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Sunday, December 18, 2011

FIDE Titles for Women

I’d like to talk a little bit about chess titles for men and women. There is a large, gaping disparity between them at the FIDE level, and I have never been a big fan of that. Chess is a single game, and it’s the same for everyone. Women play with the exact same number of pawns and pieces as a man does. Therefore, the ratings for titles should be the same for everyone. Or, should they?

For a male chess player, 2500 Elo marks grandmaster territory, and yet I just saw a WGM today in a ChessBase article who carries a 2214 rating. Really? 2200? Now, don’t get me wrong, here, reaching 2200 is a wonderful feat in chess, and an extremely low number of players ever get close to approaching it. However, 2200 marks the minimum level in which a male chess player can carry a master title, per USCF, and 2300 per FIDE. So, what gives? Do women become masters at 1900, then?

Let’s take Jennifer Shahade, for instance. She is an awesome woman and a great player who has done a ton for both the chess community in general and especially women in chess, and she’s a WGM. Her rating, as of this writing, is 2322. Again, please don’t misunderstand: 2300 is an extremely high rating. However, it isn’t a GM rating. It’s a low FM rating per FIDE, unless you happen to be female. Do you think that is fair? Do you think it’s degrading to women? Do you think it matters?

Jen’s FIDE card: http://ratings.fide.com/card.phtml?event=2011905

I would think such handicaps would be extremely degrading to a woman, especially in this day and age of equality. There are some actual female GMs, such as the Polgar sisters and Hou Yifan, China’s rising star. Hou is knocking on 2600’s door, which puts her in a far different league than the average WGM. She’s an actual GM, who worked her way up the classical FIDE ranks, just as any male has to.

So, do you think that it’s insulting that women get their own title categories, and yet are still able to achieve classic FIDE titles, should they earn them? Do you feel that all chess players, regardless of sex, age, race, or religion, should have to reach 2300 to become an FM, 2400 to become an IM, and 2500 to reach GM?

Chess is largely a male-dominated game, but there is no tangible reason for it; that’s just the way it is. There are many theories as to why, as a whole, women aren’t as good at the game as men are, but that’s neither here nor there: the fact is that we are all people, and we all have the exact same chances at a win because we are all playing the exact same game. I’m not known for being very politically correct, and I think that a title is a title; if you can’t earn the numbers, you don’t get to call yourself a master.

Let it be known, as well, that I do not feel that the women’s title system is unfair to men; quite the opposite, really. I feel that it’s extremely unfair to women. I could very possibly play tournament chess for ten more years and not earn a 2200 rating, which would only be a National Master here in the United States. That’s a neat title, but comparatively, it’s only master. GM is still worlds and worlds away. The fact that a woman can carry a 2200 rating and be a WGM is just silly. It cheapens the title.

It’s kind of like when the sheriff pins a plastic golden star on a child, making him an honorary deputy: that’s cool and all, for kids, but in reality it’s meaningless other than to encourage the youth and make him or her feel good. Is that what women’s FIDE titles are meant to do?

Now, I know some of you are reading this and seething, so I’ll offer the other side of the coin, here. USA does not, I repeat, does not, have specialized titles for women. Chess players are either Expert, or they are not; chess players are either Master, or they are not. However, the USA is a *free* country, meaning women have the exact same opportunities in life than men do. They are getting educated, they have choices, they have power. Hell, they can walk into a book store and pick up Silman’s “Reassess your Chess” if they like.

Not so in other countries, and that may affect things greatly.

In some countries, women are still thought of as chattel; they are nothing more than property, like a cow or a dog would be here in the U.S. Now, how can we expect a woman to come from an environment like that and soar to high chess heights? They can’t browse the Internet and watch lectures, they can’t hire a titled tutor, they can’t go down to Central Park and play a few casual games to brush up on their Sicilian Najdorf. They just can’t.

I have big respect and awe for a woman coming out of an oppressed country and playing chess successfully. It must be extremely hard for some of them to do so, and then to blast past 2200 FIDE on top of that is absolutely amazing. Are these particular women, the ones who earn a WGM title at 2200, justified in doing so? Are they the reason FIDE incorporated the title separations in the first place? Is that ever going to change?

You tell me.

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