"Why Are There Two Chess Champions?" by Alpha Unit

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. 
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4 thoughts on “"Why Are There Two Chess Champions?" by Alpha Unit”

  1. Chess is an excellent laboratory in which to talk about potential genetic mental differences. There are no physical strength requirements that would put women at at disadvantage or economic barriers to prevent ethnic minorities from competing well.
    Yet essentially every champion is an ethnic European or Asian male. Especially Jews. Among the 60 USA grandmasters ever, one (Maurice Ashley) is an ethnic African (i.e. a black person), and he’s an immigrant from Jamaica.

  2. We can’t all be both men and women. So let the gals decide if they want to compete with their own.
    I’ve never met a woman who didn’t outsmart me. Naturally I don’t wish to compete with them in the games that they excel in.

  3. Dear Robert
    There are separate chess championships for women for the same reason that we don’t have unisex Olympics. If we did, men would get nearly all the medals. Likewise, if there were only unisex chess championships, women would hardly ever win. It should be well-established by now that, on average, men have superior chess-playing abilities, just as men are, on average again, better at math.
    Regards. James

  4. Yifan is ranked 202 in the world by her FIDE score.
    This is a good result. In physical events like the marathon (where the gap between men and woman is less), the top woman wouldn’t even be in the top 1000 with men. For example, the world record in the marathon is 2 hrs 04 min for men and 2hrs 15 min for women. There have been thousands of men who have run under 2hrs 15 min- current runners, not just historical.
    In a sport like bench pressing, the men’s record is 1073 pounds (yeah, incredible). The woman’s record is 600 pds (incredible too).
    (Note we tend to be surprised at both the men’s and women’s records, even though we know how much less the women’s record is compared to the men’s. This shows that we have a casual intuitive measurement system for what men and women can do in different physical areas.)
    There are probably tens of thousands, if not millions of men who could with professional training bench press over 600 pds.
    So, back to chess. It’s actually a testament to how little cognitive difference in that area chess requires, there is between men and women that the world’s champs are so close. Still, in all serious competitions, men beat women. This could mean that men are naturally more competitive than women or their is just an imperative in men to defeat women in competition.
    If so, then until women develope the drive to defeat men, there should always be a separate women’s chess championship.

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