All-Girls Tournaments: The Solution to Gender Issues in Chess?

I have never taken part in an all-girls chess tournament, but I have always wanted to go to one. I only discovered the All-Girls Nationals my last year of being a scholastic player, but I could not make it. I knew in my heart I’d never get the opportunity to play in an all-girls tournament, but I realized I could live vicariously through all the girls I met at those tournaments.

This weekend, I got that opportunity by going to the First New York State Girls Team and Individual Chess Championships, which was held at The Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. 200 or so girls had the chance to experience what I never did, and I was proud of that. It meant that these girls were making friendships and growing as chess players. There was a friendliness that seemed to override the feeling of competition. At many chess tournaments, there is the tension of impending battles over the board, but what I observed in the atmosphere this weekend was more of a camaraderie.

For some, this tournament was not only the first all-girls tournament, but their first ever tournament. There were prizes specially for unrated players. The general sections were:

K-12 Championship
K-12 Under 1200
K-6 Championship
K-6 Under 900
K-3 Championship
K-3 Under 600
K-1 Championship

Amy Sun, the top seed for the K-6 Elementary Championships, used this in preparation of future tournaments. This was her “first all-girls tournament but she wanted some extra preparation for the All-Girls Nationals,” said her parents. They claimed she had no preference between the ordinary tournaments and an all girls one, however. In fact, Erica Li, tenth place in the K-12 Championship, and Juliette Shang, ninth place in the K-12 Championship, told me that they also saw no difference between the mixed and the all-girls ones. WFM Carissa Yip commented to me personally (she was not at the tournament but had some good thoughts to provide me) that although all-girls tournaments definitely do encourage more girls to play chess, she also didn’t see much difference.

 

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WFM Carissa Yip at the US Amateur Team East 2017 | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun.

I feel that there may not be much of a difference to the more experienced kids, but the girls just starting out in scholastic chess may benefit from all-girls tournaments the most. After talking to excited kids and parents alike, I decided that at the very least, girls could go to these sorts of tournaments and think that there are other girls just like them who play chess and also think it’s a cool game. It is really obvious in every Goichberg tournament that there is a huge gender disparity, and girls can feel less alone as they understand that there is a community for them.

The one big side event the tournament boasted was GM Irina Krush’s lecture. As a former US Women’s Champion, Irina was a perfect choice to inspire the girls. Of the tournament, she said that she liked this one in particular because “it just gets 200 girls together and makes it easier for them to make friends.“

 

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GM Irina Krush | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun
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Irina signing items for the host school | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun
It was clear that underlying the competition was the USCF pushing their initiative to support these female future champions. Right when you walked in, there were flyers for the All-Girls National tournament. There was the US Chess banner for the USCF Women’s Committee, which I had seen at several other tournaments. Surveys were conducted by Kimberly McVay, a member of the USCF Women’s Committee, asking various questions about female involvement in chess. The USCF is currently collecting data in order to understand what exactly they should target in terms of improving conditions for females in chess. Ideally, the USCF’s big goal would be for females to make up 50% of the player population. Currently, they are miles away from their mark, which is evident in every tournament we all compete in.

An interesting new change to the USCF website, though, was the addition of more top 100 lists. This was received rather positively by a woman on the Top 100 list for Women Over 50, Maret Thorpe- so much so that she wrote an article on this very topicI was also personally thrilled to see myself on these lists and found it encouraging to want to move up in my personal rankings.

A possible idea proposed by the K-12 Champion of the tournament, Sophie Morris-Suzuki, was that there could be more camps or programs for just girls. Citing Chess Girls DC and Chess Girls NY as examples, Sophie feels that although there are a few camps/programs that are all-girls, they are often for beginners or younger kids. One such example is the United States Chess School , which holds invitational chess camps for the most promising young players in the United States and has held all-girls camps before. She, and I feel that many older players may feel the same, desires more camps for older players. It would certainly help encourage continual involvement in chess beyond the middle school years. She also suggests that there be an increase in women’s tournaments because too much of the gender equality efforts are focused on young girls.


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 Sophie Morris-Suzuki

K-12 Champion

Photo credits: Vanessa Sun


It is clear that there is no one solution, but it cannot be denied that the chess community has been failing to actively support female chess players adequately for a long time. Girls and women still face many obstacles in achieving more recognition and success in chess. With these tournaments and new changes, we seem to be improving every day and every year. I myself had the opportunity to connect with both parents and some scholastic players because of this past weekend. Girls tournaments such as the First NYS All-Girls Championship provide a weekend of fun for the female chess players and is no doubt quite the place to feel empowered, supported, encouraged, and to make friendships.


 

Standings from the First NYS All-Girls Team and Individual Championships:

Individual:

K-1 Championship                Stephanie Weinberg won Clear First

K-3 Under 600                     Lia Skarabot and Chloe Stark each won all 5 games; Lia won the speed playoff for First over Chloe


K-3 Championship               Lilian Wang won on (secondary)  tiebreaks over Maya Figelman

K-6 Under 900                     Ella Mettke won Clear First

K-6 Championship               Julia Miyasaka won Clear First (6-0)   

 K-12 Under 1200                 Larisa Bresken Won Clear First

K-12 Championship              Sophie Morris-Suzuki won Clear First

 

Teams:

K-1 Championship: Lower Lab School PS 77

K-3 Under 600: Chelsea Prep PS 33

K-3 Championship: Chelsea Prep PS 33

K-6 Under 900:

K-6 Championship: The Dalton School

K-12 Under 1200: East Side Community High School

K-12 Championship: IS 318

You can see the full results at:

www.chessgirls.win

IS 318 won top team in the K-12 Championship section | Photo credits: Alex Ostrovsky

This tournament was made possible because of contributors, The Hewitt School, the New York State Chess association,  Little House of Chess, and The Chess Center of New York.

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