his explanation was calm, detailed, rational and ineluctable (and correspondingly her refusal must inevitably have been emotional, irrational, hysterical) but we actually have no idea what he said, the length of his efforts to convince, whether he was conciliatory or peremptory, empathetic or hectoringly "mansplain"-ish.

Additionally I find it a touch creepy the insistence by some that she be brought to heel and made to apologize. The history of chess is replete with grandstanding, hurt feelings, inexplicable weirdness, and from time to time, legit foul play. There was nothing particularly weird or ahistoric about her accusation. If it turned out to be based on mistaken premises, so be it, the injury was primarily to Hou and her Elo rating. I find the official statement "That the Women's World Champion chose to react in the way she did is a matter of considerable regret, both for us and also, we feel, for the global chess community" somewhat disingenuous in that it doesn't even mention that this was a statement at cost to herself, and that it weaponizes her "Women's World Champion" status to imply that her response was unbecoming for a role model.
posted by xigxag at 8:09 AM on February 8, 2017 [13 favorites]


Never mind the quality of the chess, the level of concern trolling exhibited here is Grand Master level.

("But her protest is going to harm her!" "It was against her own interest!" "What if she was wrong about utter randomness, she shouldn't have called out sexism in this particular instance if she didn't have documented evidence signed off by three experts in probability theory, every other aspect of sexism she might have encountered in the tournament/her career is irrelevant," and, this is a true gem, "MetaFilter is more touchy about sexism nowadays."

Are you kidding me!? The first three is Sexism 101 stuff, right up there with "but chess isn't inherently sexist." The last isn't even 101 level.)

But anyway, going to the TFA instead of the thread: She could have held a press conference. She could have written a column in the community journals. She could have done anything else and she would have gotten a similarly patronizing reaction for each and every one of them except for the "don't say anything, don't do anything" option. Women can not do the "right thing" when fighting against sexism.

(That's also 101.)
posted by seyirci at 8:19 AM on February 8, 2017 [14 favorites]


So here's a question: if they're able to prevent Iranian and Israeli players from being paired, then how do we trust that they're not further mucking about with the pairings?

The pairing rules are not so complex that they can't be done by hand. I'm old enough to remember when pairings at chess tournaments were done by hand, using what is approximately the same algorithm still used today. It's easier with computers, but if you don't trust the verification of three International Arbiters, if you don't trust the independent verification by the person who ran the computer pairings themselves and posted in the Chessbase comments linked above, you can verify them yourself, by hand, and see if there was anything inappropriate going on.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:58 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's easier with computers

I've seen more small-time USCF TDs fuck up with pairing software (ending up with a bunch of people having 2 opponents in a round, for example) than I have seen problems with old-school card fiddling pairings.
posted by thelonius at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm well-acquainted with Swiss pairings, as I judge Magic: the Gathering tournaments, which use a Swiss pairing system similar to Chess's.

My point was just that they've already admitted that they'll deviate from the "right" pairings to prevent certain players from playing one another. So it follows that at face value they'd also be willing to deviate to cause certain players to play one another. I'm not saying it happened, but you can't say "we don't fix the pairings" when there's ready evidence that you do.
posted by explosion at 10:13 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Former (male) tournament chess player and tournament Scrabble player here. I'm sorry this thread seems to have so much finger-pointing going on, because any sort of male-dominated competitive game or sport I've been involved in *clearly* has a lot of sexism going on. However, as relates to this particular case, I have known many tournament directors (male and female) in both games and they have no end of stories about players who come argue with them endlessly about supposedly wrong pairings which usually turn out to be correct. Both games have similar rating and pairing systems and there's software where you literally take the score slips both players sign and hand in and type the results into the computer. After all the games for the round are over, the computer spits out the next pairings and everyone runs over to the wall or big screen to see who they are playing. When there's an obvious mistake, multiple players always notice it at once and bring it to the director. The pairing algorithms are so well known that during lunch breaks players can and will sit there and calculate ("if X beats Y then I'll be playing Z in the final round" or "if "Y and Z draw next game, I still have a shot at 3rd"). I think she probably just had a bad day, or felt aggravated at her performance and said "fuck it". Or she experienced so much male bullshit in the environment that the pairings just broke the camel's back. But a win is a win. I mean, let's say she gets paired against women EVERY ROUND in a mixed tournament and wins the tournament - is she not going to feel like it counted? I can believe that male commentators might make something of it, so maybe that's the more interesting discussion: the sexism within and around the game has created such a toxic environment that she herself is devaluing other women as opponents. Which is a bummer.

People who are interested in the sexism in chess/separate but equal leagues issue might enjoy reading about the Polgar sisters. There are a couple of really interesting aspects:

1) Their father essentially used them as an experiment to prove that great players are made, not born, and in doing so also made it pretty obvious that given an equal chance women can compete at the top levels of chess.
2) Susan Polgar started out avoiding women's tournaments but eventually did go that route and became women's world champion. Her younger sister Judit stuck with mixed (mostly men's) play and became the only woman to ever qualify for a (men's historically) world championship tournament. She peaked at #8 in the world and hasn't been equaled to date. Their different choices about where and how to compete and what to do afterwards are thought-provoking. Susan is a noted chess educator (my son is learning from one of her books) and Judit I believe coaches the Hungarian national "men's" team.

Some other time I'd like to talk about Scrabble which is interesting in that it's much more gender integrated, but still skews very male as you get into the top tier of players. There aren't any women in the top 20. I don't know why.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2017 [11 favorites]


Wasn't there some kind of reprisal from the Hungarian Chess Federation, against the Polgars, when the oldest one stopped playing in women's only tournaments?
posted by thelonius at 12:24 PM on February 8, 2017


Wasn't there some kind of reprisal from the Hungarian Chess Federation, against the Polgars, when the oldest one stopped playing in women's only tournaments?
I hadn't heard of it before, but it seems so.
posted by dfan at 12:34 PM on February 8, 2017


[One comment removed. Saying your perception is Yifan was incorrect and the pairing process was fair is fine; wrapping that up in a series of reminders that Some Women Are Hysterical, Some Women Lie About Rape is gross bullshit that needs to not happen, period.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:25 AM on February 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


Here's a link to the actual "game" if you're curious what it looked like.

It's in the title, no?


I figured there might be some other people like me who know enough about chess to be interested in seeing the moves she made but aren't sufficiently fluent in algebraic notation to reconstruct the game in our heads.
posted by straight at 4:34 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


By the way, regarding my earlier comment about Iranians being matched against Israelis:
The Iranian player would voluntarily forfeit the game. (Regardless of their personal feelings, they would likely get in trouble with their country's government or at least their country's national chess association if they played.)
An Iranian player who did play an Israeli player in this tournament that is the subject of this thread has been barred from Iranian tournaments and the national team.
posted by dfan at 7:57 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


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