Mate check – women play worse against men
By Roger Dobson and Tom McTague
Published: 03 June 2007

The Independent

Women make up only 1 per cent of chess Grandmasters. Yet according to a new study their under-performance is not down to lack of ability, but an awareness that they are expected to do badly. Researchers have shown that when women are under the illusion their opponent is female, they performed as well as the men. However their performance dropped by 50 per cent when they were aware they were playing a man. The researchers said women face accusations of “inferior (‘girl’s’) play, but when they perform exceptionally well, their femininity is also often doubted”.

They say the findings also suggest that women tend to approach chess games more cautiously and with less self-confidence, which may explain their worldwide under-representation and under-performance. “Women seem disadvantaged not because they are lacking cognitive or spatial abilities” but because of their mental approach to tournaments.

But Susan Lalic, the first British-born woman in the UK to attain the International Master status believes that there are physical differences between men and women that help explain the performance gap. “Women just aren’t as obsessive about things in the same way as men,” citing her experience in schools where girls match boys up to the age of 11 before diversifying their interests.

…Houska offers an alternative to the nature versus nurture debate, as represented by Lalic and the Padova researchers. Houska argues that women’s under-performance is because it was “only very recently that women… began to play chess and it was only in the Eighties that women were allowed to play alongside men in competitions. It could be that we need simply more time and more role models to encourage young girls to take up the game competitively.”

Here is the full article.

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