For Carlsen, the subject was “way too complicated” to answer in a few sentences, but suggested a number of reasons, particularly cultural, were to blame. Some, though, still believe it is down to biology. As recently as 2015 Nigel Short, vice-president of the world chess federation Fide, claimed “men are hardwired to be better chess players than women,” adding: “You have to gracefully accept that.”
That claim raises the eyebrows of the greatest female chess player, Judit Polgar, who was ranked as high as No 8 in the world and, amusingly, has a winning record against Short. “It is not down to biology,” she tells the Guardian. “It’s just as possible for a woman to become the best as any guy. But there are so many difficulties and social boundaries for women generally in society. That is what blocks it.”
Polgar, who defeated 11 current or former world champions in either rapid or classical chess, including Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen, before retiring in 2014, believes that an early start, encouraging girls to think big, and better teaching are crucial factors. “All champions and big players start to play chess and get familiar with the game at a pretty early age,” says the Hungarian grandmaster, who is now a commentator on the website Chess24.