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 (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- an appalling gender gap that is one of the largest observed amongst 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. The underlying idea is that minorities underperform solely because they know an undermining convention that people of their kind are anticipated to do worse. This mindset leads 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. My friends have dropped off playing alongside me both socially and competitively. Many girls lose interest through upper-elementary and middle school years, where other enticing opportunities manifest. As time passes, the support girls receive to pursue the sport diminishes even further. 

Being the only girl in a section, one of five others at a larger tournament... these things are hard to overlook, especially at a young age. I wrote about it in a 2019 blog post titled "The Only Girl" for my humanities class in 7th grade (real). It becomes easy to slip into feelings of estrangement, but now 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. I am incredibly proud to say that, ever since the start of these tournaments, female participation in Oregon's rated tournaments alone has risen over 61% over the past year- 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. Most recently, the 2024 OSCF State Team Championship has been declared a co-ed event, with no more than 3 male team members competing. Of course, we still have a long way to go. It's our responsibility to pave a path of continual progress.

Gender should no longer be a barrier to participation, competition, 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

Founder, Chess4Girls PDX

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."


A note 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!"