There have been no female chess champions simply because there’s not a lot of women participating in chess competitions (about 16 men for every 1 woman). The closest is the journey of Judith Polgar who was able to reach the candidate tournament in 2007.
After watching some of the recent films featuring women excelling in chess, such as with the queen’s gambit by Walter Tevis (and the adaptation of Netflix) we want to learn a story of a female being a world chess champion in real life.
That however is not the case in real life, in fact, there hasn’t been at any point in history where a female becomes a renowned world chess champion.
Why is that the case? Why are there no female chess champions? This is the topic for today.
This is something that I have been contemplating as a beginner but haven’t found a good answer even up to now, so I’ve just thought of something on my own that I think a lot of people will agree on.
If you have been following chess a lot I’m sure you will find my points very reasonable at the very least, I’m going to present it here. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Reasons why females are unlikely to be a chess champion
There’s a lot of things that can be blamed for this phenomenon, but I think it can be narrowed down to these simple things. I think these are pretty reasonable, there is good logic as to why women are unlikely to win a world championship title (in chess).
There are fewer women who play chess
When we envision chess there is a stereotypical tendency to gear towards men, guys have been prevalent in this particular competition. It has not been without any substance, more males are just into this game more than females would.
Just go into regular tournaments that are not yet subject to the segregation of gender titles, about 95% of the time there are more males than females.
There are simply fewer women that choose to play chess, this means that statistically, men are more likely to be at the top of everyone in this field.
Inherently, a lot of people who have passion in this field are just not females. Don’t be mistaken, some girls really want to play chess (in my first team tournament I was the only guy, which you can view on my about me page) but it is pretty rare.
In the majority of cases, guys are usually the one who gets attracted to this game all on their own. The females including my own friends who stuck to chess are usually motivated by their guy friends/seniors.
Statistically, if at least 95% of the population has gravitated towards one gender, it would make sense that such a particular gender would be more prominent in world championship entitlements.
There have only ever been a few world chess champions in history, just by playing with the numbers makes the champion more likely to be a man.
Few women choose to play chess professionally
Ok the lack of population is part of the problem, however it is not the entire picture in itself. It’s not only that women do not get introduced to chess in the first place, but few of them actually try to play it professionally.
If you desire to be the world chess champion you need to at least play at a professional level, which a lot of women refuse to do. So we are taking a small pie and making it even smaller, in the end it will be no wonder that no woman can reach the top.
A lot of women that get into playing chess can like the game so much but only in a limited portion of their life, they are much likely to quit without considering to be a professional.
And frankly this is not an insult, in fact, it is a form of praise since being a professional chess player is a hard pursuit to choose.
Being a chess master does not promise a lot of financial returns as discussed by my other article (will open in a new tab) so dropping it might be the correct choice.
Still, with this fact it is easy to see that females are unlikely to become a world champion.
Women are just more likely to drop chess as they get older since girls are more likely to be family/career-oriented unlike with boys who are willing to suffer without much in return.
Judith Polgar almost became a world chess champion
I have to say that it is not true that there aren’t any women who are close to reaching a world championship title, because there is.
The closest one to achieve this goal is the honorable grandmaster Judith Polgar who reached the Fide candidates tournament held to challenge the current world champion, though she lost in the selection.
She was qualified to fight in the candidates (a tournament that will select the world championship challenger) but sadly lost in the tournament before she ever got her chance of becoming a world champion.
She is the strongest woman player up to date and the closest thing we get to having a female world chess champion. She also battled with a lot of legends in the name of the Kasparov, Karpov, Short, etc. And has beaten them on several occasions.
This is a video of her encounter with the former world champion Boris Spassky where she was able to win/draw her games against him.
The separation of male and female in chess
If you are new to chess the competition is actually separated by gender, with goodwill in mind. Since the population is fewer, putting the females in the same competition as the main (which they can choose to do) might demotivate them from further playing.
If one is suddenly introduced to the harsh environment as all the other guys out there they are much more likely to lose, and therefore quit (the bar is set lower).
However, I believe that this also played a role in why females are unlikely to become a world champion.
Female-only chess competitions lack competition
Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of strong female players out there, however, it is undeniable that there are more stronger males than females. And this actually poses an obstacle to becoming a world champion.
I think part of the reason is the lack of competition, females are separated from males in tournaments and so, female chess players are less likely to face stronger opponents.
If the bar is set lower, it makes it unlikely for the person who is competing to go beyond their limitations. When this happens, the feeling of complacency can hamper the progress of the female player who wants to become a world champion.
Even Judith Polgar who was close to reaching the absolute top admitted that it is impossible to really improve in the female-only chess tournaments.
She herself has to go beyond the tradition and compete against the males. Though females can legally do this (compete against the males), it is still a scary stuff that deviates women from reaching the title.
It will require the female chess player to stand out and go directly in the open, just the thought of being different can be a fearful deterrent. However this is a necessary step if a woman wants to be a world champion, it is an obstacle nonetheless.
Limited female chess engagement scares females
Now that we established that women are just unlikely to be interested in chess, it also makes it weird for a female to be interested in chess (since no other girls do it). This creates a sense of separation gender-wise.
Going against the stereotype is a hard thing to do, the lack of representation actually promotes more lack of representation in the future.
The lack of presence by females in the chess world further discourages potential female aspirants from participating and later excelling. Those who may have the talent hadn’t got the chance since they were scared away from it.
Sadly there isn’t anything that can be done at the moment (except just promoting chess to women) but is definitely an obstacle that is preventing a woman chess champion from being born.
Female chess players have limited role models
Hopping from the previous point, it is not only that the lack of representation promotes more lack of representation, but the idols as well.
Bobby Fischer, Paul Morphy, Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, etc. are all famous chess figures that inspire men to pursue chess at a higher level. Girls on the other hand have little to no inspiration from their ancestors.
When a male read about the opening choices of Magnus Carlsen they are inspired to experiment. Females chess players don’t have as much role models.
There are limited chess female idols that could serve as a role model for females pursuing chess (except with Judith Polgar) that could encourage further immersion in the game.
Those who we look up to are usually one of the major contributors to us staying in our game immersion, without a role model it will be difficult.
If a woman suddenly wins the world chess championship, for example, I bet it would send a ripple of motivation for aspiring female players. It would send a message that it is at least possible, something that would push female players to their peak.
But without the so-called role model as we see today, the future seems bleak right before some of the potential talented female players even try, I think this is a deterrent as well.
Biologically, men are not better than women in chess
Now this is something controversial that I want to share my thoughts on, a lot of elite chess players claim that men are simply better than women in chess. Though I think this is true, this is only true in today’s climate.
It just so happens that more men have been engaged in chess since the early phases of their life more than women, of course they are going to be better.
The disparity just widens over time as more men become more active while the female players become more passive. There are equal opportunities for competition but no equal opportunities for improvement.
I doubt that the reason for this is biological (that men are simply better than women biologically).
I think boys are just more likely to start at a younger age therefore making them more likely to find a career in this field (and eventually becoming a world champion).
Men have dominated the ranks of the world championship simply because they have been engaged for a longer time and have gained more experience while females don’t. The case of Judith Polgar at least proves that women have a place in chess.
Judith is a good subject of this argument since her father has basically forced her to study chess at such a young age (which she eventually liked) and therefore have the same resources as the guys she competed against.
She almost becomes a world champion by having the same head start as some of her peers, I think this debunks the biological argument.
It’s not that girls are incapable of becoming a world champion, it’s just that her peers are more likely to have started at such a young age and have simply become better over time.
Remember the lack of a model that I have talked about before? Judith fills that!
Even if she hasn’t become a world champion and there are only a few prominent female chess players, it is at least a start. A start to the promise that a female world chess champion will eventually emerge from the shadows.
Do you now know why there are no female chess champions?
I still stand by my belief that chess promotes equality in terms of gender, females can choose to participate with the males and vice-versa.
There isn’t any requirement rule-wise that only one gender has to play the game, it is open for everyone. However it cannot be denied that males are just much more likely to play chess and be better, therefore making them more likely to be world champions.
There could only be one world chess champion, with the disparity of the population the statistics are in favor of the males, it is no wonder that there are no female world chess champions.
However that can change in the future! If a deserving female chess player appears that is. I certainly hope so since I want to see good matches, I am sure you feel that way too, sleep well and play chess.