Saturday, 07 June 2008

Women and Go

I was lying in bed this morning, flipping through the TV channels, looking for an excuse not to get up. I found one of the sport channels and relaxed to a bit of Go. Go is a strategic board game known in Korea as Baduk (바둑). I admit that I know next to nothing about the game, but this particular match was at an advanced stage, so I thought I would watch to see what would happen. My logic was that things normally happen at the end of games like Chess, so surely the same would apply here.

I was a bit disappointed because when things did happened, it happened so fast and the game was over so quickly that I still don’t know what as was going on. I really need to read up on the basics of this game so that I can watch a bit more and maybe even enjoy it.

The main reason for writing this post though is that it combatants were a woman and a man. I am a little surprised, because rarely do men and women compete against each other in anything except the workplace, and even there is it only a token competition. In my experience this is a worldwide phenomenon in sport and games, but this area of the world is particulary sexist, so much so that Ask a Korean estimates, not scientifically, that: “Koreans are about 70 percent likely to be racist, but 95 percent likely to be sexist.” [rev] I am inclined to agree with that.

Take chess, for example. Chess is a game that needs no physical talents. You only need a healthy brain. It helps if you have hands to move the pieces, but there is always a way around that and you can still compete. Despite it’s independence from physical attributes, we still get a World Champion and Women’s World Champion. Why is this? In an 1962 Harper's Magazine article Ralph Ginzburg quoted, Bobby Fisher:

"That statement is accurate, but Lisa Lane really wouldn't be in a position to know. They're all weak, all women. They're stupid compared to men. They shouldn't play chess, you know. They're like beginners. They lose every single game against a man. There isn't a woman player in the world I can't give knight-odds to and still beat." [rev]

Are women really incapable of competing against the men? Does testosterone make you better at chess? As far as I know, women are allowed to compete against men for the World Championship, yet all the Champions so far have been men. [ref] Mathematic skill, which is considered a strong indicator of chess ability, shows very little difference between men and women. [rev]  The only high profile match that I found so far was the match between former Champions Susan Polgar and Anatoly Karpov, which ended in a draw. [rev]

Go is suppose to be getting more popular outside of East Asia, so maybe it will also lead to a more balanced state in the world of mental competitions like chess.

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