The gender gap in top-level chess

Source: Unsplash, Randy Fath
Gender gap in top-level chess according to our experiments. Bold numbers indicate the highest number being expected and observed values. * is added to those results that are statistically significant with p-value<0.05.
Statistical gender gap with respect to the average strength of the top 10 male and female players across the world and in the top 20 chess federations. Y-axis corresponds to 0.5 minus p-value, where the closer to 0.5, the more perceived difference between men and women strength, with 0.0 indicating gender equality.
  • Women and men in Hungary and India have a very close strength statistically, both in terms of their top player (thanks to Judit Polgár, Hungary even surpasses men statistically) and the average rating among the top 10. This relates to what one could expect in Hungary with the Polgar sisters raising the level of women chess for many years (reminder that inactive players were also considered in the experiments), and in India with increased chess popularity and two women (Humpy Koneru and Dronavalli Harika) in the current world top 10.
  • In addition to the experiments measuring the top-level strength, we also computed the overall Elo average of both men and women. In this case, men are still better than women in 17 of the 20 analyzed countries (all but Georgia, India and Azerbaijan), but also show that Georgian and Indian women are (statistically) significantly better than men on average. While this measure does not indicate the strength of the top players, it highlights some clear trends in these countries with respect to women’s chess. This overall strength and high women participation numbers may also be the reason for the recent success of Georgia in women team competitions, winning medals in their last three major team events between 2017 and 2019, including the World Team Chess Championships and Chess Olympiad.
  • We note that our conclusions about the German gender gap differ from those of the study of Bilalić et al. (2008) [3]. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, this can be due to several methodological factors such as the somewhat arbitrariness of the Elo system and its fluctuations, or to some issues to their experimental setting, as pointed out by Knapp (2010).
  • By giving some context and looking at the relative participation figures of each federation, we can note some marked differences across countries, as shown in the following chart.
Women participation percentage with respect to the total number of players across the top 20 chess federations and the world.



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Jose Camacho Collados

Jose Camacho Collados

Mathematician, AI/NLP researcher and chess International Master.