The World Chess Foundation Bars Transgender Women in Competitions

The World Chess Foundation has ruled that transgender women cannot compete in its competitions for women. The decision  by FIDE, the Switzerland-based federation, is perplexing and disturbing. FIDE is setting a two-year period for review. Frankly, I do not understand why there are male and female competitions in chess where relative strength is not an issue. Yet, even assuming that there is some reason to have separate competitions, the ban on transgender women seems entirely gratuitous and wrong.

FIDE said ”[t]wo years is a scope of sight that seemed reasonable for the thorough analyses of such developments. It is to set a certain deadline for a new reiteration of these policies, without rushing it.”  In the interim, ”[i]n the event that the gender was changed from a male to a female the player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women until further FIDE’s decision is made.”

There was recently a bizarre case involving a man who wore a burka to compete in the women’s competition in Kenya.

The common rationale for separate competitions is marketing and development:

“[S]eparate tournaments for girls and women don’t mean that girls and women are more or less capable than boys and men at chess. However, there may be less interest in chess among girls and women compared to boys and men. Based on 2019 statistics, 14.6% of US Chess members are female, and that is a new, record-high percentage. Thus logically, and in reality, a smaller base of females means fewer women than men at the top of the chess rating list, as one study found. Offering occasional female-only tournaments may make chess more attractive to girls and women, for the financial, social, and publicity reasons mentioned above.”

Yet, since chess is an intellectual contest, it is hard to see why gender should have any role in competitions.  Even though there are fewer female chess players, there are still many who can compete at the highest level. There are thousands of women competing and capable of succeeding on the highest levels. Those women can be used as role models and promoted by the federation. That would seem preferable to a segregation of players by gender.

Even if one accepts the marketing and development rationale, it is hard to imagine why transgender women should be barred from women’s competitions on that basis.

74 thoughts on “The World Chess Foundation Bars Transgender Women in Competitions”

  1. The interesting thing is that if you have a trans-male (Man pretending to be a woman) playing against other men, the tranny is at no disadvantage.
    If you have a trans-female (Woman pretending to be a man) playing against other women, again, there is no disadvantage.

    As someone posted … its being able to identify role models hence the separation of the sexes in tournaments… no one would lose by keeping the sexes separate.


  2. Professor Turley screwed up this opinion royally. It is an “either or” question, with no gray middle ground. Either individuals compete with others of the same sex (Title IX), or with whomever. You can’t say it is okay in chess but not okay in other events. One must be consistent. Martina Navratilova said it best; boys’/men’s group (XY), girl’s/women’s group (XX), and an open group.

  3. “Frankly, I do not understand why there are male and female competitions in chess where relative strength is not an issue.”

    Correct, professor, physical characteristics of the players is irrelevant in the ‘sport’ of chess. I don’t think the ban, even if only temporary, on transgenders has anything to do with physical strength, however. For many, including myself, it’s about being role models for younger players. It’s about kids looking at players they closely identify with – girls tend to admire other girls who play, and play well. Boys are the same. To demand that girls ‘admire’ a boy who wants everyone around him to forcibly celebrate pretending to be a girl just so he can play chess against them and not ‘his own kind’ while he plays chess is the highest form of narcissism – nothing more. I don’t believe for a moment that little girls dream they’ll become master chess players by chemically and physically altering their bodies to look like deformed boys. Want to update the playing field? Then let the trans play against one another and let the so-called ‘normals’ play without the added unnecessary distractions.

  4. Have to disagree with Jonathan on this one. They have male and female tournaments. A trans man is still a man, I don’t care what the thinks he is. No man alive has ever become a female and should only compete against other men, period.

  5. Turley– “Yet, since chess is an intellectual contest, it is hard to see why gender should have any role in competitions”

    That assumes that men and women have identical mental universes. They do not. We are shaped for different roles. If women had minds identical to those of men I doubt that our species would last very long. We need both. But it should be no surprise that there are different strengths in different areas. Chess is a bit like math. How many women have won the Fields Medal in mathematics? More importantly, how many women even want to? Our differences also influence our choices. I have no desire, for example, to go to a theater to watch “Barbie” but for some puzzling reason others do.

  6. Maybe people have had enough of the madness of having biological men compete in women’s physical sports and want to make a clean break in all competition. There is some reckoning coming.

    But I wonder what the women chess players think? Do they care one way or the other who or what they are playing against? Maybe best to leave the issue up to them rather than default the question to bureaucrats of any stripe who generally make poor, tortured decisions on these issues. No long rationale required; a simple “Okay with me” or a “I don’t want to” should end it. It’s their game.

  7. The problem stems from the principle of political congruence (“=”) and Pro-Choice religious dogma. This controversy is a legacy of Democratic codification of marriage to be arbitrarily restricted to couples and couplets, diversity (e.g. racism, sexism, ageism, elitism). #HateLovesAbortion

  8. …well…it’s a start! Maybe it will give other competitions the guts to stand up for women!

  9. I would like to “dumb this down” a bit by adding my particular hobby to the issue, billiards or pool. 8 ball, 9 ball, 10 ball, straight pool and one pocket are all games that don’t require strength and yet all of the top players are men. Don’t get me wrong, there are truly great women, females that can walk into any pool hall and crush the very best local players all over the country, but as for beating the top men it is virtually impossible. I have gone to shows where top female players put on an exhibition and then play the local best players as part of the show…and they trounce the guys. It is always fun, but it is not indicative of the fact that these same women cannot win an open tournament against the nest men.

    The reason for the above has nothing to do with strength, it is all about the fact that there are so many more males that play pool and it skews the dynamic the same way it does for chess. Maybe it has something to do with “math brains” as some other people are saying with regard to chess because there is a math aspect to pool and this could be a factor as well. When I was about 60 I played a 14year old Asian girl and I lost to her, but she went on to compete nationally and I believe she became a young national champion. Even at 14 I knew that she was seeing some things that me and my “right brain” just couldn’t quite see.

    In case anyone is curious, I did not go on to become a champion, but the game is my hobby and it is something I can enjoy at 70 years of age. My father even played every day until he was 90. So enjoy the game, chess or pool or whatever, and just make sure you don’t take away the fun for girls and women by making them compete against men at a top level. Or at any level when power is a factor.

  10. Yet, even assuming that there is some reason to have separate competitions, the ban on transgender women seems entirely gratuitous and wrong.

    Inclusion of transgender women is what would be entirely gratuitous and wrong.

      1. Tom, probably anyone opposed to the transgender movement. Until a cup of coffee ago, competitions that were exclusively men or women were non-controversial. But now, with our culture being transformed by force, more and more stories like this one will demonstrate this country can be pushed only so far.

        1. The burning question i keep coming back to is…

          If a person doesnt need a vagina to be a woman, what is the point in “gender affirming surgery”? After all, don’t we tell young people to be happy as they are?

          Tuck swimsuits?? Why would you hide your penis? That doesnt make u a man, after all. One should be proud to be a woman with a d!ck. In fact, it sounds like the best of both worlds.

  11. A man identifying as a woman is still a man just like a man identifying as anything else he is not, a child, a dog, a tree, is still a man. This is a serious issue in that there are attempts to force people to accept the transgender lie.

    Rather than argue that a transgender ban is irrational because it doesn’t matter if women intellectually compete against men (transgender women), you should applaud the chess organization’s unwillingness to accept a lie. As long as chess is segregated by gender, a man suffering from the delusion that he is a woman should not be able to force his way into women’s competitions.

  12. According to as I write, the #1 rated woman in the world is Huo Yifan with a rating of 2628. That ties her for 123rd in the world–so there are 122 men any one of whom could, on a whim one day, declare that he is a woman and become the highest rated woman, and at tournament probably become the women’s champion.

    The top-ranked man is Magnus Carlsen at 2845. The competitive difference between 2845, or even 2750 and 2628 is like Major League Baseball or the NFL compared to a good college team–vast. (fwiw, 2750 is rated #12).

    One can debate the reason for the difference, and there are neuroscientific reasons why it might be more than just that not as many women are interested in chess. But in any case, all FIDE is saying is that they need standards to judge when someone who was born male can compete in the women’s class. Given the obvious absurdity of saying anyone can just declare their sex for a few days, compete and win, and then “undeclare,” without even any medical or physiological standards, it is not unreasonable for FIDE to protect its women competitors as it tries to sort this out.

    In almost all these competitive sports cases, the only coherent alternative is to get rid of any sex-based classifications and make it all “open.” We have spent a century establishing women’s sports as a distinct entity in which women can compete and win, and despite what so many others seem to think, I would be sorry to lose that.

    1. I am a competitive chess player and fan of the game. In lower level competitions, there is no reason to distinguish between men and women but as you note at the highest levels it is indisputable men are stronger than women. Why this is true is interesting and I have thoughts but no ready answer. This I know, if they did not do this unscrupulous men would take advantage and make money at the expense of women.

    1. Of course you do. now maybe you can respond to mhj’s post above.

      Or maybe I could just have my knight identify as a queen.

  13. If they gave 2000 bonus points to members of the AAPI BIPOC community then Kamala could be a world champion. It would be so historic.

  14. The only thing a Male to female transgender is qualified for is therapy and if he’s smart…

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