Gina Mei
April 20, 2015 1:38 pm

This past weekend, chess grandmaster Nigel Short came under fire for implying that women are simply not as good at chess because men are “hardwired” to play the game better.

“Why should [men and women] function in the same way? I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do,” Short told magazine New in Chess. “Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to [maneuver] 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,” he continued. “but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”

Short’s way of thinking is shockingly outdated (not to mention wrong), and only feeds into the idea that women are incapable of achieving what men can, by default. (He later clarified on Twitter that he did not believe women were inferior, but that, “Men and women do have different brains. This is a biological fact.“)

Historically, chess was played by both men and women — but after the increasing popularity of card games as an acceptable pastime for both genders, by the 19th Century, the game was largely taken over by men. The gender disparity has stuck ever since.

“Chess definitely has a problem with sexism, I have faced it all my career,” player Sabrina Chevannes told The Independent. “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.”

But just because the majority of chess players are male, that doesn’t mean women are incapable of playing — and kicking ass. To date, 33 women have been awarded the title of grandmaster — and all of them have proved they can play just as well as the boys, if not better. Here are just a few of those amazing ladies.

Susan (aka Zsuzsa) Polgár

Susan is one of the famous three Polgár sisters, who were all a part of their father’s “educational experiment” that aimed to prove “geniuses are made, not born.” Trained in chess from a very young age, all three went on to become extremely high-achieving players — originally with Susan at the lead as the eldest. Polgár was the first woman to become a grandmaster through tournament play, and the third woman to ever receive the title at all. She was well-known for avoiding women-only tournaments for most of her career and for just being an all around badass at breaking down gender barriers, paving the way for many female players to come. She is the #2 ranked female player of all time, after her sister, Judit (more on her later).

Nona Gaprindashvili

Gaprindashvili became the first female grandmaster ever in 1978, at the age of 37 — thus proving women are completely capable of winning at chess, no matter their age. She was a five-time winner at the Women’s Soviet Championship, and has both competed and won multiple men’s tournaments, including Lone Pine. She’s also won the most Chess Olympiads of all time, at 11.

Hou Yifan

In 2008, Hou became the youngest female grandmaster ever at age 14 (also making her the only female to be awarded the title before age 15). As if that weren’t impressive enough, she also has an absurd amount of titles and distinctions under her belt, including being the youngest Women’s World Chess Champion of all time and China’s youngest National Women’s Champion. As of March 2015, she is the #1 female player in the world (. . . and currently ranks above Nigel Short). At only 21 years old, she still has a long career ahead of her, and we couldn’t be more excited to see how much she achieves.

Maia Chiburdanidze

As the second woman to ever be awarded the title grandmaster, Chiburdanidze was close on the heels of her peer, Gaprindashvili, and eventually surpassed her in FIDE Elo rankings. She has won nine Chess Olympiads, and was the youngest to ever Women’s World Chess Champion at the time of her win.

Judit Polgár

As Susan’s younger sister, Judit Polgár had an early start when it came to learning the game, and her hard work paid off: she is currently the #1 female player of all time (no big deal). Her list of achievements feels endless: she is the only woman to have ever exceeded a 2700 FIDE Elo rating; at her peak, she was the #8 ranked player in the world; and she has defeated multiple current and former world champions over the course of her career (including Magnus Carlsen, who is the #1 ranked player in the world and has the highest Elo rating of all time). When she was awarded her grandmaster title in 1991, she was also the youngest ever to have received the honor (male or female). To put it simply, she’s a chess legend.

“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 skeptical about my potential,” Polgár told The Telegraph. We think she more than proved it.

Humpy Koneru

Koneru is Asia’s youngest International Woman Master and India’s youngest woman grandmaster — and is the #3 ranked female player of all time. Aside from Judit Polgár, she is the only other woman to exceed a 2600 Elo rating. She held the record for youngest woman to become a grandmaster before Hou Yifan achieved the honor in 2008.

Mariya Muzychuk

Currently the Women’s World Chess Champion, Muzychuk is also the most recent woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster as a result of the win. She also now qualifies for the Chess World Cup, to be held later this year — and it would be an understatement to say that Muzychuk is already playing in the big leagues at only 22.

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