Really? A Battle of the Sexes

If you follow chess news around the world, you may have read a recent article about whether or not men are better at chess than women. Of course, the article created a bit of an uproar. The article’s author, a person I respect highly as a chess player, failed to provide any scientific evidence to back the claims being made that men make better chess players than women. If you are going to make a claim that men may be better than women at chess, please provide some sort of support or at the least some personal experience regarding the issue at hand. It reminded me of a journalist who interviewed a general about trench warfare in World War One. The general painted a rosy picture of the situation, making it out to be a bit of a camping adventure. If you really want to know about life in the trenches, ask the poor soldiers who had to live there in a world filled with death and decay, not the generals who spent their days and nights in luxurious homes miles from the front line carnage! I say this because I’m in the trenches of chess education, day after day, and have some experience regarding the issue of men versus women in chess.

Here are a few thoughts that ran through my head while reading the article in question. While I didn’t do any scientific research regarding those thoughts, I still think they raise some valid points.

First of all, if you compare the number of men playing chess to the number of women playing chess, you’ll find the number of male players greatly overshadows the number of female players. You would need more even numbers to make a real statistical comparison. For example, if over six hundred million people play chess worldwide (a number used when numerically describing the popularity of the game) and the number of male players to female players is a percentage greater than seventy percent, you can’t form a sound statistical model to base an argument on. You’d need a more even number to determine whether men are better chess players than women and you’d need a serious scientific study to back up such a claim. I haven’t seen such a study, have you?

Then there are the Polgar sisters. If you follow chess’s rich and interesting history, you’ll know that the Polgar sisters are extremely talented titled players. In fact, so strong are their talents that they could easily beat the majority of all the male chess players currently playing chess. This isn’t to say that they’d beat every single titled player in the world but they’d beat the majority of male chess players, who are not titled players. A trio sisters against, let’s say five hundred million male players, (a conservative estimate), crushing those male players (if given the chance to play them). I’d say that puts a slight dent in the argument that men are better chess players. Oh, did I mention the plethora of other titled women chess players who could equally crush our non-titled male players?

In my own work as a chess instructor and coach, I have found that my female students tend to do better when learning the game than their male counterparts. They tend to focus more on the lessons and immediately apply what they’ve learned to their games. I am a huge supporter of women in chess and work very hard to ensure that more young ladies learn to play the game. It can be difficult for them, not because there is a intellectual difference between the male and female brain, but because it’s a male dominated game and this seems to be the root of the problem.

In any given chess class that I teach, the ratio of male to female students tends to be eight to two at best, meaning that eighty percent of the class is male and twenty percent is female. Often, my young ladies will feel a bit out of place because they can sometimes be the only female in the class. Because of this, I work very hard to make them feel part of the group. I also ask them how they feel about being only young lady in the class. When they tell me they feel a “bit weird,” I tell them that rather than feel weird, feel like a hero because they are blazing the trail for other young ladies to take up chess. I also ask them if they think chess should be dominated by men? Of course, they say no! I tell them that they have the chance to change this and while they might feel uncomfortable at first, being in a male dominated situation, they can be part of chess history by turn the tide and becoming an example. My young ladies are true trail blazers and heroes, at least in my opinion.

One of the things that drew me to chess was the idea that we are a global community that doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, male or female. We gather at the chessboard because of our love of the game. To make a claim regarding one group being better at chess than another is a direct attack against the cohesive nature of our global chess family. I take offense at the idea that men are better chess players than women!

Seriously, chess is a game that requires certain intellectual skills, meaning that one needs a working brain to process the information presented on the chessboard. Skills, such as pattern recognition, are not more developed in male brains. Both sexes have equal claim to the intellectual skills required to play chess.

The real issue at hand is the fact that you cannot claim that men are superior to women when it comes to chess and not have any proof to back it up. I know plenty of women who crush their male opponents, my wife being one of those women. Believe me, it wasn’t a sunny day at Patterson Manor when Mrs. Patterson got wind of that article. I plan on going back to more instructive articles next week as long as certain members of the chess community don’t end up in the news again. Here’s a game by a woman who is beyond brilliant when it comes to chess. She is a role model for my young ladies! Enjoy and remember, chess is for everyone.

Hugh Patterson

This entry was posted in Articles, Children's Chess, Hugh Patterson on by .

About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).