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Women and Chess
Are men smarter then women?
Part II
By Chessmaster Aleksandr Kitsis

Following the death of Vera Menchik, it was up to someone else to pick-up where Vera had left off and forever silence unbelievers. Vera’s torch was picked by famous Polgar sisters. Where Vera had been the first woman to break into the male dominated professional level, Susan Polgar, the oldest of Polgar sisters, became the first female to achieve the male grandmaster title.

Judit, the youngest of three Polgar sisters, shortly eclipsed Susan’s achievement when, at the age of 15, she became the youngest person (male or female) to ever achieve the title of grandmaster in chess.

Since then, Judit's career has been equally extraordinary. Almost completely shunning gender restricted tournaments, Judit has placed in the top places of countless top level men’s competitions.

She is the first woman who not only competed on the professional level, but was recognized as one of the best (male or female) players of her time. Currently, Judit is ranked among the ten best male-players in the world!

Judit has also set a new precedent recently; becoming the first woman to ever be invited to compete in the men’s world championship. This is an especially meaningful event since, a decade ago, her older sister Susan was denied the opportunity in spite of winning a qualifying tournament; interestingly, the justification used to bar Susan from the world championship cycle was that she is a woman and the event is a men’s championship; talk about discrimination in chess!?

The current of prejudicial voices about women’s inferiority in intellectual disciplines is far from being vanished. Harvard President Lawrence Summers made a comment strikingly similar to the one made by Grandmaster Golombek. He suggested that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” are the primary reason for the limited number of women in top science positions.

From taking a look at the history of women in chess it is evident that women are more than capable of excelling in this complex mental activity, it is a lack of opportunity for women and a strong under current of prejudice from society which barred women from progress.

Laszlo Polgar believes that one way to help curb the lack of opportunity is for parents to encourage their children’s mental development at an early age. Here is an excerpt from one of his works:

Evidently, a significant role is played by the system of conditions and influences of society that guard talent and limit the unfolding of talent. To have great achievements it is essential to start performing and liking such an activity at early childhood. [….]

A famous German poet, Goethe, recalling his childhood, noted: “we only learn from those we love”. The love of the parent, the authority of the parent, the words of the parent, in which the child entirely believes, are of great importance. […]

Disadvantageous environmental conditions may cause severe damage in the first six-to-ten years. At a later stage of development it is difficult or even impossible to make up for what has been neglected in the development of a child’s abilities.

According to an American psychologist, Maya Pines, millions of children suffer irreparable damages due to the fact that during their critical period … the development of their intelligence is not fostered adequately.

To ensure that our daughters have as many opportunities to develop mentally as our sons, we should encourage their mental development at an early age. Chess programs are an excellent way to do this because they combine mental development, with fun and cross-gender competition.

Through the additional exposure to opportunities girls will be exhilarated to strive harder in their intellectual quests. We, parents, have a responsibility to guide, nurture and inspire our daughters in their intellectual pursuits in spite of the voices of prejudice expressed by some members of our society.

“In the middle of a great storm the sailor of ancient times turned to Neptune: Oh God! If you wish, you can save me, or if you wish, you can destroy me. Whatever you decide, I will navigate my boat as it is needed.”
Michael Montaigne

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