Women beat expectations when playing chess against men, according to new research

January 30, 2018, University of Sheffield
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Data from 160,000 ranked chess players and more than five million chess matches suggests that women playing against men perform better than expected based on their official chess ratings, according to a new study by the University of Sheffield.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that female players are not affected by negative stereotypes about 's abilities during competition games. This is in contrast with previous findings on the phenomenon of stereotype threat which have suggested that awareness of negative stereotypes can hamper women's performance.

Dr Tom Stafford, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology, who led the study, said: "These findings show that even famous psychological phenomena may not be present all the time. Factors other than stereotype threat appear to be more important in determining men and women's tournament chess performance. "Looking at such a large real-world sample allows us a lot of confidence that our numbers are reliable."

Being aware of a is thought to make individuals more anxious, more self-conscious, and less able to suppress negative thoughts - outcomes that ultimately hamper their ability to perform the task at hand.

Because women are noticeably underrepresented in the world of competitive chess, stereotype threat may be especially salient to women chess players. Previous experiments have provided some evidence for stereotype threat in chess, suggesting that women were less likely to win a match when they believed they were playing a male opponent.

To investigate this phenomenon in the real world, Dr Stafford analysed data from standard tournament chess games played between rated players between January 2008 and August 2015. The FIDE rating system continuously incorporates outcomes to update players' ratings. These ratings can be used to predict who will win in a match between any two players. In total, the analyses included data from 150,977 men and 16,158 women playing in 5,558,110 games.

Overall, men had a slightly higher average FIDE rating than women. But the game outcomes indicated that women won matches against men more often than would have been predicted given each player's rating. This pattern held across the whole range of rating differences.

Women outperformed expectations when playing a man compared with when they played against other women, a finding that runs contrary to the negative effect that one would expect as a result of .

The findings surprised Dr Stafford and he notes that any conclusions are limited to the context of tournament chess and rated players.

"The news is good for female , of whom there are exploding numbers. Although discrimination is real and pervasive, women playing tournament chess do not seem to be at a disadvantage when paired with men," he said.

"This study of one social attitude in one domain—gender stereotypes in chess—does nothing to disprove the reality of discrimination generally, but it does suggest that this one mechanism, , may be more limited in its applicability than one might conclude from reading the experimental literature alone."

Explore further: AlphaZero algorithm can pick up victory moves in chess

More information: Tom Stafford, Female Chess Players Outperform Expectations When Playing Men, Psychological Science (2018). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617736887 , dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797617736887

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12 comments

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Thorium Boy
2.5 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2018
Women are unrepresented in ALL technical and scientific fields because most have zero interest in the subjects. Proof of that are hobbies, where people go when they are interested in subject. Nearly zero women again. No discrimination, no glass ceiling, no competition for jobs. Open to all. Yet women are not there.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2018
Nearly zero women again. No discrimination, no glass ceiling, no competition for jobs. Open to all. Yet women are not there.

When subjects are taught by men in a way that is most geared towards how men think about tasks then it's no wonder few women find this appealing.
Merrit
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2018
Well, men tend to be more aggressive than women, so on average you would expect the men to play more aggressively than women. Playing aggressively in chess can result in you losing pieces if it isn't probably planned out. This is most likely just the interactive between play styles. Your rating doesn't really take that into account,
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2018
When subjects are taught by men in a way that is most geared towards how men think about tasks then it's no wonder few women find this appealing
Right. And on the tabula rasa ride at eurodisneyworld, gender is superfluous. Neither micky nor minnie have gonads nor do they need them.

But of course current conditions are the fault of men. If it weren't for men everybody would be equal. Etc.

Is it any wonder these equations won't fit on a computer? Is it because computers are genderless even though they were invented by men?

Sorry but it still doesn't compute.
ddaye
3 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2018
But of course current conditions are the fault of men.
Have you never heard of ignorance? A situation can be caused by a person without it being a failing or fault of them individually. Most societies have been controlled by men for thousands of years, they've naturally been in the position to be the causes of many outcomes that don't necessarily imply that men need to be blamed in some kind of punitive way. We learn, we change our ways, we advance. We didn't need to throw men out of medicine just because male doctors were once transmitting disease when they didn't wash their hands between patients. Just identify then fix the behavior. I've done teaching, training and coaching in mixed gender groups in performing arts and competitive recreation, and I've found improvements and solutions to gender-based unfairness without needing to teach theory or punish anyone. Identify the problematic behavior, change it.
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) Jan 31, 2018
The male ego, as vividly displayed by many of the commentators to this site, is a fragile creature.

They simply cannot deal with even the suggestion that women assert themselves. That women can say 'No!'. That female competition and independence actually makes their men stronger.

Chess is a good example. There is an old saying about who you would want for an opponent at chess. "Playing against a strong opponent teaches you how to win. Playing against a weaker opponent teaches you how to lose."

In real life, that saying is applicable to American imperialism. Fighting only those who cannot defeat us has resulted in a morass of petty wars to benefit Saudi aspirations.

But what the heck! The pseudo-capitalists relying on taxpayer subsidies to prop up their obsolete weapon manufacturies. The output of which is sold to friend and foe alike. Cause only a commie freak would complain of such treasonous hypocrisy.

TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 31, 2018
I've done teaching, training and coaching in mixed gender groups in performing arts and competitive recreation
- And yet you've never learned how to recognize sarcasm. Curious.
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2018
Nearly zero women again. No discrimination, no glass ceiling, no competition for jobs. Open to all. Yet women are not there.

When subjects are taught by men in a way that is most geared towards how men think about tasks then it's no wonder few women find this appealing.


Hobbies are learned at your own pace, in your own way. Still the same result.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2018
Article title'
"Women beat expectations when playing chess against men..."

So...
Who is generating these "expectations"? And why?

antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 01, 2018
Hobbies are learned at your own pace, in your own way. Still the same result.

Exactly. When you pick a up a hobby you're already interested. But when people are introduced to stuff they must learn in school (maths, physics, whatever) then the way it is taught will haven an impact on who gets mental access to it more easily.

Especially with such subjects which build knowledge on top of previous knowledge it's important that pupils get interested very early. If the interest flares up later it might be too late as the foundation is shaky and catching up will be very hard.
sascoflame
Feb 01, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2018
Yep sf, all that 'liberal bias' that helps to protect your sorry ass from being beaten up on a regular basis by women athletes.

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