The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Too many girls in chess abandon the game in high school: governing body

  • Print

There is something about the high school years that makes female chess enthusiasts stop playing, the game's governing body says.

According to the Chess Federation of Canada, while interest in playing competitively wanes for both genders in their teens, the percentage of girls who drop out is higher than boys, resulting in abysmally few women at the game's top levels.

For the Canadian Youth Chess Championship in Montreal this Tuesday, about one-third of the 320-odd players are girls — a stark contrast to adult competitions where women make up about five per cent of the field on average.

"It's difficult to say exactly why that happens, but it does," said Vladimir Drkulec, the chess federation's president.

"I had a girl that I was teaching that finished second in Canada in the under-14 girls' (competition), and she retired from chess after that... That seems to be a recurrent happening."

Yelizaveta Orlova, who has represented Canada in international chess events, was about the same age when she stopped playing for a year and a half.

The 19-year-old, who has been playing since age four, said she started feeling self-conscious at 14 as chess was not seen as a traditionally cool pursuit.

"The reaction of one of my friends was kind of like, 'Really? You play?'" she said. "It wasn't even the fact that he was joking about it. It was the tone that kind of set it off.

"I was young; that's when girls tend to overthink about a lot of things."

Orlova added that boys, on the other hand, seem to worry less about social status at that age, and more male chess players stay in the game.

Rebecca Giblon, 17, the current sixth ranked female player in Canada, said in lower-level tournaments, boys also gravitate toward unprofessional behaviour and foster an unwelcoming environment.

"Thirteen- to 15-year-old boys aren't mature even on a good day," she said. "The players at local tournaments make jokes about stuff.

"Not specifically going against me because I'm a girl, but it's just among a huge list of making fun of everybody for everything."

Canada currently has 10 men who have been awarded the grandmaster title — the highest level in the game — but no women, though some countries have several. The world chess governing body has both male and female titles, but women are eligible for the harder-to-get male title as well as women's titles.

The Canadian government provides no funding to chess.

Orlova, who was born in Ukraine, said Canada lacks a strong chess culture and places more emphasis on physical sports such as hockey and basketball.

"When you go to Europe, chess is actually a fairly well-known game," she said. "Many people here, they don't even say the word 'chess,' they mistake it for the word 'chest.'"

Drkulec said that even in Michigan, the state that borders Windsor, Ont., where he is based, the proportion of women who play in tournaments is about three times that of Canada.

To encourage more female participation, the chess federation created two women-only national titles last April that are easier to attain than their open-category counterparts.

The titles faced opposition even from within, with some saying it suggests women cannot compete intellectually with men. The motion to create them passed with 10 voting members — nearly one-third — either indicating no or abstaining.

Drkulec acknowledges that argument, but said it's an idealistic view.

"I want more people playing chess," he said. "If we followed (that) argument, we would have even fewer women playing.

Drkulec added that while it is difficult to pin the lack of female participation to a specific factor, it does exist — and it perpetuates itself.

Giblon said it can be discouraging that there are few other women in Canada's chess scene.

"I really do feel that sometimes I'm sort of alone in this," she said. "When I was little, that did sometimes make me feel like, 'Why should I even do this if there's no one else like me?' but I just kept pushing through."

Drkulec said the federation has stepped up efforts to target women and girls — female-only titles and events, for instance — but it would be a challenge to reach its goal: a 50-50 gender ratio.

"We are encouraging our members to do more in that area, but that's all we can do," he said. "The federation itself is just basically the members — we have one full-time employee."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Gail Asper says museum honours her father’s vision

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think food-security issues are an important topic to address during this mayoral campaign?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google