Sixteen-year-old Hou Yifan of China is the current Women’s World Chess Champion, which makes her a Grandmaster. Viswanathan Anand is the current World Chess Champion. He is a 41-year-old Grandmaster from India. Why are there two chess champions? Why a separate women’s championship? After all, the strongest female player of all time has never been Women’s World Chess Champion. She never competed for it. That’s Judit Polgár of Hungary, who’s 34. She became a chess Grandmaster when she was 15 years old and 4 months – and at the time the youngest person ever to achieve the title. She has competed successfully against top male players, beating Boris Spassky, Garry Kasparov, and Anatoly Karpov, among others. Women are able to compete against men in chess, and yet the Women’s World Chess Championship, established in 1927, lives on. When will it be time to get rid of it? Jennifer Shahade, an American who has the title of Woman Grandmaster, has stated that some female players feel “alienated” at mixed events. She didn’t say exactly why. But it seems to come down to feelings of insecurity about competing against men. She says that while the top-ranked women are strong enough to compete with men, the lower-ranked qualifying women are weaker than the weakest men. It wouldn’t do much for their confidence to fare poorly in championships against men. What I conclude from this is that Ms. Shahade thinks a separate track for women chess players might be a good way for them to develop the confidence they need to face male players. Of course there are people who disagree with this. They feel that this separate women’s competition is what holds good female chess players back. To them, you don’t get any better at something by playing against people who are basically at your own level. And then there is the view that most women just don’t have the same drive and singular focus a lot of men have to excel at chess. To get to the highest level in that sport requires a dedication to chess – eating it, sleeping it, breathing it – that a lot of women wouldn’t have.
- Hoffman, Paul. August 2003. “Chess Queen.” Smithsonian Magazine.