Sir Adas' series: Women cannot play chess!


It is Corona times and there is not much to do in the evenings. Thus, we bought a Netflix subscription some months ago and The Queen’s Gambit was one of the first things we enjoyed. The celebrated drama series is telling the story of the genius female chess player, wining all games against men - not many women in the game in the 1960s. Of course, she could only do this thanks to her drug and alcohol dependency. No woman can beat a man in an intellectual game without some help from outside, right!

Around the same time, an article[1] appeared in the Knack magazine about Judit Polgár, the best female chess player of all times. On a Sunday afternoon, I was reading with admiration about

how she and her 2 sisters enjoyed the same spartan upbringing of their father, who she defeated in chess for the first time at the age of five, how at the age of fifteen years and five months old, she became the youngest Grandmaster of all time, knocking the legendary Bobby Fischer off the throne how the reigning world champion at the time Garry Kasparov, openly shared his conviction that women would never reach the highest level due to “the imperfections of the female psyche” how in 2002’s tournament “Russia vs The Rest of the World”, Judit Polgár finally defeated Garry Kasparov, despite the so-called imperfections of the female psyche and how other world champions shared his fate, amongst them Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, and Anatoli Karpov. However, my admiration transformed into indignation when I reached a passage talking about the Dutch grandmaster Johannes Donner. He wrote in 1968 a piece on women and chess in the women's magazine Avenue, concluding "However painful it may be, we must not hesitate to face the truth: Women cannot play chess."

Feeling really upset, I recited this piece of text to my Dutch husband. He demonstrated adequate empathy by exclaiming “But, this was such a long time ago!”

REALLY? Even the sweetest man does not have a clue how it feels to go through life as a woman!

I recalled an evening on one of our skis vacations some 3-4 years ago. My husband was playing chess with my son and was mercifully defeating him game after game - father instinct obviously does not have a chance against the eagerness to win. The situation was getting dramatic, not being able to bare any further the frustration of my child, my mother instinct made me suggest I play a match with my husband instead.

In less than 15 minutes, I defeated him. He completely underestimated me. What he didn’t know was that my sister and I also enjoyed very spartan upbringing and played often chess with my father, who was good at it. So, my husband was sitting there embarrassed, full of disbelief and wanted to immediately rematch. Well, my victory, reflected in the admiring eyes of my son, tasted so sweet! - “No thank you, I am going to bed!”

Never played chess again with my husband … and now I know what to say next time this topic comes up in our family discussions: “However painful it may be, we must not hesitate to face the truth: Bulgarian women are much better in chess than Dutch men!”


Authors: Elena Tsiporkova

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