Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Polgar: With encouragement, girls can be as good as boys at chess

Susan Polgar: With encouragement, girls can be as good as boys at chess

Two of the most intriguing questions I have been asked are: "Can female players be as good in chess as male players, and how come there are too few top-level female players?"

Yes, female players can be as good. However, there are a number of reasons why few female players can compete on the same level as their male counterparts. Here are some of the reasons which I discussed in an earlier interview:

Social acceptance

In general, society does not encourage or really accept the concept of girls playing chess. That makes it difficult to get girls involved in chess and even more difficult to sustain their interest.

Family acceptance

There is also little family acceptance for girls playing chess. Many parents do not really understand or play chess well themselves. Some do not understand the benefits for their daughters of playing chess. Therefore, if the girls are not encouraged to play chess, it is more natural for them not to play at all or to abandon it quickly. This is similar to the stereotype of boys playing with cars and trucks, while girls play with Barbie dolls. Boys don't play with Barbie dolls because it is generally considered a girl thing. Many parents consider chess a boy thing.


This point directly links to the social and family acceptance issues. Because of the lack of family and social acceptance, fewer parents actually invest the time and money to encourage their daughters to play chess. And the lack of encouragement or assistance directly leads to fewer girls taking chess seriously.


Because the ratio of boys to girls at tournaments is so skewed (8 or 9-to-1 boys vs. girls), girls often feel intimidated. And because girls have fewer opportunities to learn and play, it leads to poor results, which leads to discouragement and eventually they quit. In addition, boys are usually much more rough and competitive; many girls are teased, and rather than fighting back, they just don't come back.

Different approach

Boys and girls approach the game of chess very differently. Most boys are results-oriented and focus on winning and losing. Most girls are very different; they have a greater appreciation for the artistic and social aspect of chess. The problem we face is that most people expect girls to learn the game and enjoy it the same way boys do. They don't, and we as educators, parents or coaches need to understand this.

Physiological and physical differences

As they get older, girls tend to develop faster in many ways. They develop different interests and are often treated differently; they also have different social problems. It is not easy being the "only" female player at a tournament. Many older girls have to fend off unwanted advances and are often subjected to inappropriate remarks.

Being chess pioneers, my sisters and I faced many of these issues while competing in a male-dominated chess environment. No female player is immune to this. But I was able to focus on my chess because I was encouraged and supported by my parents, and I was given the opportunities to learn and compete in chess.

Develop, improve

We do not have specialized chess development and improvement courses geared toward girls, something that addresses the differences between boys' and girls' approach to the game. The same goes with chess camps or chess classes. The activities and methods of teaching chess are more orientated to boys than girls.

Standards, expectations

A chess rating is just a number that measures the competitive success of a player. Yet, as I mentioned above, many girls are less competitive than boys. So if everything revolves around ratings, can we expect the same success in girls?

Career longevity

Female players often must interrupt their careers in order to raise a family.

Through my numerous experiences with thousands of young female players and their parents across the country, I discovered that girls do need and want a separate chess environment in which they are comfortable. Only in such an environment can you encourage more girls to stay, play and learn chess at a much higher ratio and level. This would give them a chance to advance and catch up with the boys.

Here are some of the things I have done to change this trend through the Susan Polgar Foundation and WOM - FIDE Commission for Women's Chess)

• create more fun and exciting events for girls to motivate them to stay in chess longer (Webster University is sponsoring some of these wonderful all-girls events);

• create a better atmosphere so young girls will be less intimidated;

• create activities that girls would enjoy and appreciate more;

• create more college scholarships as an incentive for girls to achieve better results (since 2003, the Susan Polgar Foundation, through our partners and donors, has awarded over $3.5 million in chess scholarships);

• create a free training program to help the more serious and more talented girls excel to be top-level players.

Here is a new initiative (between FIDE, WOM, the Susan Polgar Foundation, and Webster University) to help some of the top girls: http://www.fide.com/component/content/article/1-fide-news/7595-new-initiative-between-fide-and-wom.html


Anonymous said...

Women's job is to look good at tournaments.

Lucymarie said...

Women "look good at tournaments" when they do as well or better than the men. Or when they play with other women in women's tournaments and produce exciting games, which they do with higher frequency than the men.

Anonymous said...

These discussions will go on for ever. In India,as in other countries,there are doubtless fewer girls than boys in any tournament. But let me also say that the girls are not intimidated ( perhaps the boys feel more pressure playing a girl/woman ). Basically the players play in accordance to their ratings,try to do their best and are happy if on occasion, they draw /defeat a higher rated player. It's just that fewer women have the patience to spend all their time, focused on a game like chess. This was especially true during the pre computer era.Judith,like Anand may be a bit past their prime,but I certainly look forward to seeing the ever improving Hou Yifan for instance,post some good victories against the top 50.

Anonymous said...

First place looks better than second place.

Maciek said...

women aren't as good as men at chess because they don't want to play chess. it's really that simple. they're not interested in it. and they're not interested in many other things as well. what's the male-female ratio among inventors? among Nobel Prize winners? among politicians? among people interested in sports? It's the same everywhere. 90% men at least... why? because women aren't naturally predisposed to think about abstract, intangible things. some people try to blame in on nurture, say that girls don't become chessplayers, politicians, scientist etc. because of the way they are brought up but it's naive to think that. That division doesn't come from nurture, but from nature. Women are much more skilled socially then men (they say almost twice as many words per day as men), they're good at taking care of all rudimentary needs like food and cleanness (which are extremely important for health!). I'm not trying to endorse patriarchy here, but this is simply the way the evolution shaped us even if we don't want to accept it. There's one more layer to this problem: in the modern society we are taught that all human beings are equal. this isn't true, sadly. for example there are studies that show that Asian people have higher IQ on average than black people, even if they're raised in similar conditions. But given all these horrible things the humanity went through in the past like slavery and racial segregation, we simply can't afford to acknowledge such differences. we can't risk bringing these horrible ideas back to life. same with women. they fought for their right to vote and for access to education and jobs and now (gladly!) they're treated as equals with men. but that doesn't change the fact that they're still handicapped in some areas like aforementioned ability to take interest in abstract, scientific problems with no direct impact on their lives.

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