Are Girls too Nice to Excel in Chess?

Women today are not as likely to downplay their intelligence, but there are still forces that discourage them from direct, aggressive competition with men.

“Chess – Are Girls too Nice to Excel in Chess?”
The Sale Lake City Tribune, February 2
Source: http://www.goddesschess.com
by Shelby Lyman

It’s an old scenario that continues to be replayed. As girls approach adolescence, they drop out of school chess programs in record numbers. They may keep an interest and later encourage their children to play, but they themselves shy away from chess activity and competition.

My guess is that the phenomenon has something to do with a special characteristic of the game. Chess is the only major sport where males and females encounter each other on equal terms — where the usual advantage in size, weight and speed of the male is of no consequence.

Chess thus can be a unique head-to-head test of the intelligence, fighting spirit and endurance of the two genders. But it is not a test that many males past childhood relish or care to lose. Girls get the message — often subliminal — and too often back off from the confrontation with their male peers and friends.

The phenomenon reminds me of a study of college women in the 1940s who played dumb so their boyfriends (and future husbands) would be comfortable.

Women today are not as likely to downplay their intelligence, but there are still forces that discourage them from direct, aggressive competition with men. Nevertheless, they manage to compete with increasing success in many spheres. Chess remains a notable exception.

Although as a teenager I regretted the paucity of women on the chess scene, I was not unaware of the advantage it gave me. Half of my most talented and toughest potential adversaries had been effectively vanquished without my having to lift a finger at the chessboard.

In the game below from the 1985 Hungarian Team Tournament, the women’s world champion Zsuzsa Polgar defeats Peter Hardicsay with a brilliant flourish.

Susan Polgar – Hardicsay

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 c5
  3. d5 e6
  4. Nc3 exd5
  5. exd5 d6
  6. Nf3 g6
  7. Bf4 a6
  8. e4 Bg7
  9. Qa4ch Bd7
  10. Qb3 Bg4
  11. Qxb7 Bxf3
  12. Qxa8 Nxe4
  13. Rc1 Bd4
  14. Rc2 Nxf2
  15. Rxf2 Bxf2ch
  16. Kxf2 Bg4
  17. Bb5ch axb5
  18. Re1chKf8
  19. Bh6ch Kg8
  20. Re7 Bd7
  21. Qxb8! Qxb8
  22. Ne4! Black resigns(a)

Note (a): With the unstoppable threat of 23. Nf6 mate

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