Category Archives: Speakers

Speakers and presenters at the conference

Why Fewer Girls Play Chess and What to Do about it

Sandy Ruxton is an Independent Consultant and Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology, University of Durham. He is undertaking research on gender norms for the UK Government Equalities Office, together with Nicole Westmarland and Stephen Burrell, which will be published in 2020. At the conference he presented a survey on what tutors say about girls in the chess classroom which he conducted on behalf of Chess in Schools and Communities. The following article reflects his personal views.

Much discussion at the 2019 London Chess Conference understandably focussed on how to present chess as an attractive game for girls, and promising practices in engaging and sustaining their participation at all levels. But less attention was given to how wider gender norms influence the attitudes and behaviour of girls and boys from a very young age, and how they can undermine or support involvement in chess.

It is still common in the chess world to hear it said that girls’ brains are just not hardwired for chess and that their absence is merely a reflection of this biological fact. But in academic circles the notion that the differences between girls and boys in terms of skills and capacities are predetermined and fixed is increasingly discredited[4]. Modern neuroscience shows that there is very little difference between male and female brains. Indeed, the brain is very ‘plastic’, and the wider environment has a huge influence on any gendered differences [5].

Translated to the field of chess, this suggests that it is not that girls can’t play chess, rather that there are social and cultural influences that mean that they don’t. For example, parents often create a gendered world for young children by providing different play environments, toys, and clothing for boys and girls[6]. They also tend to encourage girls to engage in ‘feminine’ play and boys to engage in ‘masculine’ play[7]. So if parents see chess as a boy-dominated activity, they are unlikely to inspire their daughters to get involved.

School and nursery practitioners report that they often unknowingly treat children differently based on gender[8]. Boys are often paid more attention than girls in class, even when there are fewer of them[9]. Practitioners often reward ‘gender appropriate behaviour’ and use gendered language to refer to boys and girls in stereotypical ways. A combination of factors such as these can influence children’s play preferences, and hence their attraction to chess. This may be reinforced by the preponderance of male chess tutors, for whom gender issues may remain largely invisible as they are part of the dominant norm.

Children and young people are not just passive sponges of gender norms, but actively perform and learn gender through social interaction with their peers. They often police one another too, ridiculing those who behave in ways that do not conform to certain gender norms and rewarding gender-typical behaviour from their peers[10]. In practice, this can lead boys (and sometimes other girls) to undermine and/or dismiss girls’ participation in chess.

The weight of these influences can seem overwhelming. So what can be done? In some ways, it is impossible to divorce measures to address gender norms that affect girls’ participation in chess, from those that seek to raise the position and status of girls more widely. Within primary schools and other early years settings, teachers and tutors need to check their own unconscious biases and challenge stereotyping, and gender training has a role to play here as part of a whole-school approach. In the same way that gendered language can reinforce gender bias, it is essential to audit the use of language and imagery in leaflets, websites, and information for parents. Another important step is to ensure that staff and tutors feel able to engage and talk with children about not excluding themselves or others from certain types of play, such as chess. It is also vital to listen to and discuss girls’ (and boys’) own perspectives on what they would like to change so that they can all enjoy all aspects of school life, including chess. Finally, it is crucial to engage with parents and carers to help them explore and challenge gender stereotypes too, and thereby open up opportunities for their children that they might not have otherwise considered.

Footnotes:

[1] The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. In 2019, Fawcett launched an expert ‘Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood’ to build a new consensus on the impact gender stereotypes have and how they can be ended.

[2] Martin, C., & Ruble, D. (2004) ‘Children’s search for gender cues: Cognitive perspectives on gender development,’ Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2)

[3] Bian, Leslie, and Cimpian, (2017) ‘Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’, Science 355

[4] Fine, C. (2011) Delusions of Gender: the real science behind sex differences, London: Icon Books

[5] Rippon, G. (2019) The Gendered Brain, Bodley Head: London

[6] Etaugh, C. & Liss, M.B (1992). ‘Home, school, and playroom: training grounds for adult gender roles,’ Sex Roles, 26

[7] Etaugh & Liss, ibid.

[8] The National Unions of Teachers (2013) Stereotypes stop you doing stuff, challenging stereotypes through Primary education, https://www.teachers.org.uk/files/stereotypes-stop.pdf

[9] Chick, K., Heilman-Houser, R., & Hunter, M. (2002) ‘The impact of childcare on gender role development and gender stereotypes,’ Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(3)

[10] Martin, C. L., Kornienko, O., Schaefer, D. R., Hanish, L. D., Fabes, R. A., & Goble, P. (2013) ‘The role of sex of peers and gender-typed activities in young children’s peer affiliative networks: A longitudinal analysis of selection and influence,’ Child Development, 84

64 Life Lessons

Jonathan Rowson came to discuss his acclaimed new book. In The Moves that Matter the Scottish grandmaster with a PhD in Philosophy and a very active twitter account reflects the life lessons chess taught him in 64 chapters. Stephen Moss from The Guardian, whose book The Rookie was published in 2016, also by Bloomsbury, interviewed him during the lunch break of the first conference day.

Jonathan was later on also interviewed by Karel van Delft.

Chess brought her back to science

We have interviewed key speakers of the conference. First up is Delia Duca Iliescu. In Romania, she is well known as the presenter of a weekly chess show on TV. She conceived and pitched “Strategy in Black and White” herself. A promising player as a child she went on to win junior titles but hated to study opening theory. At tournaments nowadays you rather see her as an arbiter than as a player.

Recently Delia has become a lecturer of computer science at the University of Brasov after ten years as a software engineer. AlphaZero inspired her to start a PhD in machine learning. She is connecting Artificial Intelligence with her chess speciality: chess problems, particularly chess compositions. In our interview, she tells more about this.

Delia Duca Iliescu was interviewed by Stefan Loeffler.

Explaining the Gap

Why are there so few women in competitive chess? Why are less than two per cent of grandmaster title holders female? One apparently explains the other. In a journal article from ten years ago Fernand Gobet and his coauthors calculated that the lower participation rate accounts for 96 % for the performance gap. He later acknowledged a flaw in their calculation and estimated the explanatory power of participation to be closer to 60%.

In his recently published book The Psychology of Chess (Routledge 2019, GBP 9,99) Gobet has included a chapter “Men vs. Women”, in which he also considers biological, sociocultural and motivational factors. He mentions psychoanalytical explanations but calls them the least likely.

As keynote speaker at our conference on “Scientific Explanations of the Performance Gender Gap in Chess and Science” (on Sunday 1 December at 11) Gobet will go beyond chess and make comparisons with other fields. Male performance is usually more variable, and the standard deviation is higher for men than for women.

The Swiss International Master was briefly a chess professional in his 20s, before he started a PhD in cognitive science. Working with Herbert Simon, a most versatile social scientist and Nobel Laureate in economics, put Gobet on track for an academic career. His specialty is the study of expertise. Chess is a neat test case thanks to the availability of performance data. Gobet´s impressive publication list is including many more chess-related papers.

Gobet has spoken at most of the London Chess Conferences. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the ECU Education Commission. Both, scientific advisors and commission members, will meet ahead of the conference as in the past years. Until recently Professor of Decision-Making and Expertise at the University of Liverpool, he has moved on to become Professiorial Research Associate at the London School of Economics.

The Psychology of Chess is a new book by conference keynote speaker Fernand Gobet

More Diverse than Ever

Participants from more than thirty countries are confirmed, and we expect to have up to forty countries present. We have always had a higher share of women than other not gender-segregated chess events, and female participation will be even higher this year thanks to our theme Chess and Female Empowerment. We are fairly optimistic that the tickets will be selling out, so we recommend you to register before it is too late. If you are a contributor you are prompted to register, so please check your e-mails.

Besides our usual keynotes, workshops, debates and software presentations, not to mention all the side meetings and training courses before and after the conference, our most diverse conference programme so far will introduce book presentations and film screenings. In the exhibition we are adding a book table. Another first is that we will present our main findings to the public on the Monday at 11 at the London Chess Classic together with our Honorary Director Judit Polgar, with Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, who switched profession from chess to politics, and with other speakers.

Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, Opposition Leader in the Lithuanian Parliament, joins the conference (photo: Clément Bucco-Lechat /Wiki Commons)

Our opening session will feature female perspectives on chess in education and its competitive version. We will invite you to World Café style debates on propositions ranging from “Should Every Chess Team Have a Female Player?” to “How Can Chess (and This Conference) Become Greener?”. Three round tables are scheduled. Their topics are inclusion, FIDE and women’s chess. We have close to twenty workshops. As each will have two or more presenters you can imagine the richness and diversity of

Our programme table is so rich that we are adding lunchbreak offerings. On our first day Jonathan Rowson will talk and answer questions about his new book, while on day two we will screen a new documentary on the four Georgian women who dominated women’s chess before the Polgar sisters took over.

We can still accomodate select contributions: Are you up to present the debate, if women chess titles should be abandoned, or if chess federations should focus on improving the performance of female players or on increasing their membership numbers? We can still accomodate a presenter or two in our workshops on “The Parents´ Role”, “Chess Programmes for Girls” and “Online Teacher Trainings”. Please write us at info@chessplus.net

Videos and Presentations

Most presentations and videos from many of them are now available on our presentations page which we added in the menu. This will be continually updated as the remaining presentations are coming in. The videos and presentations are merged in a convenient way as you can see from this exemplary one:

We have also created a playlist of conference videos on youtube. There you also find accompanying summaries of the presentations. All thanks to our many contributors and to the fantastic efforts by our digilent and always helpful videographer Etienne Mensch who joined the conference team this year.

Etienne is Digital Director at a vocational training centre in Strasbourg. He is an International Master and experienced chess coach, among the talents he nurtured is Grandmaster Bilel Bellahcene. He was also Education Director of the French Chess Federation and managed live transmissions of several high level chess events.

Our conference videographer Etienne Mensch (photo: John Foley)

We wish everyone a merry festive time and all the best for 2019!


Programme Confirmed

The full programme for the 6th London Chess Conference has now been confirmed and it can be found here.

The theme of The Future of Education in Chess is a very important one and we have experts from all over the world who will be presenting their thoughts and ideas.

We believe this to be our strongest line-up to date and we are sure the weekend will provide plenty of food for thought for teachers, tutors, chess players and, indeed, anyone else interested in the role of chess in education.

Limited places are still available but with just over one week to go we strongly advise you to book as soon as possible. Tickets can be purchased here.

Grandmasters on Board

We are delighted to announce that we have a few Grandmasters as speakers this year.

Smbat Lputian, who won the Chess Olympiad with Armenia in 2006, has since initiated the most ambitious national school chess project in his home country where all primary school children are learning chess for several school years now. Smbat has recently become the new chairman of what used to be FIDE`s Chess in Schools Commission and has just been renamed the Chess in Education Commission. Smbat will explain this name change and line out the future strategy of FIDE.

Bachar Kouatly, born in Damascus and later on the first French Grandmaster and organiser of the Kasparov-Karpov world championship match in Lyon in 1990, has recently been elected as FIDE Deputy President. Bachar is also the President of the French Chess Federation since 2016, where he is spearheading a significant push for chess to be used for pedagogical and social purposes. He will talk about this exciting turnaround and how to run a federation strategically.

David Smerdon has represented Australia at seven Chess Olympiads and is a respected chess author. He is also a behavioral economist, and after several years as a PhD student and Post-doc in Europe he returned to Australia where he is now on tenure track at the University of Queensland. David is keen to direct research into effects of chess interventions as for example in Chess in Prisons projects. He will also deliver a keynote on What an Economist Can Learn from Chess?. His commendable blog, which focuses on the subjects of chess and economics, can be found here.

Visions: International Baccalaureate

The programme for this year’s conference offers a rich and varied assortment of guest speakers, covering a wide range of topics within the theme of The Future of Chess in Education.

The Saturday morning session takes Visions as its subgenre and it promises to start the conference in fine style.

One of our speakers will be John Claughton, former Headmaster of Solihull School and Chief Master of King Edward’s School, Birmingham,  from 2006 to 2016.

John, a keen advocate for the International Baccalaureate – the international education foundation – will discuss the battle between depth and breadth in education.

Are schools being forced to specialise the children far too early? Should they be offering the alternative to A Levels, with more respect given to the arts?

It is quite clear that chess (along with many other enrichment opportunities) is being squeezed out of the Secondary School system. What can be done to reverse the trend?

Would the introduction of the International Baccalaureate bring more breadth to the education of our children and, if so, what (if anything) is preventing schools from making the change?

I am sure we are in for a fascinating and passionate discussion.

More About IT

The conference is not far away and NOW would be an excellent time to enrol if you have not already done so.

IT will feature prominently on the programme and here is a teaser as to what to expect:

  • Chess Explanation Engine using Artificial Intelligence (Decode Chess)
  • Embedding chess lessons in the classroom digitally (Learning Chess)
  • Chess and computer coding using chess (French Chess Federation)
  • Enhancing memory of chess openings and patterns (Chessable)

This is shaping up to be the best conference yet. We hope to see you there!