“As a top-level woman player myself and a pioneer in women’s chess, I feel that if given the same opportunity, women […] will be able to compete against men [...].” Susan Polgar, 4 times Women’s World Champion
Are women equal to men with respect to intelligence? Are women being discriminated against in chess? Is it talent or opportunity that limits the number of women in top end intellectual disciplines? These questions have been tickling the curiosities of men and women alike for centuries.
Laszlo Polgar, farther of the famous Polgar-girls, believes that in chess, there is even more discrimination against women than in other fields: “Discrimination in chess is incomparably stronger than in the fields of science, art, etc. In school, girls study under the same conditions as boys and are evaluated and graded the same way.
In interscholastic competitions it crosses nobody’s mind to organize separate competitions for girls because of their ‘reduced intellectual abilities’. It would be odd to present separate Nobel prizes for two sexes.” Yet, it is normal in professional chess to have gender-restricted ranking.
For many centuries, while it was agreed that women could play chess, it was believed that their play was inferior to that of men. In his day, Grandmaster Harry Golombek commented, "This may be ungallant, but I think chess is really a game for the masculine imagination.”
Golombek certainly thought that talent was the key factor holding women back from achieving success in chess. Many women have shaken the foundations of this theory, however, only recently have women begun to compete with men on the professional level.
Through literature, it is evident that from ancient times women played chess. The archetypical women in these stories would often play exceptionally well. Yet, it was not until the Middle Ages that social constraints eased to allow women to take part in official chess competitions; since then women have made a big splash in the chess world.
The first of these female trailblazers was Vera Menchik. At the age of 15, Vera first attracted attention by winning the British girl’s championship.
When, in 1927, FIDE (the International Chess Organization) established the first Women’s World Championship, Vera not only won the event but dominated it. She held the title, until her untimely death in 1944. Of the 83 championship games she played she lost only one.
However, Vera’s greatest legacy is breaking into the male dominated circle of top players. Through out her life she played and defeated many top players of the time including future World Champion, Dr. Max Euwe.
At a time when no one believed that women could play chess well, Vera silenced them very quickly and thus opened the door for the future women of chess.
Part 2 - Women and Chess