Why is Chess Male Dominated

Why is Chess Male Dominated
Why is Chess Male Dominated


Have you ever wondered: Why is chess male dominated? Don’t worry you’re not the only one!

Males have dominated chess since it’s inception and ever since there have been rankings men have been on top. Today there are only 8 women in the top 500 FIDE ranking worldwide. With only 1 of them in the top 200 (Hou Yifan).

What’s the reason for this massive difference in results? Unlike traditional sports women should perform just as well as men because all you need to play chess is to use your mind and not your body.

Well, let’s take a look at some of the reasons for why women have not been as successful in chess.

Made by Men, for Men

History tells us that chess was invented back in the 7th century; it was clearly made to imitate how a battle between two equal armies would go. Back then combat and warfare were not only common but also the primary way for people and nations to resolve their disputes.

This means that Chess was a game invented by the men that engaged in warfare while women stayed home and in the cities were it was much safe, nowadays things are different but women still have different interests than men, and it shows in chess.

There are Way More Male Players

Expanding on our previous point, because men are more interested in playing chess when compared to women the total playing population of chess players is massively skewed towards males.

On average there are about 17 male chess players for every female chess player. And this impacts their performance at the top.

With more male players there is a higher chance that one of them can become a future chess prodigy that will go on a dominate chess for decades. Over time this has made it so the best chess players in the world are mostly men just like how in general most amateur chess players are also men.

Sex Differences in Intelligence

While most researchers now agree that there are no big differences between the sexes in regards to general intelligence, there are some small differences in more specific types of intelligence.

Some tests report that males on average perform better at visuospatial tasks while women do better at verbal fluency.

It’s possible that at the top of the chess ladder these small differences can lead to males performing better than females in general thanks to chess’s big focus on spatial awareness.

Another theory that could explain why men do better at chess: the variability hypothesis.

The variability hypothesis, also known as the greater male variability hypothesis, is the hypothesis that males generally display greater variability in traits than females do.

This means that according to this theory there are more male geniuses but also more male intellectually disabled. Which goes hand in hand with our previous point of there being more male players.

If there are more male players then there are going to be more geniuses among them and even if there are more disabled among the general population from an outside perspective if we just look at the top of the rankings it looks like men dominate chess.

There is a Cultural Factor at Play

While gender equality has seen massive improvements in the last decades, there are still places where cultural norms make it difficult for women to enter, chess is one of these as it’s a very male dominated space.

This makes it complicated and stressful for most women to just start playing chess, even if they love the game they could have a small seed of doubt in the back of their mind making playing the game not as fun.

This is a vicious cycle because if every woman genuinely believe that chess is something only men can excel at then that will translate into women not playing chess, it’s like a chicken or the egg situation but with chess.

Chess is a male dominated field

Even if there were absolutely no barriers to entry, for women to start playing chess. The fact that there are barely any women playing discourages most women from playing.

Think about it, if you wanted to start doing something and there were only people of another gender in that activity you might then take a step back and think: do I really want to do this?

For women there is the fact that male attention (both positive and negative) is going to happen no matter what, if every event has a 16 to 1 ratio of male to female, then you can forgive most women for wanting to try something else.

Open Tournaments are much more popular

As with most sports and activities in the world, people are much more interested in watching the best of the best playing against each other, so women chess players get less sponsorships and less viewers, which impacts the viability of chess as a career for women.

It’s already pretty hard to become a chess pro for anyone, but it’s much harder when most people only want to see the top 50 or so players in the world duke it out in the world stage.

Women-only tournaments might be nice to encourage more female players to play but they don’t do much for their popularity.

Who knows if in the future this will change, but open tournaments will always be more popular thanks to the best players playing there.

Geography is important

If you were to take a look at a list of the best female chess players in the world you might notice that most of them are from patriarchal countries were gender roles are more strict. Places like China, India and Eastern European countries produce a lot of great female players.

But even if these players are good enough to compete they might find it hard to keep playing chess for long if they are expected to become mothers and to take care of their parents like it is the case in India and China (which are both the most populous countries in the world).

Chess is a Competitive Activity that Appeals to Male Nature

Take a look at most shows, movies, and games primarily developed and marketed towards males they have something in common: conflict and domination.

It’s really common for men to enjoy stories and games were physical conflict is the main thing moving the story forward: a strong enemy, an invading force, most of the time there is a serious problem to be solved in these shows and if the heroes fails things will fall apart.

In the case of media for women the themes are more focused on interpersonal relationships, dramatic life events and internal struggles about their emotions and place in society.

This means that chess more closely aligns itself to being enjoyed by males than females, you can expect a woman that both enjoys and excels at chess to be more like your average man that your average woman.

Biology Plays a Role

While men only have to worry about beating their opponent by training and playing well on the day of the match, for women things can get tricky.

Even if the female chess players has no intention of ever having children, the fact of the matter is that female biology can be a detriment to a female chess player. Imagine the day of a final match the female player suffers from PMS and can’t perform on the board.

For a lot of women that suffer from these symptoms every month, competing like this is not an option nor something that appeals to them.

Lack of Female Role Models and Support

While for men, there are countless examples of world champions and number 1 players, for women the situation is different. For many young girls that might pursue chess it can be difficult for them to identify themselves as a professional chess player when there are almost no female players in the top ranks.

It’s been proven for quite a bit of time that role models are extremely important to motivate young children into becoming highly esteemed professionals, and this doesn’t only apply to girls playing chess, it can be for almost any pursuit where there are only one gender or race of people represented.


I think we covered most of the important points on why chess is such a male dominated game. There are multiple factors to why most professional chess players are male, with biological, psychological and cultural factors at play.

It can be difficult to pinpoint one specific point to why there is such a gender imbalance on this sport, but for us we think the biggest reason is the gender imbalances in the chess playing population.

All things being equal I believe that while everything else we covered on this article like: small sex differences between genders, societal expectations, cultural expectations and so on are important the number one factor that makes it so chess is a man’s game is the massive amount of males that play when compared to women.



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