It's easy to find articles in the media examining the reasons why men are better at women at chess. Example, example. These articles generally operate with the null hypothesis that men and women are equally good at chess.

However, there also seems to be a consensus that chess is a sport. FIDE have been trying to get chess included in the Olympics, and in the ongoing World Championship, game 6, there were plenty of comments about how tiring it must be for the players or how important physical condition is.

Usually men are better than women at most physical sports, how are these apparently contradictory positions reconciled?

3 Answers 3


I don't totally follow the reasoning here. Chess isn't a sport of physical exertion in the same sense as other Olympic sports. The physical advantages males typically have give little or no benefit to a game of chess. I quote, from the linked paper:

Males have: larger and denser muscle mass, and stiffer connective tissue, with associated capacity to exert greater muscular force more rapidly and efficiently; reduced fat mass, and different distribution of body fat and lean muscle mass, which increases power to weight ratios and upper to lower limb strength in sports where this may be a crucial determinant of success; longer and larger skeletal structure, which creates advantages in sports where levers influence force application, where longer limb/digit length is favorable, and where height, mass and proportions are directly responsible for performance capacity; superior cardiovascular and respiratory function, with larger blood and heart volumes, higher hemoglobin concentration, greater cross-sectional area of the trachea and lower oxygen cost of respiration.

Consider the olympic sport of air rifle sharpshooting, where these advantages are also diminished. Women perform as well as men (or better).


Since it's well-known that men are better than women at physical sports

A more precise statement is "In most sports, men on average do better than women". If you make the argument "In most sports, men do better on average than women, chess is a sport, therefore we should expect that in chess, men will do better on average than women", you are committing the fallacy of division. Simply putting something in a category doesn't cause trends in that category to necessarily apply to it, and if you want to explain some property of something, it does not suffice to merely note that it is in a category for which that something generally holds. There is nothing "contradictory" about chess being a sport, and there being a property that most sports share, but chess does not.


I think language is causing the confusion here.

The core idea of the Olympic games (games!) is ‘contest’. ‘Sports’ is the original platform, the athletic one where physis counts most. ‘Skill’, even ‘Art’, are newer platforms, for shooting, dancing, horse riding, high diving, etc. However, this has all become ‘sports’ now, and so has the humble game itself.

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