This picture was taken at NY Governor Pataki’s office after the 2004 Olympiad

Debate Should Women’s Events be Separate from Men’s?
Yes by GM Susan Polgar
This was originally published in Chess Life

Should there be separate events and titles for women? The answer is YES. While many people fully support all-girls’ events, some adamantly oppose this idea, such as former USCF President Beatriz Marinello. They say that girls should want to compete against the best. They feel that all-girls’ events are an insult to girls.

That is a noble logic and I agree with them. I was the first female to compete mostly against male players. At 15, I was the #1 woman player in the world. I was also the top-rated junior player in the world for both genders. I was the first ever to accomplish this feat, which led to one of the biggest chess scandals in history: FIDÉ decided to grant every female player 100 points but me, because I played only against men. I had proved that a woman can compete against men; my sister Judit took this to another level.

However, just as in a chess game, there must be an objective. What are the goals for women in U.S. chess?

A) To get more girls to play and stay in chess, and
B) To produce more top-level female players.

Let’s examine some facts:

1) The U.S. has never produced a Women’s world champion, grandmaster or top-10 player.
2) According to USCF statistics, the majority of girls drop out of chess around 4th or 5th grade.

Before we can achieve B, A must be accomplished!

That is why even though I was a pioneer in competing almost exclusively against men, I fully support all-girls’ events because it is purely a numbers game when it comes to producing top level talents. Georgia, Russia, and China, etc., are some of the top countries producing female chess talents. They have large numbers of girls playing chess. When there are more girls who play and stay in chess, there will be more top talents.

Knowing this, how do we get more girls to stay in chess? First, we need to know why girls drop out of chess. Only then can we fix it. The USCF has failed miserably in this area, because not enough attention has been paid to the difference between girls and boys in chess. Here are some of the glaring problems:

Social Acceptance: In general, society does not encourage or really accept the concept of girls playing chess.

Family Acceptance: There is also little family acceptance for girls playing chess. Many parents do not really understand or play chess well themselves, and, along with many coaches, consider chess “a boy thing.”

Opportunities: This point relates to social and family acceptance issues, the lack of which means few parents actually invest the time and money to encourage their daughters to play chess.

Intimidation: Because the ratio between girls and boys at tournaments are so skewed (9 boys to every girl), girls often get very intimidated. And because girls have fewer opportunities to learn and play, it leads to poor results, which leads to discouragement and eventually quitting. In addition, boys are usually much rougher and more 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. Girls are very different; they have a greater appreciation for the artistic and social aspect of chess.

Physiological 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 highly inappropriate remarks.

Many females have faced these issues while competing in male-dominated chess environments. I was able to focus on my chess because I was encouraged and supported by my parents, and I was given the opportunities. Many girls do not have this support.

In conclusion, girls can eventually compete equally against boys and they can excel in chess if given the same opportunities. But we must retain them first. That is why all-girls’ events are an absolute necessity. Girls’ events are friendlier, more fun, more comfortable and a lot less hostile.

As to separate titles, I believe that it does no harm to have separate titles for women, at least until more women can raise their playing level closer to the men. However, if women want to earn an overall title such as grandmaster, they should meet the same standards as men just as I did, followed by my sister Judit, Pia Cramling, Zhu Chen, Antoaneta Stefanova, and Humpy Koneru.

Since I started the annual Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls in 2004, thousands of girls have competed in local, regional and state events to qualify. We awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships (from the University of Texas at Dallas), stipends and chess prizes. Last year in only its second year, more girls took part in the Polgar event than the Denker. Many states now hold all-girls’ qualifying events. This is a big contrast to just a few short years ago. Let’s not go back to a failed system.

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