Thursday, June 5, 2008

Smart Girls Chess

I was thinking about chess the other day. I have to give my father credit. In the early 1970's, he taught all three of his young daughters how to play chess. I still enjoy the game. When I recently unearthed the chess board, put away during the baby is going to choke on little things stage, all three of our kids were immediately fascinated. We now keep the board in open sight and it is put to good use frequently. Our boys (age 9 and 6) are already building strategies and our daughter (just turned 5) almost has all of the pieces/moves memorized after just a week. You can really see the wheels turning in their little heads when they are playing.

Our kids' elementary school has an after school chess club starting in the fourth grade. I hope there are some girls taking advantage of this activity. And I hope our daughter will too.

Growing up, I only had my father and my sisters to enjoy the game with. None of my girl friends played. Until I met my husband, I hadn't played a game of chess outside of my family. Now I must say my husband and I haven't played since "the chess incident" in the Houston airport several years ago. Let's just say we played, I was losing big time, he wouldn't let me quit, I got mad and I came back and won. I think our egos have settled down and we can play again soon.

I am sure there still may not be enough awareness for girls' chess. I don't ask my current girl friends if they play. If any of you do- please speak up! And I will start to ask. I did not know of any professional women players either. I am happy to say, once I started looking, I found some.

A great program was put together by Susan Polgar, who became the first ever woman Grandmaster of Chess. Her SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence) website has daily puzzles, a training guide and lots of good information for the girl chess player and her parents. I love her girls' chess camp. It is called Chess:It's a Girl Thing!

GoddessChess is another great website. They have links to essays that take on the "girls are too nice for chess" statements. Here is an excerpt from one:

From: "Chess - Are Girls too Nice to Excel in Chess?"
The Sale Lake City Tribune, February 2, 1997
by Shelby Lyman
It's an old scenario that continues to be replayed. As girls approach adolescence, they drop out of school chess programs in record numbers. They may keep an interest and later encourage their children to play, but they themselves shy away from chess activity and competition.
My guess is that the phenomenon has something to do with a special characteristic of the game. Chess is the only major sport where males and females encounter each other on equal terms -- where the usual advantage in size, weight and speed of the male is of no consequence.
Chess thus can be a unique head-to-head test of the intelligence, fighting spirit and endurance of the two genders. But it is not a test that many males past childhood relish or care to lose. Girls get the message -- often subliminal -- and too often back off from the confrontation with their male peers and friends.
The phenomenon reminds me of a study of college women in the 1940s who played dumb so their boyfriends (and future husbands) would be comfortable.
Women today are not as likely to downplay their intelligence, but there are still forces that discourage them from direct, aggressive competition with men. Nevertheless, they manage to compete with increasing success in many spheres. Chess remains a notable exception.
Although as a teen-ager I regretted the paucity of women on the chess scene, I was not unaware of the advantage it gave me. Half of my most talented and toughest potential adversaries had been effectively vanquished without my having to lift a finger at the chessboard.

I found out that many of the high school chess competitions award scholarships to the winners. So girls, dust off those chess boards and have some fun!

1 comment:

Susan said...

I was sure I commented on this. I must have been talking to myself.

There's a games club at my kids' school once a week at lunch during the bad weather months (when isn't it a bad weather month lately?). It started out as just chess, but now they have a bunch of different games. A mix of boys and girls go. There's also an outdoor chess set and a huge floor set in the library. I think it's mostly boys who play the big sets.

What I find sad is that most of the kids who go to the games club are the younger ones in the school. As they get older, it's no longer cool to play board games.