This article written by Chess at Three co-founder Tyler Schwartz first appeared on lichess.org.
Practical Strategies for Closing the Gender Gap in Chess
To understand the benefits of playing chess, think of chess as a mental gym. When you play chess, you engage your brain in critical and demanding ways. Your brain is constantly developing to adapt to this more mentally intense environnment. Thus when you repeatedly play chess you get, well… smarter. Memory, critical thinking, calculation, mental dexterity and executive function in early childhood are just some of the wonderful benefits of playing the game of kings.
As long as chess has been chess, chess has been mainly played by men. The question of the “Gender Gap” in chess was recently discussed in the New York Times:
“It is one of the vexing questions in chess: Why, in a sport where physical differences do not matter, are boys and men so much more prominent than their female counterparts, despite efforts to attract more girls and women?” John Leland, New York Times, “4 Young Chess Masters Tackle a Persistent Problem: The Gender Gap.”
The article later goes on to tell the stories of amazing women who have accomplished impressive feats in chess. But as amazing as these women are and as lucky as the (chess) world is to have them, their presence in chess feels like an exception.
My daughter turned 1 yesterday. For a present I gave her a plastic chess set, with the felt and glue scraped off the bottom of the pieces, so my daughter could safely chew on them. I want her to grow up around a different chess culture where female presence in chess isn’t the exception. How do we turn the tide?
Let’s start with some data from people who care about making money off children by selling toys to them. In 2011 a blogger named Crystal Smith did an audit of words used in children’s toy commercials. Were there significant differences between common words on boy’s toys, and girls toy’s? For girls toys there are 3 popular words that are consistently used to get girls excited to buy their product: friendship, fun and magic. For boys, there’s one word that is most popular by far: battle.
Before we go any further I’d like to posit an opinion and change the question: How do I get my Daughter to love Chess? Author’s Opinion: I’ve taught 1,000’s of children over the past 8 years, from ages 2-18. In general I’ve found boys to be more competitive than their female counterparts. With that said, the most competitive student I’ve ever had was a girl who would snarl when she lost; I was and still am mildly afraid of her. Not all boys are competitive, not all girls aren’t.