What Every Woman Shall Know About “Queen’s Gambit”: Why Women Are Less in Chess?

Don’t be fooled by the title; they are anything but less & it’s the science that says so.


In 2012, the greatest chess player in the world, Magnus Carlsen, plaid in one of the world’s biggest championships in Mexico City, the Mexican capital, against Judit Bolgar, the strongest female chess player we know. The game ended with a massive win for Bolgar with a smart strategy Carlsen was oblivious to.

Bolgar, whose name you probably have never heard before, won the eighth place among the chess tycoons in the world, and we are talking about a list headed by Kasparov, Anand, and Topalov. Despite this, this list included only two women in its history. Another fact was that Bulgar has played against Carlsen 11 times and only defeated him once.

Here, you might be wondering:

What causes women to lag behind men at chess?

The Series: The Ins & Outs

The series “Queen’s Gambit,” released recently on “Netflix” platform, tries to present this problem, but in a different world that may look like cereal in times. The plot is realistic in everything except its main narrative: from Beth’s struggles pursuing her critical & complex path, the Kentucky State League championships, to chess dominating the whole world when Beth plays Russian world champion “Vasily Borjov.”

In the last scene, specifically, we see people lining up at the door of the marvelous palace where the two giants are playing with a massive audience of loyal chess fans who were replicating every move, cheering the champions as if they were Justin Bieber of this world. The paradox in this paragraph can show you just how cereal writer was, and how shallow this world is.

For a while, you’d imagine that “Netflix” — with its choices for films— would have devoted the series to talk about the difficulties that Harmon faced on this bumpy road. With difficulties, we mean suffering mockery from men in a men-dominated game like chess; the game that represents an abstract image that is emotion-free, and its domination mental structure sends a lot of social messages. What you will find in contrast is an ideal world that can only be described as from-outer-space: no one despised Harmon for being a woman, the men she defeated on her way to heroism supported her — some of whom respected her intelligence and raised hats, some sincerely welcomed her as an unparalleled heroine, while some became a loyal friend.


Our Real World

In the real world, things do not seem like this. Let us, for example, consider the famous statement issued several years ago by one of the greatest chess players in Britain, Nigel Short, in which he said that:

“Men by nature are better at the game than women,” adding that: “Intelligence difference between Men and Women is natural, my wife asks me to help her drive the car!”

The statement sparked huge outrage in the chess community so that Bulgar herself tweeted that she had beaten Short in eight classic matches in exchange for three defeats and five draws.


In response to this statement, the British international professor, Sue Maroroa, said that this opinion is common among chess circles. When one of them makes a big mistake or a “blunder,” we immediately see a spread of many stereotypical phrases such as “a girls’ play” or “She did it because she is a girl.” Although men’s world championships happen to host the same blunders, it’s unlikely you will hear a phrase like:

“A boy’s play!” or “He did it because he is a boy!”

And realize that we use the word ‘girl’ when describing women’s attitude, but have you ever heard a man’s behavior being referred to as a ‘Boy’s act?

The Naked Truth

This is where the powerful message of the series “Queen’s Gambit” comes into play. It presents a case in which a woman succeeds in chess because she may not suffer from excessive stereotyping. Besides all her personal problems, she does not face intense pressure from males in the game. But let’s stop for a minute to wonder: could stereotyping be a major cause of a woman’s problem with chess or other areas that need mental skills?


A 2002 report funded by the National Science Foundation showed that the withdrawal of women from studying engineering is not primarily due to their ability to delve into this field. In reality, they perform in it just as well as men, but the main reason is their lack of confidence in themselves. The report adds that women’s confidence in their abilities to perform tasks in mathematics, science, and engineering extends in modern societies to what is deeper than that limit to include a state of general conviction they have. Almost every girl grows up thinking that, by nature, that she won’t perform well in those fields, or what we now refer to as STEM.

The Stereotype Threat

Science tells us that one of the main points to explain this problem is what we call a “stereotype threat,”; which means the tendency of a particular group of people to assert society’s idea of ​​them. For example, society views the girl as “not qualified” to play chess, which pushes her into tension and fear during her attempts to play chess, so she loses confidence in herself and actually fails. The thing that gives more support to the stereotype, and so we enter into a closed cycle.


And again, backed up by science, we can trace this idea back to the nineties of the last century, when Stephen Spencer, a professor of social psychology from Ohio State University, studied the impact of stereotype threat on students of the same school level. When Spencer told a group of women that this test was meant to prove that they can do in mathematics as well as their male counterparts, women achieved low results. When another group of women was told that it was a normal test, they scored equal to their male counterparts.

The Competition Fuse

To emphasize the above idea, even more, women fail to a greater degree in competition cases against men, while they succeed more when there is no competition. Let us consider this simple case where two separate groups of women and men were exposed to a simple test: a set of maze puzzles, and with each maze, the contestant will get extra money. In these experiments, the results were similar between the women’s and men’s teams when no competition against each other existed, but when women participating in the experiments entered a joint “tournament” against men, the men’s group scored success with a more pronounced difference in all competition cases.


Over several decades and hundreds of different experiments, studies indicated that the effect of “stereotype threat” on groups that carry a negative stereotype about themselves (women in particular) was clear and directly proportional whenever we define the scope for this test. Starting with the paid maze competitions, stepping into mathematics, and ending in chess. In one of the experiments where there was a hidden competitor, a group of chess players was told that this competitor was a male, and another group was told that it was a girl. With. no surprise now, the group who was told that the competitor was a girl got higher grades, although it is the same person!

Beth Harmon’s Utopia

When girls confirm their society’s image of them because of the threat of stereotype, other girls notice this and thus avoid this scope, which raises the value of fear of participating in the world of chess. This is very clear: if, for instance, we take a study that examined the difference between the number of chess players officially registered in Germany in 2007, you’ll find that out of 120,000 players, there were only 11,000 women (9.2%). In India, Wei J, a chess player and professor of psychology and neurology at New York University, pulled a study on the number of players Officially registered with ratings higher than 2000. Her. results showed that there were about 18,000 players, of whom only about 1,000 were women (5.6%).


Now, let’s give a simple example to illustrate the effect of the difference in numbers between men & women on the outcome:

Suppose we have two groups of people, in the first group there are 36 people, and in the second group there are only two people. We will start the process of randomizing numbers from 1 to 100 on The two groups, then calculate the average, and repeat the ball in successive times, to be five times.

Which of the two groups do you think will have a higher average?

Of course, the first group! Because their statistical chances are higher than the second group, so the odds of them getting higher numbers are great. In fact, these are the findings of the German study that we talked about a while ago, on the fact that the poor representation of women in the world of chess gives men greater statistical opportunities to excel, which in turn increases the impact of threatening stereotypes. Back to the cycle, we mentioned above.

Men’s Superiority Myth

Until now, there is no enough scientific evidence of a man’s mental superiority over women, and the current scientific consensus indicates that, on average, there are no differences between men and women in intelligence or “executive mental functions.”

This convention means a mechanism for controlling processes: fundamental cognition, including our abilities to plan, solve problems, prioritize, focus our attention on a specific thing, or perform multiple tasks. This indicates that the threat of stereotype could be a major cause, or at least one of the main reasons, in women’s problem with chess, and, by extension, science, and engineering, because the image is almost the same.


Your & my Takeaways

For all the above, researchers in this regard suggest that reducing the threat of the stereotype may help many women enter the world of chess and compete in it with confidence, especially as we see a clear link between women’s performance in activities such as chess, science, mathematics, and engineering, with the political and economic conditions of women in the same countries. In other words, in countries where women have occupied important research or political positions, women’s turnout in these areas was greater, and they were more successful.

The case of Beth Harmon, then, is the dream of every woman who loves higher mentally challenging problems, but she is terrified to break the idea that she is doomed to be a failure — just because she is a ‘girl,’ so she avoids entering a world that she loved since her childhood for one reason or another. Despite all the “Queen’s Gambit” heroine’s suffering, especially with the addiction to sedatives and alcohol, she was at least trying to overcome problems that can be overcome with effort and patience with a male-domination-free society.

While in life, the problem of a society that treats you as “stupid” or “it is better to go to the kitchen,” which is a common expression in certain cultures, undoubtedly constitutes additional pressure to a lot of women.

If this series has succeeded in delivering one thing, and one thing only, that thing to me is what a woman’s world would look like if we were all equal; if we were judged by what’s inside, rather than what’s outside — which is the basic message of any racial, diversity-based, rights supporting movement ever existed.

One thought I would leave you with is just to google this: First compiler.

Courtesy of the Computer History Museum

The credit of this article goes to Shadi abdelhafiz, who did an intensive report in Arabic about the above topics.

Status quo Antagonist | Diversity Sourcer | 20+ Cities Traveler | Published in TheStartup, The Ascent & DDI | Palestinian🇵🇸 | Let’s chat: http://bit.ly/LNKDMD

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