Chess federation puts transgenders in check

There has been a long-running debate on why the top female chess players lag behind the top male chess players.  The highest chess rating ever achieved by a female was that of Hungarian Judit Polgar, with a rating of 2735 in 2005, compared to 2882 in 2014 of current world champion, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen.  Polgar attained the title of Grandmaster at age 15 and 4 months, the youngest ever.  She was ranked 8th worldwide in 2004, among other extraordinary chess accomplishments.  Currently, the highest-ranked female is Hou Yifan of China at 127th, with a rating of 2628.  Unlike the issue with male-to-female transgenders participating in female sports competition, chess requires mental rather than physical prowess.  There is a solid statistical argument that male dominance in chess has nothing to do with alleged mental superiority and just about everything to do with the participation gap (females constitute only around 10% of players worldwide).  Systemic disadvantages may also play a role.

In chess there are separate male-only, female-only, and open competitions.  There are reasons why a player might prefer one format over the other — e.g., a female who ranks high for her sex has a much better chance of winning or placing high in a female-only competition, and a male might be able to increase his rating faster by playing in a male-only tournament against higher-rated players.  Many would find a M-F trans — especially one with a high chess rating for a female — competing in a female-only chess competition objectionable.  So the M-F transgender controversy may go well beyond athletic advantage to disruption of historical norms and practice.

It was inevitable that the transgender controversy would hit the chess world.  From Newsmax:

The world's top chess federation has ruled that transgender women cannot compete in its official events for females until an assessment of gender change is made by its officials.

The decision by Lausanne, Switzerland-based federation FIDE was published on Monday and has drawn criticism from advocacy groups and supporters of transgender rights.

FIDE said it and its member federations increasingly have received recognition requests from players who identify as transgender, and that the participation of transgender women would depend on an analysis of individual cases that could take up to two years.

It sounds as though the policy is in a state of flux:

"In the event that the gender was changed from a male to a female the player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women until further FIDE's decision is made," it said.

Holders of women's titles who change their genders to male would see those titles "abolished," the federation said, while holding out the possibility of a reinstatement "if the person changes the gender back to a woman."

"If a player has changed the gender from a man into a woman, all the previous titles remain eligible," the federation said.

It acknowledged that such questions regarding transgender players were an "evolving issue for chess" and that "further policy may need to be evolved in the future in line with research evidence."

In another non-athletic example worth pondering, females constitute around one in nine undergraduate aerospace engineering majors, yet typically half or more of the prestigious Aviation Week 20 Twenties annual awards are given to females.  What are the odds?  I'm glad you asked.  Ceteris paribus, the number of females selected would be binomially distributed with n = 20 and p = 1/9, so the probability of at least 10 females being selected among the 20 is 1 in 54,467.  The expected number of women selected is 20 x (1/9) = 2.2.  The Aviation Week link does not hide its emphasis on "diversity" in the selection process.  While all 20 Twenties awardees are exceptionally accomplished, it is a statistical certainty that in any given year, many if not most of the females are nudging more qualified male candidates out of an award and the recognition that comes with it.

Are you okay with this so long as it's not employment-related or government-funded?  Open opportunities for underrepresented females, or deprive males and cheapen the accomplishment of female awardees?  Would separate Open and Female only awards work?

W.A. Eliot is a pseudonym.

Image: Pickpik.

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