Polgar, Yifan speak on women in chess

American chess grandmaster Wesley So, 25 (left) congratulates India’s most recent grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 13, at the conclusion of the 2018 Leon Masters in Leon, Spain, last week. So and Praggnanandhaa played one semi-final match and So prevailed. Praggnanandhaa won the first game, but So won the match, and subsequently, the full tournament. So is the 7th highest rated chess player worldwide.

Of the over 1,600 chess grandmasters worldwide, just 36 are women. Why is this so? The answer is that fewer women are playing chess than men beginning from the most modest level.

The situation is the same in Guyana as it is in other countries, even though the identical opportunities exist for women when they are successful in tournaments.

Things are the way they are probably because women are not strong enough, or do not treat the game with as much seriousness as men, or they drift away at select times to pursue other endeavours.

China’s Hou Yifan, 24, (left) and Hungary’s Judit Polgar, 41, in a screen grab from the BBC programme, “The Conversation”. These two are the highest-rated and strongest women chess players. Yifan is active, while Polgar no longer plays professional chess. Polgar had reached a peak FIDE Elo rating of 2735 when she retired, a record still to be met. Yifan has reached 2658, the highest mark for an active woman chess player.

From the middle ages, chess was a popular social pastime for both men and women, although it was mainly for the upper classes. However, over time, chess became a male-dominated sport. For example, currently, Hou Yifan is the only woman chess player who is ranked among the world’s top 100 players.

Recently, she appeared with another illustrious woman player, Judit Polgar, on the BBC programme “The Conversation” to answer the perennial question: ‘Why don’t more women reach the position you have?’ Polgar related that she was homeschooled from the age of five to concentrate on chess only. Yifan emphasized hard work and a strong competitive spirit as determining factors.

Polgar defeated her first grandmaster at age 11. She attributed her successes, including her climb to the top ten of the world, to the attitude her parents imparted in her; that of playing against the toughest opposition. Early on in her professional chess career, Polgar ceased playing in women-only tournaments, preferring to compete in the men’s competitions.

Yifan discussed the matter of her disagreeing to play a game in Gibraltar in 2017, when she was paired with mostly women instead of prominent grandmasters.

British grandmaster Nigel Short’s views of women reaching the elite level in chess were also discussed during the interview. 

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