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Off the board: Transgender women in chess

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

By James Li and James Yu Sept. 28, 2023

Amid controversy regarding transgender participation in the realm of athletics, one sport has etched its mark upon these debates: chess. The International Chess Federation (FIDE), which acts as the governing body for international chess tournaments, decided to ban transgender women from competing in the women's chess divisions on August 14—a transphobic and misogynistic decision that reflects poorly upon the professional chess world.

Kavya Desai art

FIDE cited a high number of requests for gender recognition from transgender members as the reason for restricting transgender women from competing until the federation can further analyze the situation, which NPR reports could take up to two years. This arbitrary number is inconceivable—their haphazard excuse combined with a lack of clear reasoning undermines FIDE’s credibility.

“Chess has always been a fun way to exercise my brain, so it is a shame that FIDE seeks to exclude women from participating. Chess belongs to all of us, what gives FIDE the right to exclude anyone?” Senior Hillary Chen said.

Many in the chess community have rebuked the decision, with the German Chess Federation releasing a statement which said that “If a person is legally recognized as a woman, it is incomprehensible to us what FIDE still wants to check and why it needs two years for this.” FIDE’s ban ignores the voices of the chess community and halts the advancements chess has made in women’s spaces in recent years.

The guidelines are insulting not just to transgender women, but to all women. FIDE’s assumption that transgender women possess an intrinsic advantage insinuates that cisgender women are inherently less capable at chess and are thus less intelligent.

Misogynistic ideas like this have long dominated the world of competitive chess. Chess is a sport which girls are discouraged from playing as many believe that chess is a man's pastime, resulting in women being underrepresented. For example, in 2021 only 15% of registered members of the United States Chess Federation were women.

The Guardian reports that in 2015, Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short said that “men are hardwired to be better chess players than women,” despite successful women in chess such as Judit Polgar, ranking 8th highest in the world and holding a winning record against Short. Polgar expressed to the Guardian that women are just as capable as men in chess, but societal boundaries often block women from thriving.

FIDE further ruled that transgender men with pre-existing titles will have them stripped upon transitioning, but transgender women will still retain their titles. This discrepancy stems from lessened requirements associated with obtaining a women’s title versus an open title. However, this raises question as to why the women’s division has reduced standards in the first place. Propagating these lessened expectations suggests that FIDE views cisgender women as incompetent. Former FIDE president, Garry Kasparov, perpetuated this belief too, saying women were “too emotional” for chess.

“Equality in chess as of now simply does not exist. If FIDE allows transgender women to participate in women’s divisions on the premise that women and men do not have differences in mental capabilities, then what is the point of having a separate women’s division in the first place?” Junior Lin Jang, Secretary of Chess Club, said.

FIDE’s lack of transparency towards any evidence of advantages transgender women have over cisgender women in chess drives discussions about the misogyny that defines competitive chess. The women’s division’s current stigma as a “lesser” division to the open division combined with the skewed logic behind the ban makes it apparent that FIDE needs to make ethical and logical changes.


About the contributors

James Li

staff writer

James Li is a senior at Leland High School and is a Staff Writer for the Charger Account. When not working, he enjoys bowling, running, and playing video games.

James Yu

staff writer

James Yu is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. During his free time, he's obsessing over Speech and Debate, an active Boy Scout, and hanging out with friends.

Kavya Desai


Kavya Desai is a senior at Leland High School and is a new artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys sleeping, playing video games, and going for long drives.

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