British grandmaster infuriates women by claiming that they are not “hard-wired” to play the game well
When Nigel Short, one of UK’s greatest ever chess players, challenged Garry Kasparov for the world title in 1993, the pair met as bitter rivals.
But it appears the British grandmaster has finally found common ground with his Russian opponent: they both believe women are not suited to the game.
Short, who lost to Kasparov in the championships, has claimed men and women should just accept they are “hard-wired very differently”.
Speaking in the magazine New in Chess about the lack of women playing the game, Short said: “Why should they [men and women] function in the same way? I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife [Rea] possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do.
Nigel Short (Geoff Pugh/The Telegraph)
“Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to manoeuvre the car out of our narrow garage.
“One is not better than the other, we just have different skills. It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”
His words echo the controversial statement from Kasparov that “women, by their nature, are not exceptional chess players: they are not great fighters”.
The former British champion’s comments provoked an angry reaction from female players. Amanda Ross, who runs the Casual Chess cafe in London, said it was “incredibly damaging when someone so respected basically endorses sexism”.
Short Vs Kasparov in 1993
She added: “Judit Polgar, the former women’s world champion, beat Nigel Short eight classical games to three in total with five draws.
“She must have brought her man brain. Let’s just hope Nigel didn’t crash his car on those days, trying to park it. At least this resolves the age-old debate as to whether there’s a direct link between chess-playing ability and intelligence. Clearly not.”
Short responded on Twitter: “You seem to suffer from incomprehension. Men and women do have different brains. This is a biological fact.
“Furthermore, I never said women have inferior brains. That is your crude and false attempt to caricature me.”
Chess at all levels has traditionally been dominated by men, with barely 2 per cent of grandmasters on the world stage being female.
Sabrina Chevannes, a British women’s international master, the grade below a women’s grandmaster, said: “Chess definitely has a problem with sexism, I have faced it all my career.”
She said women who play in tournaments face a constant barrage of sexist jokes and put-downs and as a result the drop-out rate among female players is huge.
Amanda Ross, who runs Casual Chess London, a club that aims to attract both sexes to the game
“I’ve been asked if I want to play in the junior section; I’ve even had men refuse to believe I’m there to play.”
There has never been a female World Open chess champion, nor a female British Open champion.
However, the game’s greatest female player, Polgar, from Hungary, did mount a successful challenge to male dominance.
She became the youngest player of either sex to be awarded the title of grandmaster at the age of 15 and went on to reach number eight in the world rankings.
Polgar was the world’s best female player for 26 years; she was and is still the only woman to qualify for a World Chess Championship tournament, having done so in 2005.
Current Women’s World Chess Champion Mariya Muzychuk
Now retired, Polgar was finally overtaken in the women’s rankings last month by Hou Yifan of China and her Women’s World Chess Champion title was won earlier this month by Mariya Muzychuk, of Ukraine.
Polgar told the Telegraph: “I believe that as I have proved it with my career that with the right amount of work, dedication, talent and love for the game it is possible to compete the best male players in the world of chess even though many of my colleagues were sceptical about my potential.
“Of course this is not easy as generally a lot of male players say that I was an exception. I do hope that there will be more woman players who will be able to prove it again that women focusing their energy on this goal can play chess at the level of the top male players.
“Men and women are different but there are different ways of thinking and fighting still achieving the same results.”
Short, who was born in Wigan, Lancs, also became one of the youngest grandmasters in the world at the age of 19.
In 1993 he challenged Kasparov, the Russian grandmaster, for the world title and the pair are due to play a re-run exhibition match in the US next month.
The match provoked a surge in interest in the game and was broadcast live on Channel 4. Around one million people were believed to have tuned in.
Before it started, Short received a visit from Diana, Princess of Wales to wish him good luck. Famously, he answered the door to the princess wearing his dressing gown.
At the height of his fame, Short was a depicted as a Spitting Image puppet.
Since the world title match Kasparov, now 51, has retired, but Short has continued to compete. At 49 he is one of the oldest active elite grandmasters in the world game.
He lives in Athens with his Greek-born wife, Rea, and their son and daughter.
His world ranking is number 64. In October he won the PokerStars Isle of Man Chess International and at the weekend triumphed in the 2015 Thailand Open.