Far from the rest the pair would creep
And (elbows on the table) they
A game of chess would often play,
Buried in meditation deep,
Till absently Vladimir took
With his own pawn alas! his rook!
Alexander Pushkin- Eugene Onegin
Poor Lensky, he couldn’t catch a break! One imagines that he feels like the protagonist in Betjeman’s “A Subaltern’s Love Song.” It’s nice to see Olga get her due, but in over-the-board play women tend to lag behind men. Is this fact or fiction? Based on the results of an interesting study there are some compelling reasons for the lack of female GMs. It’s difficult to come away from the article without a reinforced sense of gender equality.
The authors posit that self-selection, choosing to adopt chess in this case, can materially effect how many women end up as GMs. If more men choose chess as a hobby than women, talent among the genders being equal, more men should become GMs. The study points out that a good deal of self-selection does indeed take place. A chess tournament is usually a sausage-fest.
There’s also the drop-out rate for chess players. If women suffer more than men from “chess attrition,” due to disposition or social pressure for instance, fewer will go on to become GMs. It would be interesting to know why women leave the chess world, and if successful female players cite the same reasons as their lower-rated counterparts.
When a can’t-miss female prospect stops competing, she’ll never emerge out the other side of the chess pipleline. It’s impossible to say with certainty how far she could have gone. To this author unused talent is a tragedy. Luckily, the study offers a pretty sunny forecast for women’s chess. If an equal number of men and women play, say in a given city, the rating disparity between the groups tends to disappear. More women joining tournaments means better potential for discovering latent talent. The bigger the sea the bigger the fish floating there. Maybe Olga didn’t need Lentsky’s assistance after all!
Take out your travel chess set, and teach the game to your younger sister, female friend, and mother. Just don’t be disparaging or paternalistic. Ladies hate that! You’ll want to be as gracious as you can. That way when your new protege starts beating you they can return the favor.