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The Chess Gender Gap: 18 Reasons Why Chess Is So Male Dominated

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Statistics speak for themselves: Males dominate chess. But exactly how do they dominate, and why? We can see that fewer females play chess than males, but does that mean males are better than females? The answer for some is clear-cut, but it’s far more complicated than that. 

Males dominate the chess scene in rankings and population, but not because they are more intelligent. Instead, the influences that affect the imbalance in chess demographics can be attributed to biological, psychological, social, economic, and cultural factors. 

For many, the reason is simple. There’s a pervasive belief that males dominate chess because of intellectual superiority. However, men generally are more inclined to play the game, and other external factors affect this imbalance.

These are 18 valid reasons why chess is so male-dominated:

1. Men Designed Chess, For Men

Historically, chess was dominated by men because it represented a physical battle. It was invented when physical combat was commonplace in war-faring countries. Men would strategize and fight, while women stayed at home where it was safer. Nowadays, chess is an acceptable way of fighting an opponent because there is no bloodshed.

2. More Males Than Females Play Chess

Statistics show that males pursue chess longer than females. In other words, female numbers dwindle faster over time, making chess a male-dominated game. Many reasons can account for the female “dropout” in chess, and they will be discussed further. 

3. Dominance In Chess Can Mean More Than One Thing

While the numbers and statistics show male dominance in chess, “dominance” should be defined. It doesn’t necessarily mean “better” in this context. It just means there are more males playing chess than females. However, gender equality is causing a shift in the demographic ratios represented in chess.

4. Yes, Male Dominate Chess, But Not Because They’re Smarter

It is often perceived that males dominate chess because they are smarter. But that’s only because, on a bell curve, their measured scores are higher than that of females. But they’re also lower.

If you compare recorded chess scores on a bell curve, you will notice top male players as the extreme outliers on the bell curve. This is because chess’s more prominent male population gives a broader range of measured scores and longer tails on a bell curve. The more women play chess, the closer they will reach those extremes, whether high or low.

5. A Cycle Of Innate Beliefs Keeps Males Dominating Chess

From a psycho-social point, it can be argued that a cycle of innate beliefs causes male dominance in chess to exist. Some belief systems assume that men are intellectually superior to women while downplaying women’s intelligence. Many women prefer to not challenge this toxic outlook and don’t bother with chess. It’s then perceived as mental dullness, and the vicious cycle continues.

6. “Old Boys Networks” Limit Females’ Advancement In Chess

As with most areas where gender inequality is observed, a “glass ceiling” hinders the progress of the minority group. Since chess has been male-dominated for so long, many aspects are chauvinistic and even misogynistic. If women’s progress in an area is hindered, it will lead to an imbalance in gender representation.

7. Males Chess Players Get More Support At Advanced Levels

As with most sports, males are offered more lucrative sponsorships and support at a higher level. Chess and sports are mostly seen as male-dominated, and more men could potentially make a living from chess than women. Additionally, women might fall pregnant during sponsorship season, which is a deterrent for sponsors.

8. Matches Between Males Get More Coverage

Most tournaments are open to all genders and will be streamed for fans to watch. Women-only tournaments are designed to boost the female population in chess and create a more extensive fan base. But these tournaments are often set out differently to open championships and receive less attention than the male competition.

9. Geography Can Affect Male Dominance In Chess

Many great female chess players come from China, India, and Eastern European countries. Their chess journeys are fostered and well-supported to a point, but these female players fall out of competitive chess.

The reason for this is that many successful chess players come from countries that are typically patriarchal societies. These women are expected to get married and have children. Chess and children each require much personal time, and a female player usually gives up chess to rear her children.

10. Chess Appeals To Men’s Aggressive Nature

Chess is male-dominated because, symbolically, it’s an aggressive game. Men have higher testosterone levels, which fuels their aggression and need to dominate, no matter how subtle. Testosterone also increases competitiveness and self-esteem. Playing competitive games can boost or diminish a man’s testosterone levels, affecting his testosterone levels.

11. Stereotype Threat In Chess Affects Female Performance

Stereotype threat is when a minority group underperforms in a field because they know there’s a stereotype about their group. It sounds like a circular definition, but here’s an example to explain: 

Research has shown that chess players perform equally against an anonymous opponent. However, female players begin to play defensively when told their opponent is male. Their self-esteem and self-confidence lowered, and their performance worsened.

12. Gender Stereotypes Protect Male Dominance In Chess

Gender stereotypes continue to feed the belief that males are superior to females. It’s evident in religious constructs, the work environment, and the sports field, to name a handful. But, apart from the fact that stereotyping perpetuates itself, it also protects itself.

Susan Polgár, the Women’s World Champion from 1996 to 1999, had a peak rating of 2577 in 2005. Despite her success in chess, she facetiously noted that “She’d never beaten a healthy man.” They must have had a headache to be beaten by a woman.

13. Males Are Extremely Competitive

Males and females are both competitive in their own ways. However, chess is male-dominated, so it ups the competition stakes a bit more. They must keep the status quo of male domination but still be better than their male competitors. So, if they play against another man, they’ll want to beat him and be the best. If they’re playing against a woman, they’ll do the same.

14. Cultural Expectations Affect Gender Ratios In Chess

Males and females have different expectations depending on their cultural and religious backgrounds. With their childbearing abilities, women are expected to look after the family and home. This only allows a little time for chess. The imbalance changes with time, as men and women share home and family responsibilities more evenly. 

15. Males Enjoy Chess More Because It’s Systematic

From a mental point of view, chess appeals to men because it’s a closed system with set rules. The only variables in chess are your opponent’s moves, so it’s pretty predictable. Chess is a left-hemisphere, spatial problem-solving game; on average, men are left-brain dominant.

Conversely, women are more inclined to enjoy social activities that offer interaction and support. They are generally right-brain dominant and more intuitive. Chess doesn’t feed into most women’s verbal problem-solving and intuitive nature. This could explain why more men, and fewer women, enjoy chess.

16. Social Pressures Affect How Long Females Play Chess

Similar to cultural expectations, social pressures also affect how long females play chess. Some young female chess players might be too embarrassed to pursue the game because they’re already outnumbered. In addition, teenage girls might drop out because of their hormonal and body changes. 

Additionally, the world (both male and female counterparts) can be pretty hostile and sexist towards females who succeed in traditionally male-dominated roles. It’s no wonder why a large portion of women don’t pursue chess. They would instead use their time for more practical gains.

17. Female Chess Players Don’t Get As Much Support

By now, you can see that women are not very well supported in the world of chess. Female numbers start to drop at around 12 and 13 years. This decline is attributed to a lack of social networks for female chess players of that age. Some are told it’s not acceptable for girls to play chess. It could also be the lack of female tutors and role models for young female chess players.

Female chess players who stick it out to adulthood have less support than their male counterparts. Prizes are less valuable for female chess players, and sponsorships are scarce. It could be because companies don’t want to invest in someone who could fall pregnant mid-season. So, companies would invest their money in a male instead.

This leads to a vicious cycle where lack of support for females worsens the difference in numbers represented.

18. Men Can Dedicate More Time To A Career In Chess

Making a career from playing chess requires thousands of hours of dedicated study, practice, and play. Men have more opportunities to devote time and obsess over chess. Women who fall pregnant and don’t have a supportive childcare structure are unlikely to have that time on their hands. So potential female Grandmasters leave the organized competition, causing an imbalance.

All In All

Chess is dominated by males for cultural, social, and psychological reasons. The skewed statistics make people believe that men dominate chess because they are more intelligent. Male and female players are mentally equally endowed to play the game. However, social pressures and the lack of support for female players results in female players leaving organized competition earlier.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.