Why I started Chess4Girls.

"If there were a 1:1 ratio of women and men in the chess world I would agree that all tournaments should be integrated. But a lot of women feel alienated at these mixed events, so it is positive to have occasional all-women’s events."

-GM Jennifer Shahade (my role model... and U.S. Women's Chess Champion)

The July 2019 report of the World Chess Federation lists 1,643 male Grandmasters against only 37 females (FIDE 2019). This is approximately 44 men for every woman: one of the largest observed gender gaps other male-dominated domains in STEM. Even the highest-rated female chess player is ranked #83 in the world. But why?

A former world champion (Kasparov) stated, "There is real Chess and women's Chess... She's helpless if she has men's opposition. Women are weaker fighters." These belittling beliefs induce what is known as a stereotype threat, historically playing a large part in the performance gap. They lead to significant confidence decline, waning interest, and a cycle of self-depreciation, notably in young girls. Thus, female participation decreases due to the deterioration of both motivation and support

As a girl with a thriving passion for Chess, Oregon's top-ranked female scholastic Chess player in my grade, I have readily noticed and been bothered by the under-representation. Being the only girl in a tournament or club is a difficult thing to overlook. I even wrote about it in a blog post titled "The Only Girl" for my  humanities class in 2019 (7th grade).

It's easy to slip into feelings of estrangement, but I know I'm not alone. I never was. All-girls events help motivate, unite, recognize, and create the much-needed space for rising female Chess players. 

Ever since the start of Chess4Girls in 2021, female participation in Oregon's rated tournaments alone has risen over 61%, a number that I hope will continue to grow. Chess4Girls has also helped directly and indirectly reach a record number of Oregon girls reach USCF Top 100 Lists, co-sponsoring the largest Girls' State Championship in Oregon history. Most recently, the 2024 OSCF State Team Championship has been declared a strictly co-ed event.

We still have a long way to go. It's our responsibility to pave the path of continual progress, until gender is no longer be a barrier to participation and, most importantly, genuine enjoyment of a sport that has so much to offer. Here's to the future of more young women in Chess.

-Nesara Shree ('24)

Founder, Chess4Girls PDX

About the Founder:

Nesara (nay-sur-ah) embarked on her competitive Chess journey in 3rd grade. Now a senior at Jesuit High School, she co-leads the Chess club and has played on the Varsity team. She founded Chess4Girls PDX in 2021, where she now directs USCF-rated tournaments and organizes social events for girls both locally and out-of-state. She has nationally represented Chess4Girls PDX at various STEM education conferences and received grants from US Chess Women. Nesara serves on the OSCF board to lead initiatives toward encouraging female participation in the sport. As an Oregon Chess Project Fellow, she has coached at week-long camps and piloted year-round after-school Chess programs at Aloha-Huber Park. She now works as a part-time coach for Rose City Chess.

From the Oregon Chess Project (June 2022):

"A search on 3/15/22 returned 292 USCF chess players in Oregon who played a regular rated game within the last year, only 27 of whom identified as female. A search for USCF online rated games returned 162 players, 24 of whom identified as female. This number was probably much lower 60 days prior, when Rose City Chess and Chess4Girls first started using the USCF system for their events.The comparatively larger share of female players in online chess reflects the success of Chess4Girls in bringing female players into USCF rated events. Oregon Chess Project will increase OSCF’s efforts to include more girls in the chess community."

Link: http://oscf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Oregon-Chess-Project-2022-June-White-Paper.pdf

From Oregon's own NM Zoey Tang:

"I started learning chess at around 7 years old in the library, where I was taught how to move the pieces. When I started out at the school chess club, I had 1~2 female friends who were also playing chess. Over time, though, they dropped out and I was the only one. I remember recently, in the fourth round of the Reno Western States Open, I joked with my friend that our pairing was the only possible all-female game in the whole section. While it was lighthearted at the time, this actually happens in almost all the tournaments I play in. I am often one of the few (or sometimes the only) female chess player in my section. I hope that organizations like Chess4Girls PDX can help close the gender gap. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the latest generation of Oregonian female chess players, and I look forward to analyzing your games with you!"