As It Happens

First female Grandmaster attacks idea that women aren't "hardwired" for chess

A male Grandmaster chess player says women aren't hardwired to play the game well ... the world's first female Grandmaster begs to differ.
The world's first female Grandmaster, Susan Polgar.

It takes brains to play chess... and even more brains to play the game well.

British Grandmaster Nigel Short feels that men are "hardwired" to play the game better than women.

Asked about his thoughts on the lack of women competing in chess, Short, 49, told New In Chess magazine: "Why should they function in the same way? I don't have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do.

"Likewise, she doesn't feel embarrassed in asking me to manoeuvre the car out of our narrow garage. One is not better than the other, we just have different skills.

"It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact."

His comments have been derided by female chess players, including the world's first female Grandmaster, Susan Polgar.

"It doesn't surprise me. He has been known to be making sexist and outrageous comments about women in chess for decades," Polgar tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "What has been disappointing over all these years is his colleagues just ignore him. I'm just disappointed there isn't more outrage form the chess community."

Just imagine if Nigel Short would say blacks don't have the brains to play chess; how crazy that would that sound.- Grandmaster Susan Polgar

​Polgar says she tries to ignore Nigel Short as well, but it's becoming more and more difficult with all the media attention his comments generate. 

She says there is sexism in the world of chess, but it has improved since her days breaking into the game decades ago. "As so often is the case, a small minority of loud-speaking people make a big noise."

But Polgar says the comments, and the demeaning attitude that underpins them, have a real impact. Young female chess players, who are already a minority, walk away from the game because they don't feel welcome, Polgar says. And many don't pick up the game in the first place because their parents teach them that chess is a cerebral game, and therefore better for boys. 

"It's a numbers game. If you have a lot of girls playing chess, then there'll be a lot more girls who are good at it," she says. "Just imagine if Nigel Short would say blacks don't have the brains to play chess; how crazy that would sound ... It has nothing to do with the race or gender. It has to do with the opportunities."

Both Susan Polgar and her sister Judit Polgar are world class chess players. In 1991, Judit Polgar became the youngest grandmaster ever at age 15, breaking Bobby Fischer's record. And both sisters have beaten Nigel Short. 

"I think he has something personal going on here," Susan Polgar says with a laugh. "He can not accept the fact that he is not doing that great against the Polgar sisters."