Columns | June 28, 2008 21:57

[lang_en]In the spirit of the rules?[/lang_en][lang_nl]In de geest van de regels?[/lang_nl]

[lang_en]Yesterday, Peter wrote an interesting article about the Turkish club competition. I was especially fascinated by the team-setup.[/lang_en][lang_nl]Gisteren schreef Peter een interessant artikel over de Turkse clubcompetitie. Ik was met name gefascineerd door de team-opzet.[/lang_nl]

[lang_en]By Arne Moll

"Teams consist of 10 boards, in which the first four boards can be filled freely but on the fifth board, a female player is obligatory. The sixth board is for a junior player (under 20), the seventh and eighth are for boys and girls under 16 and the ninth and tenth board for boys and girls under 14."

Well, let's by all means praise this original idea: they sure know how to promote chess among 'minorities' in Turkey! But wait a minute, the idea may be noble but what about the practical consequences? The first thing that strikes me is that in this setup, a female player will always play against another female. Isn't that strange? How will these girls ever learn to compete with the boys, if all they ever play is other girls? Ditto for the juniors: isn't it more stimulating if they can play against the tough guys for a change?

I've had similar doubts about the German female competition before: why do they play in female-only teams, almost as if they're handicapped, instead of in mixed competitions? Haven't they learnt anything from the Polgar sisters, who refused to play in female-only competitions until they were just as strong as guys? Would these same ladies compete in a ladies-only mathematics competition, or a puzzle contest, as if they have a mental handicap?

I have another suggesion, which seems to me competely in the spirit of the Turkish rules: I want four beautiful ladies on the first four boards. Then, on board 5, a normal guy can play, isn't that fair? On 6, we'll have someone who's black. On 7 and 8, we'll have two mentally disabled people - why not give them a chance? On 9, a religious fundamentalist is allowed play - and we'll respect his wishes to postpone the game to another day if his religion tells him so. And I myself claim to play on tenth board, just like I did in the Dutch competition a few years ago. I scored fabuluously, so why not?

All joking aside, it seems to me this whole setup is taking the thought of positive discrimination a bit too far. It's definitely a good idea to promote chess among females and other groups who do not play chess so much as 'regular' guys. But always making a girl play another female, or a junior against another junior, seems to create the exact opposite effect: segregation instead of integration. Isn't it the point of a competition to meet different opponents, of different ages, with different backgrounds or even different nationalities?

And while we're at it, why only look at gender, or age? Why not skin colour? Or tallness? Or anything else? Where do we draw the line? Shouldn't we just ignore these differences? And the most important question of all: who's really happy with this?[/lang_en][lang_nl]

Door Arne Moll

"De teams bestaan uit tien borden, waarvan de eerste vier vrij mogen worden ingevuld. Op bord vijf moet een dame zitten, op bord zes een junior (niet ouder dan 20), bord zeven en acht zijn voor jongens en meisjes onder de 16 en bord negen en tien voor jongens en meisjes onder de 14."

Welnu, alle lof voor dit originele idee: ze weten absoluut hoe ze schaken onder 'minderheden' moeten promoten in Turkije. Maar wacht even, het idee mag dan nobel zijn, hoe zit het met de praktische consequenties? Het eerste wat me opvalt is dat in deze opzet een vrouwelijke speler altijd tegenover een andere vrouwelijke speler zit. Is dat niet vreemd? Hoe moeten die meiden ooit leren om met jongens te concurreren, als ze alleen maar tegen andere meiden hoeven? Idem dito voor jeugdspelers: is het niet veel stimulerender als ze ook eens tegen de grote jongens kunnen spelen?

Ik heb in het verleden soortgelijke twijfels gehad over de Duitse damescompetitie: waarom spelen ze in vrouwen-only teams, bijna alsof ze gehandicapt zijn, in plaats van in gemengde competities? Hebben ze niets geleerd van de Polgar-zusjes, die weigerden om in damescompetities te spelen totdat ze net zo sterk waren als de mannen? Zouden deze zelfde dames meedoen in een wiskunde-competitie die uitsluitend voor vrouwen toegankelijk is, of een puzzelwedstrijd, alsof ze een mentale handicap hebben?

Ik heb een andere suggestie, die me volledig in de geest van de Turkse regels lijkt: ik wil vier mooie dames op de eerste vier borden. Dan mag er op bord 5 een normale man spelen, is dat niet eerlijk? Op 6 zetten we een zwarte. Op 7 en 8 hebben we twee geestelijk gehandicapten - waarom zouden zij geen kans verdienen? Op 9 mag een religieuze fundamentalist spelen - en we zullen rekening houden met zijn wensen om de partij op een andere dag te spelen als dat moet van zijn geloof. En zelf eis ik bordje tien op, net als een paar jaar geleden in de Meesterklasse. Ik scoorde fenomenaal, dus waarom niet?

Alle gekheid op een stokje, het lijkt me dat deze hele opzet de gedachte van positieve discriminatie iets te serieus neemt. Het is zeker een goed idee om schaken te bevorderen onder vrouwen en andere groepen die niet zo veel spelen als 'normale' mannen. Maar door een meisje altijd tegen een ander meisje te laten spelen, of een jeugdspeler tegen een jeugdspeler, lijkt precies het tegenovergestelde effect op te treden: segregatie in plaats van integratie. Is het niet de bedoeling van een competitie om verschillende tegenstanders te ontmoeten, van verschillende leeftijden, met verschillende achtergronden of zelfs nationaliteiten?

En nu we toch bezig zijn, waarom alleen naar geslacht of leeftijd gekeken? Waarom niet naar huidskleur? Of lengte? Of iets anders? Waar ligt de grens? Moeten we deze verschillen niet gewoon negeren? En de belangrijkste vraag: wie wordt hier nu echt gelukkig van? [/lang_nl]

Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Goran's picture

The idea is hardly original, Yugoslav leagues on all levels were played with 6 players + 2 ladies + 2 juniors for at least three decades (maybe even longer, but I am not sure). Probably in some other countries as well.

Upon separating, in the late 90s, junior league (4 boards) lasted 3-4 years until clubs lost interest. Many of the juniors who played there are now GMs and IMs. Needless to say, the trend in 'making' new titled players is considerably slower now.

Women's league is constantly struggling with numbers and this year the women's cup has been canceled for the first time in its history.

xtra's picture

Very good article. Chess has the superb condition (compared to many other sports) where there exists a rating system that is accepted by almost everyone, and is sufficiant in itself to decide who plays at what board. too bad they dont use it.

Jean-Michel's picture

I think it's a fair argument to say that there should only be "open" tournaments. It would be perfectly "just". But is that all we care about?

I have great fun following women's tournaments. It adds variety. It may be true that in theory women and men can play chess on an equal level... but in practice, who would claim they typically do? For those who manage to do it, fantastic, you have access to the open tournaments. But I think it would be a waste for Lahno, Cramling, Pa?ɬ´tzh, et al. to be relegated to 2450 - 2500 strength open tournaments where we would never hear anything of them. I enjoy reading about their competitions and following their games.

When they reach the level of Koneru and Hou Yifan and Polgar, when they are strong enough to compete with the 2600s in an open format, it's even more fun to follow them. Or in Corus B and C groups, which always hold open a spot for a woman.

This thing of "fairness" and "justice" is perfectly fine in theory, but in practice, you often end up with just bunch of white dudes, which is okay to but kind of bland. This is a spectator sport too... so let's just enjoy the ladies' competitions and leave the argument about "positive discrimination" where it belongs, in the "real world" of university admissions and governement job quotas. There it has much more value, though you can have a legitimate arguement for both sides.

arne's picture

@Jean-Michel. There is a clear difference between junior-only tournaments and women-only tournaments: juniors are still young, and don't have fully developed minds yet. (Actually, I do think it's a good thing for juniors to play as much as they can against adults, but I don't have as much of a problem with separate tournaments for them.) Now, do (adult) women suffer from the same problem? Even if we take into account the existing differences between men and women, are their minds really less developed or inferior so as to justify separate competitions? I'm sure most women would heavily protest against this accusation! Still, many chess playing women continue to play in women-only competitions. I do think this is pretty weird.
By the way, you write there is no discrimination in the teams because the first four boards can be either men or women, or juniors. Well, but isn't that discrimination against men? In fact, that was one of the points I was trying to make. After all, the team can under these rules theoretically consist of 10 females (since juniors can also be girls) ... but never of 10 men! :-)

@Michel83: I agree there is inescapable discrimination everywhere, but that doesn't mean we can't try to do anything (such as trying to raise awareness) about it, does it? My point is that the Turkish rules might prove to be counter effective.

Ozgur Akman's picture

A minor note, there are mandatory boards for junior and female players but teams can place on of their female players on the first four boards. This note does not negate Mr.Moll's point but I sensed a misunderstanding about this. There is no limitation for the young ones or the female ones to play against the others...

But of course placing mandatory category and sex boards is also a limitation but I got the impression from the article that there are only "male-only" boards.

arne's picture

@Ozgur, there was no misunderstanding, but it's still a strange situation. Let's assume a team has only 1 woman, something which seems not uncommon, at least in my country. This woman will then have to play on 5th board, doesn't she? If she doesn't, board 5 will remain empty (because no other women are available to play there!) and thus result in a loss by default. This means that if a team contracts Judit Polgar and no other women, Judit will have to play on 5th board, right? Even if she has the highest rating of the entire team! This seems pretty strange indeed. Or am I mistaken?
I agree if a team has more than one woman, the problem is not so acute, unless of course the woman in question is a junior U20 and the team doesn't have more juniors to put on the lower boards...

Michel83's picture

@ Jean-Michel

Yeah, but then wouldn't it make more sense to make a rule that says it is "mandatory to have one board with a female or a junior player" instead of saying on WHICH board they should play?
I do agree with Arne that if you force the female/juniors etc. on a specific board it is EXACTLY THE SAME as making "female-only" teams; because you will automatically always have a female against a female on board five, a junior against a junior etc.; this is simply segregation in disguise.

By the way, can you give me a logical argument for woman-only tournaments? Following your logic, if I could give you a statistic that players with black skin colour are weaker in average than the others, we should have "blacks-only"-tournaments so that they play in a tournament "with those who are on the same level"?

Everybody should be allowed to play in open tournaments; women-only-tournaments make no sense whatsoever. If you want to encourage women to play chess you have to support and promote chess among them from the beginning. I think women-only tournaments take the problem exactly from the wrong side; in my opinion if aggravates the problems of discrimination and sexist thinking instead of solving them.
And actually yes, if is at least discussable whether "positive discrimination" rules make sense, because we do live in sexist societies; but in case you do the positive discrimination then you have to mix the teams and can't segregate by always letting the women play against each other on board 5.

@ Arne

Sorry, but your last comment about "why not look at tallness" is very naive. I understand your point about "where to draw the line", but we simply do live in patriachal societies which are dominated by "white" males, so there definitely is a discrimination of women and people with dark skin color. So your irony about "tallness" doesn't really make sense.
And: "Shouldn't we just ignore those differences?". Of course we should. Humans should also live in peace and happiness, be nice to each other, don't kill and don't discriminate. Do they do that? No, they don't. So if YOU are ignoring the "differences" that is great- but do not forget most people don't ignore the "differences". Discrimination is real, unfortunately.

Michel83's picture

Little correction from my side:
"Everybody should be allowed to play in open tournaments" obviously was a wrong thing to write from me, as everybody IS allowed to play in those. I guess I rather meant that everybody should play in open tournaments.

Micky's picture

Het lukt aardig om de gemoederen bezig te houden met dit schrijven. Leuk om tegen een competitie aan te schoppen die anders van opzet is.
Waarom niet de Franse competitie waarin alleen de winstpartijen tellen? Leuk als je een zwaar bevochten remise hebt behaald.
Of de Duitse Bundesliga die uitsluitend gericht is op professionals van over de hele wereld. Als vader met een reguliere baan kun je zonder ruzie thuis echt niet meespelen in een competitieweekend.
En wat te zeggen van de Nederlandse competitie waarin op een gegeven moment drie team door dezelfde persoon gesponsord werden. Is dat wenselijk?
Op iedere competitie is wel iets aan te merken.
Als een vrouw/meisje of een jeugdspeler tegen een "normale man" wil spelen (wat dat dan ook mag zijn) kan hij/zij deelnemen aan een willekeurig toernooi. Dat is sowieso noodzakelijk, want met alleen spelen in een competitie kom je in de schaakwereld niet ver.

Aeropostale's picture

"Then, on board 5, a normal guy can play, isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t that fair? On 6, we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll have someone who?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s black."

What the heck is up with that, man? So a black guy is not a normal guy???
That?Ǭ¥s not politically correct of you, I?Ǭ¥d say.

Jean-Michel's picture

@ Dan

Interesting question. I personally believe that most girls probably just don't enjoy the activity as much as guys do, but I guess it could be gender expectations.

It's the old nature vs. nurture debate again. I am a bit of an agnostic on this in general, but my feeling is that tfor chess it is mostly nature, though surely social expectations also play at least a small part.

Still, we should do what we can to make those who do enjoy the game feel welcome and appreciated.

Jean-Michel's picture

I think the idea is simply to give an encouragement to clubs to invest in the development of their youth players, and to encourage women to participate as well.

I believe strong women players and juniors can still partiipate on the top boards, so there is no discrimination there.

In fact, I would imagine the youth members might even be among the few who are actually members of the club they're playing for, as the top GMs are mostly hired guns, unless I am mistaken there.

Anyway, by your logic we should also cancel all youth championships in general, as well as for women. I don't see much point in this. There are open competitions where the strongest youth and female players play as well, and it is good that there are specific competitions for those who are not the same level. I am sure it encourages women to participate in chess, which cannot be a bad thing, to have their own competitions as well as the open ones.

There is no true discrimination here, as there are no "male-only" boards, and men have at least as much chance as women to fight for the open boards.

Dan's picture

What needs to be addressed are the reasons why the participation rates of women in chess are so low. I think it has a lot more to do with broader social expectations of gender behaviour. In fact a reluctance to play agaist males may well be a huge barrier for women in certain cultures where there is an expectation that women should appear submissive. Where as in other cultures the segregation may well be symbolic of the male dominanted culuture and offensive to women. There is no one-fits-all approach to providing a female friendly playing environment, a lot has to do with the local culture.

What is important for chess officials is to increase female participation by any effective means. If chess wants to remain relevant it canot afford to alienate 50% of population, particularly as the power of wmen in societies is rapidly increasing. Those who are saying that there should be no positive discriminaton how do you porpose to increase female participation in what is obviviously a male dominanted game.

IIRC there was a study that showed that the lack of top female chess players can be directly associated with the low participation rate (i.e. drawing from a smaller talent pool).

Also can anyone think of a single activity where men and women compete against each other and there is equal participation rate of both genders. I still think social gender expectations means men and women are not comfortable competing against each other directly.

Marvol's picture

Interesting point there about Judit Polgar, but I don't think it works out. Let's do the hypothetical experiment.

We start with two teams of 9 players including enough juniors. The first team recruits Judit Polgar because she is very strong. The rules then force her to play at board five. Bummer. The other team recruits Peter Svidler because he is very strong, too. He can play at board one. Great! But... this team now lacks a female board-5 player and defaults a loss there (incidently, against Judit Polgar). Bummer.

Back to square (a)1.
Both teams remove one player from their original lineup, so they both consist of 8 players including juniors. The first team again recruits Judit Polgar, who then again is obliged to play board 5. Bummer. The second team recruits Peter Svidler who can play at board one. Great! But... they still both need a tenth player (the second team specifically needs a female player). So the first team as well as the second team has the opportunity to recruit, say, Stefanova, Krush, or Benschop (or any female player) to play on their fifth board.

In brief, the point that a team may 'accidentally' have only one female player who just so 'happens to be' Judit Polgar is a hypothetical situation not relevant to this discussion.

Apart from that it is a very interesting discussion in which I am largely agnostic.

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