Chess - Play & Learn


FREE - In Google Play

FREE - in Win Phone Store

Cold War and Women's Chess

Cold War and Women's Chess

Nov 22, 2009, 9:22 PM 4

Cold War Era Chess Tactics

Away from the Board

by Jim Fox, Ph.D.



Some Terms: 


FIDE was founded in Paris on 20 July 1924. The World Chess Federation (Federation Internationale des Echecs, known as FIDE from its French acronym) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (FIDE Report/Handbook).


Elo rating:  Dr. Arpad Elo came up with an elegant system of assessing a players’ performance and assigned a point values to them.  These points were also a probability level - the probability (or chance) a lower-rated player had of beating a higher-rated player.  Many players think Elo is an acronym.  It is not.  It is the name of the statistician/mathematician who helped form the USCF (see below).  Until 1980, Dr. Elo calculated all the FIDE ratings by hand or by using one of the early Hewlett-Packard calculators.


USCF:  United States Chess Federation.  Recognized by FIDE as the group that officially represents chess in the US.  Founded in 1939 with the merger of the American Chess Federation and the National Chess Federation to promote chess, the USCF has grown to more than 80,000 members and more than 2,000 affiliated chess clubs and organizations today (info from the USCF).  Dr. Elo helped oversee the merger.


The following is from Susan Polgar’s website at with comments by me.  Her comments appear in blue and mine in black.


In November, 1986 (some 23 years ago) FIDE was greatly pressured by the Soviet Bear and decided to illegally grant 100 bonus Elo rating points to all active female players except Susan, knocking her out of the top spot in the January, 1987 ratings list


Here was the “official” rationale:  Susan Polgar had earned her rating primarily playing against men, whereas other female chess players had deflated ratings from playing in women-only tournaments. There was no statistical evidence supporting this decision. No similar interference with ratings has occurred since.


The rationale does not hold any water.  Many studies have been performed and the conclusion has been that there is no difference in IQ between men and women (). 


In January 1991 (5 years later and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification) Polgar broke the gender barrier again by becoming the first woman to earn the men’s Grandmaster title by achieving three GM norms and rating greater than 2500. (Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze had earlier been awarded the title by virtue of being Women's World Champions). Susan’s younger sister Judit earned the title of Grandmaster later in December 1991.


Subsequently, FIDE did not add or subtract points, but created a women’s championship and lowered the ratings by 100 points and created new Master level designation for women only.

Orange type is attributed to Wikipedia: 




Woman FIDE Master (WFM)

WFM is a chess title awarded by FIDE. Restricted to women players, it is the lowest-ranking of the three women's titles awarded by FIDE. The requirements for the WFM title are easier than those for the lowest-ranking unrestricted title, FIDE Master (FM).  FM, or FIDE master can be awarded to men and women.

The October 2009 FIDE rating list records 995 women holding the WFM title.  995!  What a large number!  Only 20 of those are GM’s which, of course, can be earned by men and women.


Woman International Master (WIM)

WIM is a chess title awarded by FIDE. Restricted to women players, FIDE first awarded the WIM title (formerly called International Woman Master, or IWM) in 1950.  It ranks below the Woman Grandmaster (WGM) title and above that of Woman FIDE Master (WFM).

The WIM title has lower requirements than the FIDE Master title - which is award to both genders. The October 2009 FIDE rating list records nearly 568 women holding the WIM title.


Woman Grandmaster (WGM)

WGM is the highest-ranking chess title restricted to women aside from Women’s World Champion (and it is debated whether a world champion is a title or a designation).  FIDE introduced the WGM title in 1977, joining the previously introduced lower-ranking title Woman International Master (WIM).


The WGM title represents a level of chess skill significantly lower than that of the Grandmaster (GM) title, and in fact WGM requirements are a little bit lower than the requirements for the International Master (IM) title as well. The winner of the World Girls Junior Championship is automatically awarded the WGM title. 

Many strong female players hold the IM title in addition to the WGM, and since about 2000 the top 10 women players have been mostly GMs.  (The winner of the Women’s World Championship is automatically awarded the full GM title if she does not already hold it.) The October 2009 FIDE rating list records 243 women holding only the WGM title and an additional 20 who are full GMs.


Now if women’s IQs (a measurement of intelligence) are the same as men’s, why is it so much easier for women to gain the titles?  In fact, the question can, and should, be asked, why are men and women given different tournaments and different requirements?


The pieces do not know what gender is moving them around the board.  This is not a sport like swimming or boxing where gender WOULD make a big difference.  It is an intellectual sport.


I am speculating FIDE, after World War II, wanted to encourage young women to play and made titles easier to attain to keep their interest.  And the Soviet Union threw its weight around, punishing, at the time, only Polgar with a nonsensical reason.


If I were female, I would be pissed.  What FIDE is saying is that women are not as smart as men.  That would make me mad.  I would only take and/or publicize the non-gender specific titles.  I am not a woman.  I am a Chessmetrician. And I am working on being a better player.


But it feels to me like FIDE, the USCF and other chess federations are taking women down a path of no return.  Are they suggesting that women are too stupid to play at the same level as men?  The only way this will change is if women stand up against it.  Refuse to use women’s titles and make your case to FIDE.


Or someone will write a book, The Complete Book on Chess for Dummies and Women.  Has FIDE set women back?  Yes, in my opinion.  Next FIDE will try to get the world to take away the vote from women on the ridiculous grounds that they do not have the brain power of men.

Online Now