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Recently the Russian superfinal ended. This tournament had an open section and a women's section. One of the top Russian women, Aleksandra Goryachkina, played in the open section where she finished 10th-11th out of 12 players.

Goryachkina is rated over a hundred points over the players in the women's section, so if she had played in the women's section there's a good chance she would have won. I can't find the prize distribution for each finisher, but according to this source the total prize pool in the open section is 11 million rubles and in the women's section it is 7 million rubles. That makes it seem probable that if Goryachkina had played in the women's section where she is clearly the strongest player, her expected prize money return would have been higher.

Does this therefore incentivize the top women players to avoid playing in open competitions? If yes, has any woman cited this as a reason to play in the women's section? If not, what measures are taken to avoid this?

Addendum: for comparison in the US championship, the prize distribution is:

Open:

  • 1st $50,000
  • 2nd $35,000
  • 3rd $25,000
  • 4th $20,000
  • 5th $15,000
  • 6th $10,000
  • 7th $9,000
  • 8th $8,000
  • 9th $7,000
  • 10th $6,000
  • 11th $5,000
  • 12th $4,000

Women:

  • 1st $25,000
  • 2nd $18,000
  • 3rd $13,000
  • 4th $10,000
  • 5th $8,000
  • 6th $6,000
  • 7th $5,000
  • 8th $4,000
  • 9th $3,500
  • 10th $3,000
  • 11th $2,500
  • 12th $2,000

Therefore from a purely monetary point of view, the top woman player needs to be able to finish 2nd or higher in the open category, or she might as well play in the woman's section. Conversely, the weakest female players should play in the open category, since even though they will probably get pulverized they're still likely to earn more than in the women's category (I imagine however the organizers will forbid this).

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    Your example strikes me as even potentially more generous than usual. In the World Rapid & Blitz the highest men's prize is $60k and women's $40k. Goryachkina would be lucky to win $1500 if she plays in the Open whereas will be a favourite to win cumulatively $80k in the Women's (absent Hou Yifan). Now I am wondering whether Polgar's lifetime prize money surpasses Koneru Humpy's for instance Dec 5, 2021 at 16:27
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    Tautology: to the extent that people are motivated by various increments of money, sure, those increments motivate them. But, apart from facing starvation, etc., there are other motivations. :) Jan 24, 2023 at 23:11
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    @MobeusZoom posted full answer. i don't think it makes a difference if judit usually wins top 3 vs if judit would've dominated women's chess easily, then the prize money is the same 60,000 right?
    – BCLC
    Jan 25, 2023 at 0:18
  • @Rewan thanks for adding the statistics tag! Wasn't so sure myself. But I guess indeed this question can be answered with various tournaments compared and stuff.
    – BCLC
    Jan 25, 2023 at 16:11

2 Answers 2

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TL;DR I think no for top (and middle?) women but yes for bottom women.

Part I: For the top women:

1

Wait a minute...'top woman player needs to be able to finish 2nd or higher in the open category, or she might as well play in the woman's section' - I believe the point of playing in any tournament regardless of your gender is that you're indeed aiming for at least top maybe 30%. Since the top women cannot do this, women's tournaments are created. I think there's something mixed up here...

It's not that we have 2 tournaments and then there's this kind of an incentive problem. Rather there's a sexism problem and then the 2 tournaments help make up for this sexism problem. I don't think there's a need to incentivise women who are already professional women's chess players (like at least 15yo already) to enter open instead of women's.

2

But I do think there is a different kind of 'incentive' problem, namely the is the sexism problem: Because of sexism, women who aren't yet professional players eg 6yo girls don't have much incentive to study chess at the same level as boys of similar age (or rating?) and thus later on they're not able to compete for the open tournaments.

So I think the issue with your question is that you're focused more on the present generation, rather than the future generation, of female players.

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Re what Mobeus Zoom said

Now I am wondering whether Polgar's lifetime prize money surpasses Koneru Humpy's for instance

Actually I think Hou Yifan - if it weren't of course for that Yifan retired kinda early - is a better example.

I'm not so familiar Judit's career, so I'm arguing a priori not a posteriori:

I believe it would be nonsensical for Judit to stubbornly compete in open tournaments whereas Judit could do better in women's. My guess is that Judit was just that damn good not just as a female chess player but as a chess player (well, Judit not only beat Susan's record of youngest female grandmaster but also beat Bobby Fischer's record of youngest grandmaster) s.t. on average Judit gets at least the open equivalent of top 1 women's.

In your example top 1 women's is 25,000 which is the same prize as 3rd place open. So if Judit has the choice of competing in 2 such tournaments and chooses open, then Judit is winning on average at least 3rd place.

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However, I have a feeling Mobeus Zoom is on to something. After all, if Judit gets (I'm just gonna present tense to talk as if Judit is still an active player and nowhere near retirement as part of this answer's being an a priori answer) 3rd place on average then Judit is getting regularly placed 4th, 5th and maybe even the occasional 10th whereas Judit is sure to get 1st place almost every time in women's tournaments.

Maybe for this part it isn't all about the money for Judit or at least for the short run. I suspect any (combination) of the following:

A - Judit might be talking slightly lower pay (I don't imagine it's much lower!), but Judit really enjoys playing against stronger opponents.

B - It's an investment. Judit might be taking a hit in the short run but is expecting to become a stronger player and thus indeed get 1st and 2nd place prizes s.t. it's more profitable in the long run to play open tournaments.

C - Judit earns more overall by playing in open tournaments not from the tournament prize money but by making money through having more credibility to be a coach or chessbase instructor or guest on a podcast or something. This credibility might even increase from future awards like Judit might be inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame someday and thus have even better post-retirement from professional play employment prospects.

But of course emphasis on 'slightly': Money is indeed a consideration, so the above really assumes you can regularly compete for top 3 and stuff. So it's about money but not all about money.

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Btw, in case you're suggesting in the case of 2 tournaments that we should set 12th place open prize = 1st place women's prize (and then adjust accordingly 1st to 11th), I see a problem assuming exactly 12 players per tournament: Aleksandra might play open but then will you do as you say 'sign up for the open section, lose every game, and pocket' the 12th place open prize.

Part II: For the bottom women:

Yeah I guess you're right if we're talking exactly 12 players each, but I think it's an easy fix.

Conversely, the weakest female players should play in the open category, since even though they will probably get pulverized they're still likely to earn more than in the women's category (I imagine however the organizers will forbid this).

1stly, I don't think players who would be bottom players of a women's tournament would be invited to an open tournament if, say, the tournaments bottom players dropped out because there are likely many other male players on the tournament's waitlist. (Probably female players are on the waitlist too, but they don't much monetary incentive to play open as discussed above.)

But I believe it's fixed if the lower 2-3 prizes in both open & women's are the same.

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    The first point, however, presumably remains: Goryachkina gives up considerable income by participating with men. Dec 5, 2021 at 16:21
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    The question BTW is not at all limited to women: if you are a non-super GM, should you invest some fare/hotel costs to safely win a small tournament? (Especially as the "safe" is debatable :P) Dec 5, 2021 at 18:20
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    I believe (checking the source) that the US championships are exactly 12 players each, and hence the expected return for the weakest female players are higher in the open section. It's also why I added "I imagine however the organizers will forbid this" - or I could sign up for the open section, lose every game, and pocket $4000.
    – Allure
    Dec 9, 2021 at 3:08
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    @Allure Wait what's the problem if the lower 2-3 prizes in both open & women's are the same?
    – BCLC
    Jan 24, 2023 at 14:04
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    @Allure updated now full answer.
    – BCLC
    Jan 25, 2023 at 0:17
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Partial answer: probably, although nobody has openly said it.

Source

A man masqueraded as a woman to participate in a woman-only competition. He was detected, and promptly disqualified.

After beating a former Kenyan champion (Gloria Jumba) and Uganda’s top player (Shakira Ampaire), many initially wondered why they had never heard of Millicent Awuor in important national events. Who was this Muslim woman? Was she a long-retired chess veteran?

According to Victor Otieno of Nation Media Group, it turns out that the player was Stanley Omondi, a male university student with a 1499 FIDE rating. Other players and tournament officials started to draw suspicions when Millicent never spoke to anyone or interacted with the other players. They also noticed some peculiar mannerisms and a strange gait for a woman.

After the official finally confronted the player, they asked him to produce an identification, after which he confessed to the ruse. He cited the 500,000 KSh (approximately US $3800) as the incentive as he was struggling with his student expenses. He was immediately expelled from the tournament and his results were reversed. The news of a male chess player impersonating a woman is novel and has gone viral.

This suggests that women feel the same financial pressure to play against other women, but nobody has actually said it.

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