Chess as a Means for Female Empowerment

A. GM Susan Polgar B. GM Hou Yifan C. WGM Jennifer Shahade D. GM Anna Muzychuk E. GM Judit Polgar F. WGM Soumya Swaminathan G. WGM Irina Krush H. GM Alexandra Kosteniuk I. WGM Natalia Pogonina I encourage my readers to look each of these women up in turn, and esteem them for their wonderful and impressive chess accomplishments.

When it comes to evaluating women seldom are we valued for our brain power but overwhelmingly on our physical attributes or lack thereof. Honestly, just “googling” women chess players garnered the following:

Cleavage?! Hottest Female Chess Players?! Trust me when I say that Google doesn’t offer up these options when searching Male Chess Players!

Admittedly, as long as there are men in this world it will be an uphill struggle for women to be viewed independent of our sexuality. There remains a number of misconceptions about women and our ability to perform well in the game of chess. Jen Shahade has been a vocal advocate on behalf of women in chess. I respect her greatly. Her books, Chess Bitch: Women In The Ultimate Intellectual Sport and Play Like a Girl!: Tactics by 9Queens are highly recommended.

Recently, Ms. Shahade posted a video to YouTube entitled: Women Talk Chess: Beating the Boys. It’s intended as a female empowering presentation but still managed to generate opposition from at least one male viewer. I don’t intend to cover the same ground in this blog as I feel I adequately redressed his arguments in the comments section below the video. You can find the video imbedded immediately below:

Please take the time to view it. I think it’s an informative and motivating presentation.

Since Chess is such an intellectual pursuit, it affords girls and women the rare opportunity to compete with males on a level playing field. Nonetheless, there remains too much ingrained prejudice against women when it comes to intellectual challenges. Therefore females have to overcome any number of outdated perceptions born of ignorance and false assumptions.

We live in an age of real opportunity. In my country of Canada, FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) the world governing body of chess recognizes only 21 women! Of that number, only 5 are listed as Expert level or above (Expert being a player with a rating of 2000). In the USA, only 67 women are represented. Of that number only 29 players are recognized as being at Expert or better level.

Comparatively, In Canada’s men’s rankings, 100 males are listed (there are more playing) and none of them has a rating lower than 2100. In the United States, 99 males are listed with none having a rating less than 2300! (2200 being the equivalent of a Master).

You can see the FIDE rankings for your respective country including ratings for men and women at the following address:

Now before some guy goes off half-cocked (there’s a joke there somewhere) claiming men are better at chess than women—let me simply state that such disparities are due solely to the numbers of males playing chess versus the number of women playing. And really, that’s a big part of my motivation in writing this particular blog entry—to encourage more women and girls to take up the game.

I don’t think it’s so much about inspiring them to play chess as it is inspiring them to overcome emotional and social conditioning that perhaps prevents some girls from being able to be comfortable walking into a room full of 300 or 400 mostly males and sitting down and playing chess. Once you learn how to get over it you can be successful in many other areas of life.

USCF President, Ruth Haring

Source: Women Talk Chess: Beating the Boys

On a personal note, I was recently accepted for membership in a number of female-only chess teams at As a self-identified transwoman I am not only thankful but humbled to receive admission to these groups. They are, in no particular order: Global Women, Chess Mistresses, The Queens of Chess, and Biker Angels. These are great groups insomuch as they offer girls and women interested in learning chess a ready-made community composed of players representing all abilities. They create a safe and encouraging environment with which you can begin to learn the ins and outs of the game.

And finally, I’d like to include a game I recently played against a brilliant 13 year-old Somali girl named Mareehan. She’s an amazing individual blessed with a razor sharp mind and a winning personality. In the game below I (as white) attempted to play a closed version of the Sicilian Defense which Mareehan initiated with her opening C5 response. She saw through my every ploy and quickly seized control of the board’s center. Mareehan made me pay the price for vacating the center and dispatched me in a quick 26 moves! After submitting my 27th move I resigned recognizing my situation on the board as hopelessly lost.

The future of chess belongs to young women such as Mareehan. I fully believe her capable of reaching Master status within the next few years. I once had occasion to play Canadian National Master, Howard Wu when he was about Marheen’s age. She is blessed with the same tactical brilliance Wu possesses.

All the best, Mareehan from your friend, Rachel 🙂

Rachel Mareehan

1.e4 c5
2.Nc3 e5
3.Nf3 d6
4.Bc4 Nf6
5.O-O a6
6.a4 Be7
7.Re1 O-O
8.b3 Nc6
9.Nd5 Na5
10.Nxe7+ Qxe7
11.Bd3 Bg4
12.h3 Bh5
13.g4 Bg6
14.Re3 h6
15.Nh2 d5
16.exd5 Nxd5
17.Rg3 Bxd3
18.Rxd3 Nf4
19.Rg3 Nc6
20.d3 Nd4
21.Bxf4 exf4
22.Rg2 Ne2+
23.Kh1 Rfe8
24.Nf3 Qf6
25.Rh2 Nc3
26.Qf1 Re2


Filed under Chess

2 responses to “Chess as a Means for Female Empowerment

  1. There’s also sadly a racial disparity in the demographics of chess players. I feel like both the disparities are related to the stigma of chess as a “nerdy” and “boy’s” thing to do.

    It’s quite disappointing since as you said, chess is a great equalizer

    • Hi there 🙂

      First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to post your thoughts here. Race is indeed an issue especially as it pertains to people of African heritage. Clearly, Asia and India are not lacking with regards to chess.

      The good news in an otherwise bleak picture is the fields are ripe for reaping. Women and those of African heritage have a great opportunity available to them. They can really make their mark in a sport/activity that has not been over-saturated.

      Let’s hope people take advantage of this wonderful window of opportunity.

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