Check mate or playmate?

The good news: There are more women in chess than ever before.

The bad news:
They’re being noticed because of the way they look, not the way they play.
The New York Times reports on women in competitive chess who are showing off more than their brain power to get noticed in the traditionally male-dominated field.

Vanessa Reid, a 16-year-old student from Sydney, Australia, runs cross-country, plays touch football, enjoys in-line skating, swims and goes bodyboarding. She also has a cerebral side: she plays competitive chess. She represented Australia at a tournament in Malaysia in 2002 and played in a tournament in New Zealand this year.
While Ms. Reid is clearly no novice at the game, she isn’t exactly taking it by storm. She is not on the World Chess Federation’s list of the world’s 50 top female players. In fact she is ranked 47,694th among both men and women. But Ms. Reid, who has auburn hair, light-blue eyes and a winning smile, is arguably the top player in the world based on a more subjective criterion: her looks. A Web site called World Chess Beauty Contest ( ranks her as the world’s most beautiful woman in the game.
…Alexandra Kosteniuk, 21, a dark-haired, porcelain-skinned Russian grandmaster who is ranked fifth in the world among women and 525th over all, models and uses her Web site to sell photos of herself posing in bikinis next to giant chess pieces.
Maria Manakova, 31, who is the fourth-ranked woman in Russia and who is ranked eighth on the Beauty Contest site, attracted attention last year when she posed nude for Speed, a Russian magazine.

Of course it’s sad that these women are only being noticed because of their physical assets, but it’s their right to promote themselves however they want. It was something else in the article that really disturbed me.

…Mr. [Steve] Immitt recalled a tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla., in which a male player complained that his female opponent was a distraction. Mr. Immitt went to investigate.
“She was distracting,” he said. “But there was nothing I could do. It was the beginning of April, right after spring break, and she was dressed appropriately for the time of year. It wasn’t anything against the law. I told the guy, ‘You are going to have to call upon yourself to overcome the distraction.’ He ended up losing the game anyway, but I am not sure that was from being distracted.”

Huh. Even though I find the idea of someone having to “investigate” an attractive woman being distracting in a chess game totally hysterical, this anecdote reveals something really troubling. It’s fine and dandy for women to pose in bikinis next to chess boards, but when it comes to playing the game they’re a “distraction.” Which of course is why a guy would lose a woman–not because a female player could actually outplay them, but because poor guys lose smarts by the second when in close proximity to vaginas. Such a sorry excuse.

Join the Conversation

  • bittergradstudent

    The most annoying part for me is the “anna kournikova” syndrome, whee the talented women get completely ignored in favor of vastly inferior, but “better looking” women in the same field.

  • evil_fizz

    I just bristle at the idea that the only way to get people interested in something is to slap babes in bikinis on thr brochure, so to speak.
    I’m also a little bit disturbed at the “it comes from Eastern Europe where objectifying women isn’t so frowned upon.” Like that somehow makes it better.

  • bear

    Please tell me that I wasn’t the only one creeped out by the fact that, among other things, a 16 year old girl is ranked as the most beautiful woman in the game.
    Somewhat related anecdote:
    I was working the a televised swim meet one year and mentioned that if the star was as intelligent as she was talented and beautiful, what a great woman she would be (she definitely is). The television anchor looked me dead in the eye and in a somewhat condescending (to women, not to me) manner said they didn’t care if she was intelligent at all as long as she was beautiful and talented. I kind of just wanted to crawl in a hole when he said that.
    There is pretty much a camera trained constantly on a beautiful woman somewhere in the stands at any televised sporting event, especially if she is wearing an even remotely revealing shirt. It may not ever make it on a screen but the camera guys are definitely looking. I hate it when television cameras come in the building.

  • TPrice

    I think it is such an uphill battle to change society’s value system of women being objects of sexual “perception.” The reason is that there are so many women willing to play by these rules, and to take advantage of the attention men give to them in exchange for skin and sexual preening.
    Changing women’s perceptions of themselves is the first task, but even that is difficult.

  • jabelson

    “Changing women’s perceptions of themselves is the first task, but even that is difficult.”
    Luckily they have soldiers like you who know what’s really best for everybody…

  • TPrice

    “Changing women’s perceptions of themselves is the first task, but even that is difficult.”
    Luckily they have soldiers like you who know what’s really best for everybody…
    You have to get your message not to the women who already buy into feminist philosophy, but to the moderate and populist population of women. That’s the hard work that needs to be done. It’s easy to have a party to celebrate like minds. The real minds you must win over are the women that buy into the societal norms developed by men over thousands of years.

  • JesusJonesSuperstar

    Trust me it is hard to play chess or focus on any other difficult mental task when you have a raging hard on. I can understand. but, i guess one gets an advantage any way one can in games, so women as always dress sexy in order to overcome men, it is a time tested strategy based upon 1000’s of years of actual real world success.
    It seems in terms of reward the same time tested theory of making men horny is the b est way for female athletes to get rich as well. a medium level player with the right look gets millions more than the top player who looks like a tank.
    Men are just so god damn horny and so desperate and pay so much to look at girls it distorts the entire sports marketing word with regards to female sports. will it ever be different??

  • bookdrunk

    A similar version of the same story has appeared in the British press here:
    While Ms Reid does not even make the World Chess Federation’s list of the world’s 50 top female players, she has one very useful attribute: her looks. For some, the much visited website is closer to porn than pawn but to others it’s one way to ensure the sport of chess does not enter its endgame.
    which never once considers that this kind of thing might be driving some women further away..