One of my favorite topics has come up in the media again, as GM Nigel Short has made some rather provocative comments about women in chess and how they are “hardwired” to be worse than men.
Firstly I’d like to say that despite being generally a very smart guy, Nigel Short is obviously unaware of the fact that this is not a great subject to broach, especially if you are going to take the general position of “men are better than women”.
So what is the truth? Are women just worse than men at chess? Is there something in their brains that is going to cause them to be less likely to be good at chess than men? I have the definitive answer to this extremely popular question:
Let me ask some more pointless questions:
Is it possible for a non Russian to become world chess champion? Statistics in the 1970s would certainly have said “NO”. Bobby Fischer didn’t care.
Is it possible for an African American to become president? The 43-0 ratio of white presidents to non white presidents made it pretty clear that the answer is no. Barack Obama didn’t care. Hillary Clinton obviously doesn’t care about the 44-0 she’s now fighting against.
Let’s talk about a few things that are obviously true that no one can argue against:
1. Is it possible for a woman to be one of the top ten chessplayers in the world? Yes, as Judit Polgar held this ranking for many years.
2. Is it possible for a girl to be one of the top 5 for their age in the United States? Is it also possible for a different girl to hold this ranking for the 11, 12 and 13 year old age group? Yes, as currently Jennifer Yu (13), Annie Wang (12) and Carissa Yip (11) are all ranked number 4 for their age in the United States.
So yeah, who knows, maybe there is some scientific reason that women are statistically less likely to be good as men in chess on average. Personally I don’t care, Judit Polgar didn’t care and it seems that Jennifer Yu, Annie Wang, and Carissa Yip have learned at an early age not to care either. Once you start teaching a girl how to play, and you see that she has talent, all of this statistical nonsense becomes irrelevant.
When I run my U.S. Chess School programs, I don’t look around the room, see a talented girl and think to myself “oh wow she’s really talented, too bad her brain is wired wrong and she’ll never be any good”. When you are dealing with individual people this kind of generalizing to an entire group serves absolutely no purpose.
Let me just state this one more time so it’s very clear:
Absolutely no one benefits from the discussion of whether or not men are hardwired to be better at chess than women.
Nigel Short said that we should “gracefully accept it as a fact that men possessed different skills to women that made them more able to play chess at a high competitive level”. For such a smart guy, it’s really dumb to think that you are doing the world a favor by publicly broadcasting this opinion. No individual person gains anything from being told that one of their potential heroes thinks their entire group is at a statistical disadvantage. My sister made a similar point as this in the first chapter of her book: “Chess Bitch”.
The only thing that matters and should be talked about is the following:
If a girl is talented at chess, has desire and she is willing to work very hard, she has every chance of being a great chess player.