"I recently returned from the Isle of Man International Tournament. I had a rather mediocre result with 5.5/9 (suffered from a bad cold throughout the tournament). Naturally I got no prize. Of course, before the tournament I knew that making any kind of prize would be very difficult when there were 25 grandmasters and only six *overall* prizes. However there were very large prizes for women only (equal to the third and fifth overall prizes), which is utterly discriminatory and unjust. As a result, a player Dronavalli Harika, also scoring 5.5 points, received £2000 (over $3200 - more than I have ever won in my life at once). Thus a player tying for 12th-22nd received a greater prize than any other player in the tournament aside from the overall winner, Nigel Short. To put this in perspective, Michael Adams and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, rated 2758 and 2757 respectively (around number 10-11 in the world) both received practically no prize and scored more points than her (6), as did numerous other strong grandmasters. Meanwhile this pales in comparison to the absurdity of the U.S. Women's Championship, where chess players who happen to be female get the opportunity to win more in one week than male players of similar - or higher - ratings win in an entire year. I doubt there is any field which practices sexual discrimination to a higher degree than professional chess. If you agree with me, please speak up and let organizers and officials know that this is wrong. Personally I avoid all tournaments that practice such discrimination - in this case, the prizes were altered after I agreed to play, and I only found out a week before the tournament when it was too late to cancel."
I can totally understand how someone might feel as the author does. There is no question about it: he is simply much more skilled than women who are making much more than him in prize money. The question is whether these types of prizes are really as bad as he says.
Before we begin it should be noted that the prize change that took place at the Isle of Man was not actually a change in the distribution of prizes, but simply a bonus prize added at the last minute that would go to a woman. This did nothing to affect the other prizes and therefore to the author, the prizes that he was eligible for remained identical to the original prizes he signed up for.
From my personal standpoint, I simply couldn't care less if women chess players were making exactly the same as male chess players. It would be great to have a better female:male ratio in chess, and any steps that help make it happen, I'm in favor of. However I am also not in a position where my prize money from chess tournaments has any affect on my general well being. The author may be playing chess professionally and may really depend on that money in order to live. To see others who are much less skilled than him making money that he could very much use, could be very frustrating.
What does it all boil down to? A few things:
1. Women are hugely underrepresented in chess tournaments
Less than 5% of all active chess players are women. This creates a cascading affect because it's not hard to imagine that women may be less interested in taking part in an activity that is so male-dominated. In fact I'd wager that it's a near certainty that many women have specifically stopped playing chess due to the atmosphere this discrepancy creates.
2. Women have suffered a history of oppression in chess:
Women have been historically discriminated against in chess. Just over one hundred years ago it was actually forbidden for women to play against men in many chess clubs. Just thirty years ago, Susan Polgar was not allowed to compete for the World Championship cycle that she qualified for, because she was a woman.
This is on top of all of the more subtle intimidation that women may feel at chess clubs and tournaments. For instance women at chess tournaments get a lot of unwanted attention from men, constantly have their games stared at more frequently and sometimes have to face angry men who cannot believe that they "lost to a woman", and afterwards behave in an inappropriate fashion. To demonstrate just how blatantly sexist the chess world is, women are forced to endure countless captions on ChessBase, the most popular chess news site online, that make sure to point out how pretty they are.
Here's a good one, within an article about an all-women chess tournament: "Ten beauties on the stage with their lot number on fans in the opening ceremony "
3. Being vocally against these prizes is going to specifically cost you lots of money.
The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center donates a gigantic amount of money to the U.S. Chess Championship every year. Does anyone in their right mind think they would continue to do so if they were told "Sure I appreciate the few hundred thousand dollars you donate to the overall U.S. Championship, but it's disgusting that you donate that extra $50,000 to the U.S. Women's Championship."
Do you know what's going to happen if everyone supports the author's view? You are going to have no sponsor, no money, nothing. Why is that? It's because sponsors who are generously giving out insane amounts of money are not going to want to take part in supporting a group of people who are specifically bothered that these sponsors are also giving away extra money to other people. Be grateful that they are donating an ungodly sum of money to you and your peers, instead of complaining that they are also donating a little more on the side to women.
4. There are scholarships, awards and prizes all over the world that go to specific races and genders of people
There are an unbelievable number of racially or gender-specific scholarships that have been made available. Either these scholarships would exist, or they would go to no one at all. This is just the same situation in the cases mentioned by the author. Either the women's prize would exist in the Isle of Man, or it won't go to anyone at all. You can either sit around and complain about it, or realize that it doesn't make any sense to care if someone else gets something that wasn't going to be available to you anyway.
To specifically focus on the "women's chess prizes" and act like this is somehow a novel concept, shows a complete lack of understanding as to how common such incentives are throughout the nation. Here are a few examples:
African American Scholarships
Scholarships for Women
Scholarships for Men
5. I know of a field or two that practices sexual discrimination to a higher degree than that of chess:
A - President of the United States
B - Priesthood
C - Almost every other job in the entire United States, as it's known that women get paid significantly less than their equally skilled male counterparts.
But man those women who play chess have it so good.
So yeah, I can imagine how it could be really annoying to see people who are less skilled than you receive something that you would like to have. And the author of the opening statement is not the only person I have heard talk like this. But right now less than 5% of tournament chess players are women, and there are understandably a few people who want to try and fix this. People want to fix this just like there are people who want to fix inequality in other fields, and therefore they create scholarships and funds to help minorities and women break into these fields and become successful.
This is not a new and interesting situation. Underrepresented classes have been given benefits in many fields and arenas. It's extreme to specifically take out your frustration on women getting a few extra dollars to play chess due to generous benefactors. If these prizes and tournaments were made illegal tomorrow, you would never see a penny from it, and it's a near certainty that the entire chess community would lose an enormous amount of funding and publicity. But on the bright side, at least someone else wouldn't get something!
Oh and also I didn't like this status update.
* - This article has been edited rather heavily from the original post. I'm told this is unprofessional, but on the other hand this blog isn't the New York Times.